The Trombone and Its Performers in Early Dixieland and Swing Jazz

Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band
Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band

Since the inception of instrumental jazz in the 1890s the trombone has been an integral part of the ensemble. The instrumentation of these early bands was varied until 1900 when a standard instrumentation began to appear, and the trombone was included in almost every form with the exception of the string bands and jug bands. The trombone was introduced to the jazz band along the same lines as the cornet and clarinet, from the military and brass band traditions that were prevalent in New Orleans after the Civil War. The trombone’s early role in these ensembles was as a source of counter-melodies and rhythmic accents; it eventually would be considered a soloing instrument along with the cornet and trumpet, but this role was not realized until the mid to late 1920s.

Research into the performers and performance practice of the trombone in jazz during 1890 to 1920 is difficult at best. Early trombonists were overshadowed by  cornet and clarinet players who played the melody lines, while the trombone provided harmonic and rhythmic support. Information about early trombonists is often relegated to those performers who stood out in other areas, such as composers or bandleaders. With the exception of Kid Ory or Jack Teagarden typical research into jazz history only leads to a brief paragraph on a given trombonist that gives little more than a group they were performing with at the time, or their location. Further research into this area is required, and would involve the use of primary sources, possibly located at the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive, Maxwell Music Library located at Tulane University in New Orleans. This series will provide a basis of information on early trombonists in the Dixieland and Swing eras and provide a better starting point for future research than is presently available.

Before tracing the role of the trombone in early instrumental jazz, a brief history of the genre and its evolution must be covered to give a context for the study.