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Filtering by Tag: Famous trombonists

The Virtual Trombonist Podcast, ep. 1: An interview with John Ohnstad

In the summer of 1993, I had the great fun and opportunity to work at Disney World as part of the All-American College Orchestra, performing at Epcot.  One of my colleague was a bass trombonist named John Ohnstad.  John was an interesting guy.  He was a fantastic musician, but wasn't a music major in college at all!  John has continued his parallel paths in both business and music, and we recently caught up at a reunion of our College Orchestra pals in Orlando.  I sat down to talk a bit with John about how he arrived at his musical career, and to also hear about his unique experiences studying with the late George Roberts. [soundcloud url="" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

John performs with a number of groups in and around Portland, here are some links to a few of them:

Rose City Trombones

Big Horn Brass

Portland Columbia Symphony

Art Abrams Swing Machine Big Band - and on their album "Speak Low/Swing Hard"

An interview with Jim Nova...

About a year ago, I was surfing Facebook and I came across a post by my long time friend and fellow Curtis graduate, Jim Nova.  The post was a link to Jim's Soundcloud page, and it contained a recording of a trombone choir arrangement of a John Williams piece, something from Star Wars.  I clicked on it... ...and I was just blown away!  Jim has taken a huge body of work by John Williams and some other composers, and arranged (mostly himself) the tunes for trombone choir.  The amazing thing is that he has recorded all these pieces and played all the parts himself! If you haven't heard them yet, do yourself a favor and go RIGHT NOW to his Soundcloud page to give it a listen.  Then, come back and finish reading this post...

After a number of times of being totally taken with Jim's playing, arranging, and recording skills, I decided I really wanted to learn more.  So, I got in touch and we set up a time to meet via Skype and talk about Jim's ongoing project, hobby, passion, and outlet.

Jim is currently the second trombonist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and was previously a member of the trombone section in the Utah Symphony.  Jim attended Curtis, where he studied with Glenn Dodson, and then headed to Boston for further studies with Norman Bolter.

I had two basic questions for Jim:  Why? and How?  We had a wonderful conversation about those two topics and more, and Jim could not have been more generous with his time and passion for his music-making.

Jim said that when he came to Pittsburgh, his position was advertised as "second/utility trombone", which usually means there is bass trombone playing involved.  Knowing he was joining a section that contains Murray Crewe as the bass trombonist, Jim said he didn't feel comfortable subbing in with the bass trombone skills that he possessed at the time.  So, he obtained a "real" bass trombone from Steve Shires and got to work.  He stumbled on the trombone choir arrangements as a way to push himself musically, as well as give him something fun to do. We reminisced that Glenn Dodson used to do the same thing to get in shape for the Philadelphia Orchestra's season. Glenn made a number of beautiful trombone choir arrangements, and he would record all the parts using a digital 8-track recorder.

Jim notes that his father has been a big influence on his life and career as a trombonist.  He states, "If I brought home an A minus, my father would always want to know why it wasn't an A!  He always said that's not good enough for a Nova!" Jim and his father have also collaborated on a solo CD, titled "Albanian Rhapsody", which if full of some beautiful trombone playing.

Jim also notes that he is "a walking advertisement for Steve Shires (trombones) and Greg Black (mouthpieces).  Jim has a collection of horns that would make the most seasoned L.A. studio player drool, and unique (but functional) mouthpieces to fit each horn he plays (each with the same rim).  Currently in his arsenal, Jim has his "regular" Shires tenor trombone, a Shires alto trombone, a Shires bass trombone, AND a soprano and contrabass trombone.  The contrabass is "on loan, but I'm probably gonna need to buy one soon."  I love it, finally, someone that actually NEEDS a contrabass!  His range of mouthpieces is quite interesting. Greg Black has managed to provide Jim with the same rim on each mouthpiece, from his contrabass piece on up to the soprano. While that may sound somewhat unusual, you certainly can't argue with the results! Jim feels that he gets the same "anchor point" by using the same rim on each horn. Greg Black has managed to provide Jim with the correct taper from the rim to the cup of each mouthpiece to facilitate this concept.

As for the recording process, Jim said he started out finding his way and figuring things out on the fly. He notes that many of his early arrangements weren't written down. He would read off the orchestral score, and record a few measures at a time on whatever horn he needed to fit the range the part was in. Jim comments, "In the beginning, I would look at some of the crazier licks in the music and just think, well, let's see what happens!" He also told a funny story about a conversation with Michael Hosford (long time NYC trombonist) where Mike asked him, "so Jim, have you thought about adjusting the pan on the voices in your tracks?" Jim said he replied, "pan...what's that???".  Amazingly, Jim has only been working on these recordings for about two years.  He has clearly learned all about pan and sound field position, and a whole lot more!

Jim notes that techniques, range, and endurance that once seemed at the edge of his ability now doesn't seem like such a big deal. As a demonstration, he picked up the contrabass he has on loan and proceeded to play a part with triple tongued pedal Cs... It was ridiculous to hear, but it sounds great! Also, his alto and soprano trombone playing are just amazing.

Jim began his recording projects using Audacity (free recording software) and when he got the piece done, he would add reverb via GarageBand. Now, he has graduated to using Logic Pro and has upgraded his microphone setup to a Neumann TLM193. He keeps all his horns lined up in his studio on stands, and he has his computer and recording gear on a standing workstation so he can stand in one place to play, switch horns, and run the studio setup. His process has "become much more streamlined since the beginning". He does still record just a few measures at a time, rather than laying down one complete part from beginning to end, before moving to another voice in the arrangement.   Following is a good representation of what goes on in the Nova household!

Where to go from here? Jim has recently begun taking his show on the road! He has appeared with a number of university trombone choirs, making guest appearances around the U.S.  I think it's safe to say they ask him to play many of the first parts himself when he visits! Jim says he's thinking of eventually putting out a CD of his work, but obtaining permissions to record much of John Williams' compositions is quite difficult.  I know that if and when he does that, I will be the first in line to buy a cd!  Jim is also appearing at the American Trombone Workshop at Ft. Myer, Virginia, March 18-21, 2015.  He is appearing with the Washington Trombone Ensemble, and I anticipate that will be a fantastic concert.  For now, check out his Soundcloud page and enjoy!

Vern Kagarice, 1942-2014

It is with great sadness that I learned about the passing of good friend Vern Kagarice this week.  Vern has been a member of the University of North Texas trombone faculty since 1983, among so many other amazing musical accomplishments.  You may read Vern's Bio here.  Details for his memorial service in Chataqua, NY as well as information regarding memorial contributions may be found here.  Vern's incredible knowledge, energy, and love of the trombone and his students will be greatly missed. I never had the chance to formally study with Vern.  However, it seems like every couple of years our paths would cross and he always had some quiet words of wisdom to offer or insight into what might be going on in my life.  I must tell a story about one of those times.

In spring of 1999, I was a young and somewhat lost trombone player, trying to make ends meet freelancing in NYC, and taking auditions when they came up.  I decided that I would head back down to Texas and audition at UNT for Vern's doctoral studio.  I took a trip home to Commerce and drove over to Denton at the appointed time and met Vern and Royce Lumpkin in Vern's studio at the music building.  After what I remember as about 20 minutes of somewhat unremarkable playing on my part, Vern looked at me and said:

"Look, Chris, your playing is fine and I would be happy to have you here as one of my doctoral students.  I just have to ask you why you want to come back to school and start on a Doctoral degree?"

I muttered something about, "not playing enough in New York", "want to be closer to home", etc., etc.

Vern said, "Listen, you just need to be clear on what you're getting yourself into by pursuing a doctorate here.  You will spend a LOT of time in the library, working on the foreign language requirement, and doing a lot of teaching.  You will also probably have some trombone choir rehearsals to run as well as all your own ensemble commitments.  I don't think you will be playing as much as you might think.  You should really think it through before you commit to it."

The reality was, I didn't enroll, and I won my position in the U.S. Marine Band a few months later.  I have often reflected on the care and consideration of a musician that wasn't even his student that went in to that conversation.  Vern's honesty and selflessness represents a great example to emulate for anyone tasked with the shaping of young people's lives and careers.

Vern, may you rest in peace.

Tromboteam UNT

UNT trombone faculty: Vern Kagarice, Steve Wiest, Tony Baker, and Jan Kagarice

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