Stan Kenton Christmas 2016

The Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing our annual Stan Kenton Christmas fundraiser concert this Friday night, December 16, 2016, at 7 PM. The concert will be held at our usual location, Trinity United Methodist Church (587 Haywood Rd., Asheville, NC 28806).

We will be performing most of the charts on Stan Kenton’s “Merry Christmas” album, as well as several additional Christmas big band charts at this concert. The performance is free and open to the public, but we will be taking a collection to raise money for the Bless the Schools fund (which helps out Asheville City Schools children in need) and the Asheville Jazz Council (a 501c3 dedicated to promoting jazz education, performance, and composition in western North Carolina).

It has been a couple of years since I had a new Christmas arrangement of my own for this concert. Last week I put the finishing touches on a new arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We’ll be playing that chart, as well as a few others by me at this show.

If you get to come, please come up and say hello after the performance.

AJO at White Horse Black Mountain, 12/10/16

The Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be back at the White Horse Black Mountain (105c Montreat Rd., Black Mountain, NC) on Saturday, December 10, 2016. For this show we’re pulling out the holiday book and will be playing holiday classics in a big band jazz style.

I’ve written a few of the charts we’ll be playing and am working on an original big band arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and hope to have it completed in time for this show. It will be a trombone section feature because, well, all charts should be trombone section features.

There is a $15 cover charge. If you make it to our show, please say hello on set break or afterwards.

Building Embouchure Stability In Low Range – Less Air, Not More!

A recent thread on the Trombone Pedagogy Facebook group has gotten me thinking about building embouchure stability in the low range. The specific topic there concerns a particular student who has a very unstable embouchure in general and on low Bb has an uncontrollable waver in her tone. I don’t have permission to share the video, but I do have some photos that illustrate the same situation.

25pedalbbfront-copyThe photo to the right is of a trombonist playing a pedal Bb. I chose this photo because the student trombonist had a similar looking embouchure formation on her low Bb. Note how the embouchure formation has collapsed and is very loose looking.

While it may be necessary at first for inexperienced players to get into the extreme low register like this, overplaying like this will very likely cause issues down the road if the player doesn’t make corrections (click here to read up and view some video footage I documented). Like all habits, it can be difficult to correct and the longer a player relies on collapsing the embouchure formation to play low the harder it will be. Unfortunately,  some of the default advice I was reading on Facebook also seemed to encourage practicing in the low register in a manner that makes it harder to make the necessary embouchure corrections.

Asking a student to “blow more air,” or even to simply “support” the note with the air is going to make it harder for the student to play in the low register with the same level of firmness in the embouchure formation as the rest of their range, but this is what some teachers recommend. Personally, I prefer to help a student with this issue by developing exercises or practicing musical passages that start in a higher range and descend to the problem area with a decrescendo. Playing softly in that low register makes it easier for the student to hold the mouth corners firm, maintain the overall embouchure formation, and use a bit more mouthpiece pressure for additional embouchure stability.

27highbbfront-copy27lowbbfront-copyFor comparison, here are a couple of photos of a different player. The photo to the left is a high Bb (Bb4/ledger lines above bass clef staff). The one to the right is the same player playing a low Bb (Bb2/in the bass clef staff). Note how similar they look from the outside (I happened to catch the vibrating lips on the low Bb when the embouchure aperture was close to closed, but at their peak opens you can see a bigger difference on the embouchure aperture between these pitches).

Playing softly and accepting a thinner tone will help a student to successfully experience what it feels like to play in the low register with a stable embouchure formation. As she gets more comfortable playing that way she can begin adding air and working to open up the sound, but if the embouchure formation collapses again she should stop, reset, and try again with just a little less air. Over time it will get better and easier to add more air. However, it’s important for her to stop encouraging this habit as quickly and completely as possible. Throwing more air at an embouchure formation that is too loose and unstable will not help her build the strength and control to stop collapsing.

That said, performances (and most rehearsals) are different. The above advice is for practice and private lessons. When you perform it’s more important to do whatever you have to in order to sound good. If that means collapsing to play low, that’s fine. Over time the student will be able to play correctly with enough comfort and volume that she won’t even think about making a change, it happens because it has replaced her old habit.