Irving “Miff” Mole (1898-1961)

Irving "Miff" Mole
Irving "Miff" Mole

Irving “Miff” Mole is the trombonist most frequently credited with liberating the trombone from its role as a counter-melody, bass line instrument. Making his recording debut with The Original Memphis Five in the early Twenties, Mole introduced a new level of performance technique for the jazz trombonist. Mole combined the percussive technique of the Dixieland trombone style with a melodic agility that previously had been heard on only the cornet or clarinet. During the 1920s he recorded hundreds of solos, which were unheard of on the trombone; Mole’s daring use of intervals, combined with unexpected phrases, created a melodic ingenuity and grace from an instrument that was only expected to supplying emotive bursts of raw passion.1 An example of Mole’s solo style that reflects this change is the Edison recording of “Hurricane” from 1926.2 In 1927 Mole started worked as a studio musician, playing in few jazz performances for the next two decades. In 1938-40 be performed with Paul Whiteman, and in 1943 with Benny Goodman. By the time of his death in 1961 he had been all but forgotten by the jazz community.

The inclusion of Mole as an innovator in trombone performance is in dispute in James Collier’s Jazz: The American Theme Song. Collier lists Mole and Teagarden as important white performers during this time, but cites black trombonist Dickie Wells as having more influence on future trombonists.3 However, Dickie Wells did not start recording solos of any significant length until almost two years after Mole had departed for studio work, and Well’s performances reflect the styles that were introduced by Mole. While Wells may be an important influence, his style was formed on the basis of Mole’s.

  1. Humphrey Lyttelton, The Best of Jazz II: Enter the Giants 1931-1944 (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1981), 93.
  2. Gary Giddins, Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation in the ‘80s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 40.
  3. James Lincoln Collier, Jazz: The American Theme Song (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 218-219.