Plus: Piccolo Trombone
For this page, I'm digging even deeper into my archives. Very early in my career, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were a surprising number of Los Angeles trumpet players that were doubling on slide trumpet. One influence was the Moravian trombone choir, led by the Philharmonic bass trombonist, Jeff Reynolds. This was an ensemble of slide trombones from soprano in Eb to contrabass in BBb. The musicianship was consistently high, attracting many professionals. Several commercial players had also taken up the slide trumpet, including Chuck and Bob Findlay, and Maynard Ferguson was also very influential with his Firebird trumpet. Both Larry Minick and Dominic Calicchio were making slide trumpets to satisfy local demands and it wasn't long before some of the younger guys approached me about making them. The only inexpensive alternative at the time was the Getzen made in the 1960s, which was never intended to be a high grade instrument. There were antique slide cornets around, but prices were already rising. My first attempt, in 1978, was made by cutting down a small bore (.468") trombone slide and attaching a cornet bell. It was playable, but not a very good instrument. I also made a trumpet with three valves and a full length slide, like a soprano version of the Holton Superbone. This was a disaster and my first lesson about not deviating too far from proven acoustic design.
I decided that it was not such a good idea to have my name associated with such inferior instruments and for the next one, I made up new slide tubes and the rest of the parts were new Olds trumpet and trombone. I made about 10 of these over a few years and most had the F valve as pictured here. In 1984, I was approached by trombonist Eugene Lebeaux, who wanted to play solos on flugelhorn as well as trombone. He asked me to make him a slide flugelhorn. This came to mind recently when a request was made for me to make a slide euphonium and I also discuss the impossibility of making a slide tuba on my contrabass trombone
page. In all three cases, the nature of the instruments is largely determined by a taper through most of the instrument's length, ending in a rather large bell. It is impossible to retain the character of flugelhorn, euphonium or tuba with a long enough slide to play the full range chromatically. My suggestion to Lebeaux was the instrument pictured here. This is certainly not a slide flugelhorn, but has the widest bell possible on a soprano trombone, has a dual bore (.438/.460") slide and takes a flugelhorn mouthpiece. Both the deep cup of the mouthpiece and the wide bell flare contribute to a much darker timbre than typical trumpets and cornets. While not what we know as a flugelhorn sound, it is distinct from the brighter sounding instruments. This is the bell that was designed for use on Olds bugle corps bugles in G and is also used on Kanstul Stadium and Wild Thing trumpets. It was very successful and I believe that Lebeaux still plays it today.
While we're in the mood for pushing boundaries: The next photo is a piccolo trombone or slide trumpet that I made more as a novelty or experiment. This was at the time that Larry Minick was still making slide trumpets, mostly in Bb, but a few in soprano Eb that used his own piccolo trumpet bells. We both knew that this was the upper limits for a practical instrument, but I really wanted to know what could really be done with a true piccolo trombone in Bb. It actually does play well enough to be used in performances if used judiciously. I eventually sold it to John Schoolcraft of the Make Believe Brass (playing at Disneyland at the time) for use in their trombone quintet in which it was only brought out to surprise even the most savvy audience that wouldn't have known that such a thing existed. I had previously made a pair of slide trumpets with F valve similar to the top photo, that they would use for most pieces, the piccolo was only occasionally taken out of John's pocket just for fun.