Along with both the lead trumpet and alto saxophone, the lead trombone player shares in the responsibility of establishing style, articulation, and phrasing. The lead player must have the ability to listen closely to the other lead players in order to guarantee that the entire ensemble, as well as the trombone section, is playing together. The proper positioning of the lead players in the band will facilitate this.
Stamina, consistency, technical prowess, and excellent intonation are the cornerstones of any good modern lead trombonist. Stamina is essential due to the fact that many big band charts today, of all levels, include lead trombone parts with extended passages of sustained notes in the middle and upper register. Couple this with a two-hour concert or a six-hour recording session and its importance will almost immediately spring to the fore.
Consistency must be exercised so that the rest of the section will be able to follow easily and without question in all playing situations. This comes from both experience and practice. A high degree of technical proficiency is a must in today’s world of big band jazz. It is not unusual to see continuous streams of 1/8 notes in a tune with a tempo marking of qtr. Note = 280. Wide interval leaps and extreme melodic patterns are the norm. Therefore, sloppiness, adhering to the old adage, “it’s close enough for jazz,” and the often-discussed limitations of the instrument are not to be accepted.
Theoretically, there should never exist an intonation problem with a lead trombonist, or any other trombone player for that matter, for the simple reason that the only moving part on the instrument is essentially a long tuning slide. An impeccable sense of intonation in a lead trombone player will enable the rest of the section to, once again, follow easily and play with a high level of consistency.
Finally, confidence is perhaps the most important attribute in a lead trombonist. This person must be adept in all facets of playing the instrument and have the knowledge and ability to execute even the most difficult passages under the most stressful of situations. This expertise will certainly aid in gaining the musical trust of the other members of the section and the band as well.
Jim McFalls Trombone-Performer-Educator Big Band Director,
Towson University President-Elect,
MD Unit International Association for Jazz Education