Sunday, April 7, 2013

Urbie Green

 Sometime during high school I picked up a copy of 21 Trombones, 2 LP's of Urbie Green and 20 "of the world's greatest trombone players."  I played it when I needed inspiration to practice, which was almost always, and wore the grooves out of it. When cassette players came along, I got a new copy and played it once to put it on tape and then again a couple of years ago to digitize it. As far as I know, only half of this album has ever been released on CD and that's a crime. This album, more than any other, showed me what the trombone was capable of and to this day, Urbie Green's is what I think a trombone is supposed to sound like. And some lucky descendant is going to inherit 21 Trombones.

            The only time I ever got to hear him live was at Duquesne University, sometime in the late sixties. What I remember most, apart from having to sit behind him because the place was packed, was that he finished one of his tunes by starting at the bottom of his horn, range and slide-wise, and made one smooth gliss up to first position and the top of the horn's register. Only it wasn't really a glissando and he didn't rip to the top either. It was as absolutely seamless transition from bottom to top of the trombone's range. All I know is I can't do it and have no idea how Urbie Green did it, either.
            In my job, well, it's not really a job since I don't get paid for it, in my position as associate editor of the ITA Journal, I'm lucky to have been able to talk to a few of the world's greatest trombone players, like Phil Wilson.  At the mention of Urbie Green, he told me, "Did you ever hear Urbie’s solo on Blue Flame on MGM 78?  If you can find it, ... the solo that Urbie played on that is just magnificent, it was a huge influence on me. I would hear a late night radio broadcast called the Purple Grotto with Al Collins and he used as the opening of every show Urbie’s solo on Blue Flame – gorgeous." He also recalled a time around 1963 that he and Bill Watrous spent an afternoon trying to get Urbie Green's sound. In fact, once I heard Bill Watrous at a master class talk about working with Urbie Green early in his career and marveling at the stuff Urbie just "tossed off."
            There'll probably be more, but right now I have three major regrets in my life. One is that I didn't study music when I was young and so will never know if I'd have been any good. The second is that I lived in Arizona for 5 years and have never seen the Grand Canyon. Third is that in all the time I lived in New Jersey, I was never able to make out to the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap in the Pcocnos, near where Urbie Green lived and where he played on a regular basis. Some of the trombone players I knew talked all the time about going but we could never seem to get it together, which I guess, comes as no surprise to anyone who knows a trombone player.
        The recording I picked is one of my favorites of anything, not just Urbie Green. Please Send Me Someone To Love is from his 1977 album The Fox and I think it contains all the things Urbie Green does better than anyone. First, it's a ballad and he and Ben Webster are the all-time greatest ballad players. And when you listen to this, you'll hear a solo that takes the trombone through it's entire range with effortless ease. And for a bonus, I found the Woody Herman recording Phil Wilson was talking about. (Note: I checked back for this August, 2015, and it seems to have been deleted from Youtube. Sorry about that)



  1. Again, I had the pleasure and honor to 'hang' with Urbie, one of my several 'heroes' of the horn!
    I remember having a discussion with him on a break in a Basie recording session (when Basie went to 4 trombones, and Basie brought Urbie in on lead, initially, and moved everyone else down a chair)....he had an unlacquered Bach that day, with the tuning slide all the way in, and we discussed that....first time I became aware of how HIP that was, and it really didn't take too much getting used to!
    Another hang with Urbie, occurred in Holland around 1973, at the home of Eric Van Lier, the excellent Dutch bass trombonist....the occasion was a recording of Urbie, Slide Hampton, Ake Persson, Kai Winding & Frank Rosolino with a Dutch Big Band!

  2. Cool story. I got to meet Eric Van Lier's brother Bart this year in Spain.

  3. I started playing the bone when I was seven. I ''found'' Urbie'21 Trombones 6 months later and it has calmed my soul for the past 55 years along with his other recordings. My lasting disappointment is that I never got to meet the master as I live in Australia and he has only visited a couple of times. He should be spoken of in the same breath as Tommy Dorsey as being ''The Master''.