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What Is a Jazz Trombone?

H. Bliss
H. Bliss

A jazz trombone is a brass instrument used to play jazz music. Though some types of trombones are marketed specifically as jazz trombones, in reality, a jazz band has several types of trombones. The most common type of trombone used in jazz music is the tenor jazz trombone, though other type of trombones are also common. Many variations of the basic tenor trombone exist in jazz groups.

In a jazz ensemble, there is typically not one type of trombone, but a mix of a few different types. Types of trombones used in jazz include basic tenor trombones, tenor trombones with a trigger, and bass trombones. Each type of jazz trombone has a different purpose within a jazz group.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

A basic jazz trombone sits in the case in three parts: the main slide section, the tuning slide and bell section, and the mouthpiece. The main slide section can be further separated into two slides, the inner and outer slide, and the tuning slide can be carefully removed from the section with the bell. Triggered tenor trombones are made with a lever attachment that opens a piece of tubing, which changes the note. This modifies the instrument to help the musician more quickly and easily reach notes that would otherwise be far apart on the trombone slide. On a triggered jazz trombone, the portion of tubing activated by the trigger also has its own tuning slide.

Bass trombones are larger instruments also equipped with triggers, and they are designed to play notes on the extreme low end of the trombone range. A skilled player can hit lower notes on a bass trombone, and the low end generally sounds richer and warmer in tone. This type of jazz trombone is sometimes used for a modified jazz tuba part when a tuba player is not available, though its low-end range does not quite match the tuba.

A trigger can be helpful for a seasoned trombone player playing fast jazz passages, especially those that were not originally written for trombone. Fast, difficult passages are common in a type of jazz called bebop, which was pioneered by well-known jazz stars Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. When playing bebop jazz, the focus is often on the trumpets or saxophones, which are designed in a way that makes fast playing easier. Since the mechanics of the trombone do not facilitate fast playing, these passages can be much more difficult for trombone players to master. The trigger can ease some of the difficulty by shortening the distances between note positions.

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