14 October 2013

A Brief History of Brass Instruments In Jazz

Although the trumpet and the trombone are the most popular brass instruments used in jazz, there are lots of other, lesser known, instruments that have been used over the years.

The cornet was popularised by Buddy Bolden and King Oliver, and was played by Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke before falling out of fashion. Nat Adderley helped re-invent the instrument in a modern jazz setting and Freddie Hubbard played it on Herbie Hancock’s Empyrean Isles. With a mellower sound than the trumpet, most players achieve a similar sound on the flugelhorn instead.

Although Django Bates plays the tenor horn, it is rare in jazz (and orchestral music) and is mostly played in brass bands. Just to confuse things, Americans call it the alto horn.

The french horn was played in big band settings by Willie Ruff and Gunther Schuller (Birth of the Cool), and also by hard bop french hornist Julius Watkins (pictured, above). A number of contemporary french horn players were students of Watkins, such as Tom Varner.

Bernard McKinney plays euphonium on the following classic albums: Freddie Hubbard – Ready For Freddie, The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams and Donald Byrd – First Flight.

Bob Brookmeyer pioneered the use of the valve trombone, a hybrid instrument, closer to a bass trumpet than an actual trombone.

The popularity of the valve trombone led to the development of the Superbone, a valve trombone with a slide at the end, allowing players to switch between the two.


The tuba has been used as a bass instrument since the early days of jazz, with many bassists doubling on ‘string bass’ and ‘brass bass’. 

Tubist Ray Draper recorded several albums during the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

The instrument can also be heard in contemporary groups such as The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Modern Jazz Tuba Project as well as by Bob Stewart.

British tuba player Oren Marshall has pioneered extended techniques such as foot-muting and the use of electronics and effects. http://orenmarshall.com


Five Fun Facts About Brass Instruments

The Shew Horn, invented by Bobby Shew, is a double-barrelled trumpet. One with mute, one without.

Here you can see him doing one-bar call and response phrases on the head followed by him trading twos, with himself

on Stompin’ At The Savoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6ayD4yjUQk


The ‘Gillespie-style’ or ‘bent’ trumpet was copied by a number of trumpet players and was even copied by trombonist Wayne Henderson of The Jazz Crusaders.


Ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez attended the Alpha Boys School in Jamaica. Former alumni include jazz musicians Dizzy Reece and Joe Harriot, together with most of the members of the Skatalites.


The tenor horn was invented by Adolphe Sax. Adolphe Sax also invented an early valved bugle (later developed into the flugelhorn) and a range of saxhorns which were later developed into the euphonium.


Wagner tubas aren’t used much in jazz, but this pub in Freiburg, Germany has found another use for them.


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