Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dick Nash


            Not long ago, the Facebook group "Jazz Trombonists" had a thread going about early influences. I hesitate to get involved in these things mainly because most of these players are way beyond me in abilities and knowledge. But it made me think about the trombonists who had an impact on me when I was young - one whose name I didn't even know.
            Like most kids who take up the trombone and show any ability, the hardest thing I had to do was reach 6th position, near the bottom of the slide. Grade school band music is, by necessity, not particularly difficult - everyone is a beginner. At this stage, your main goal is just trying to make the thing sound halfway decent. But trombone players find out pretty quickly that they never, and I mean never, play the melody let alone solos. Your role is always in support of someone else. The trombone parts from grade school on were generally boring,  rarely a challenge and I became indifferent to practicing. The parts were just too easy.
            I had always listened to my mother's swing era 78s. She had hundreds but not much in the way of trombone players. After my father came home with a new tabletop record player that handled 45s and 33s, we slowly accumulated LPs, as anyone born before I'm not sure when called vinyl albums (LP=Long Playing). Somewhere along the line I ran across this compilation of television and movie music written by Henry Mancini that included the theme from a John Wayne movie called "Hatari" and another called "Fallout" from the 1950s TV series "Peter Gunn".  Both of these cuts had, for me, fascinating trombone solos and I was particularly taken with "Fallout". I listened to them over and over while thinking how cool it was that the trombone played the best part.
            When I got to high school, jazz and the music of big bands became my focus after earning a seat in the "stage band." One day I took my mother's advice, "You ought to try playing along with some records", and sat down with "Fallout" to figure out how to play the solo. I knew pretty quickly that this shit was harder than it sounded.
            Eventually I learned that the player who had both inspired and frustrated me, my first real Trombone Hero, was a guy named Dick Nash. He was Henry Mancini's favorite trombonist and anyone who's been to the movies in the past 50 years has heard him since he's played on nearly three thousand soundtracks. Unfortunately, he's recorded only a couple of albums with his brother Ted, a sax player, that are now out of print. Fortunately, he's been a sideman on dozens of others (check his Wikipedia discography) and among trombone players he's royalty. I would encourage you to check out interviews and articles on Dick's interesting life and career here, herehere and a link with recordings here. He is also known for his unusual embouchure, explained here at a webpage called, appropriately enough, "Guess the Embouchure Type."