Even though trombones are often associated with brass bands, their versatility has turned them into musical instruments that are used in a variety of musical settings, ranging from brass bands to symphonic orchestras, jazz bands, and even rock bands. However, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate this instrument’s beauty without the work and contribution of famous trombone players such as the ones included in the list below.
Thanks to their mastery, creativity, and commitment, we have had the chance to discover the trombone’s sonic personality in works and performances that have shaped the world of music and the evolution of this instrument.
The beginning of trombones, around the 20th century, finds these instruments as parts of brass bands. During the mid-20s, though, trombone sections were created for big bands, and they included two to five trombone players. This contributed to the way jazz developed and led to the emergence of jazz trombone players.
It’s enough to take this instrument out of a jazz or symphonic ensemble to understand its importance and personality. Mastering it takes years of practice, given the trombone’s anatomy and the way it is played, which makes us bow before the world’s great trombone players.
To show our gratitude, we have compiled below a list of famous professional trombone players. They are listed in no particular order, and each of them contributed to the way trombone music evolved.
Often referred to as one of the greatest of early jazz trombonists, Miff Mole not only played the instrument skillfully, but he also approached it in new ways that eventually led to the development of a distinctive solo jazz trombone style.
He was also a bandleader, and his performances turned him into a key figure on New York’s jazz scene in the 1920s. His activity includes many recordings with influential musicians of that time, such as Eddie Lang and Jimmy Dorsey. Mole accompanied Sophie Tucker on some of her recordings, such as ‘Red Hot Mama’.
Other recordings that have become iconic for his professional activity include ‘Miff’s Blues’, ‘Slippin’ Around’, and ‘There’ll Come a Time (Wait and See)’.
Any list that gathers the best trombone jazz players includes Jack Teagarden, who was both a jazz singer and a trombone player. He developed a lyrical style that, combined with his creativity and technique, earned him a top place among the world’s best trombonists. What’s more, Pee Wee Russell even called Teagarden the world’s best trombone player.
Teagarden is considered the most important pre-bop trombone player in the history of jazz who enchanted his audiences not only with his trombone performances but also with his voice. He took his passion for this instrument one step further by designing trombone mouthpieces and mutes.
The musician’s professional activity and discography include over 1,000 recordings for well-known labels, such as Columbia and Capitol, as well as performances with some of the greatest musicians of his time, including Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman. Songs such as ‘Basin Street Blues’, ‘Jeepers Creepers’, and ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ contributed to his popularity.
The way the trombone playing evolved was significantly influenced by Arthur Pryor, a famous trombone player who performed between the late 1800s and early 1900s and whose performances were a phenomenon at that time thanks to his unique technique that no other trombone player could copy.
He is known for playing with the John Philip Sousa Band, a collaboration that included around 10,000 solo performances. He was not only a trombonist, though, as he also directed his passion for this instrument and talent toward musical compositions.
Many trombone players still perform his compositions, and Pryor is often considered to be the best trombone player in the world. He also worked with other great musicians of the time, including Herbert Clarke.
Not only one of the most famous jazz trombone players but also a composer, arranger, and bandleader, Glenn Miller contributed to the way music evolved during the 1930s. He led several Swing Era bands, showing his talent and mastery through unique arrangements of memorable instrumentation.
He enjoyed great success as a trombonist as well, becoming the best-selling recording and highest-paid artist between 1939 – 1943. Some of his most popular recordings include ‘A String of Pearls’, ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’, ‘In the Mood’, ‘Tuxedo Junction’, and ‘A String of Pearls’, to name a few.
His achievements include 16 no. 1 records and 69 top 10 hits over just four years, which is more than The Beatles or Elvis Presley achieved in their entire career.
Associated with the bebop style, J.J. Johnson is often referred to as one of the best jazz trombonists of all time thanks to his mastery and technique. He started his career playing with the big bands and orchestras of the 40s, and over the next few years, he collaborated with many influential musicians of that time, including Max Roach, Bud Powell, and Sonny Stitt.
Johnson was also a bandleader and toured the U.S., Scandinavia, and the U.K. These small groups he toured with included great trumpeters, cornetists, tenor saxophonists, drummers, and pianists. His contribution to the way the trombone is played is significant, as many influential figures in this world have acknowledged.
Trombonist Steve Turre said that what J.J. Johnson did for this instrument was similar to Charlie Parker’s contribution to the way the saxophone playing evolved, and he even called him the trombone master of the century.
Moreover, he appeared around the world with some of the greatest musicians of that time, such as Nat Adderley, Tommy Flanagan, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, and Max Roach. His professional activity also includes many achievements as a composer.
The jazz stage has witnessed many great jazz trombonists, and one of them is Frank Rosolino. He started playing the trombone when he was a teenager and continued to do so during the Second World War when he joined a military band. He contributed to the way jazz evolved and how this instrument could be used in this music genre.
His discography is impressive, as it includes a considerable number of records and collaborations with important musicians. He was active in many L.A. recording studios and performed with some of the greatest artists of that time, including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Sarah Vaughan, and Michel Legrand.
Often referred to as the ‘Sentimental Gentleman of Swing’, Tommy Dorsey was not only a great trombonist but also a composer, bandleader, and conductor. Even though he played both the trumpet and the trombone and did so skillfully, he chose to explore more the latter.
The technique he employed when playing the trombone and the smooth-toned style built his fame and garnered appreciation from music fans and musicians alike. He is also well-known for his performances with his brother, Jimmy Dorsey. They started the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, which enjoyed great success during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Tommy Dorsey’s discography includes an impressive number of hits, such as ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’, ‘On Treasure Island’, ‘Opus One’, and ‘Marie’, just to name a few.
Considered one of the best jazz trombone players of all time, Urbie Green has contributed considerably to how jazz and music evolved, and his activity influenced many musicians. He started playing the trombone when he was only 12, but he was committed to mastering it, which he managed to achieve as all his efforts resulted in a successful career that spanned decades.
His discography includes a great number of albums as a soloist, as well as over 250 recordings he played on. In 1995, Green was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
When it comes to today’s famous trombonists, Joseph Alessi holds a top place thanks to his trombone mastery, versatility, and the ease with which he plays different styles. He is the principal trombone player of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the recipient of important awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the ITA Award, which is the most important award offered by this association.
He performed with other important orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and he is considered one of the finest trombone players of all time. Alessi is also a teacher, soloist, and recording musician.
Coming from a musical family, Robin Eubanks is considered one of the most influential jazz trombonists of his generation. He is also an important promoter of this instrument, given his activity as a lecturer and clinician at several colleges and universities around the world, including the U.S.
He is well known and appreciated for the various projects he participated in, such as the Dave Holland Quintet and Michael’s Brecker Quindectet. His participation in Brecker’s project earned him a Grammy. His mastery and talent have been widely acknowledged, and he has won various awards.
When looking for more on the best jazz trombonist or some of the most important figures in this field, you are likely to see Don Lusher included in such articles and lists. He gained fame and appreciation for his trombone mastery and skillful playing. He is well known for working with the Ted Heath Big Band, several orchestras, as well as for performing with other bands, such as the Manhattan Sound Big Band.
Lusher led the trombone section when touring with Frank Sinatra, and he was also the President of the British Trombone Society and Professor at the Royal Marines School of Music and the Royal College of Music.
The way jazz evolved has something to do with Curtis Fuller’s performances as well. The American jazz trombonist is widely known for his activity as a member of the Jazz Messengers, as well as his contribution to several classic jazz recordings.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, he played on a considerable number of recordings led by some of the most influential musicians of that time, such as John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Clark, and Joe Henderson, to name a few.
Fuller’s achievements also include an honorary doctorate that he received from Berklee College of Music, and his discography includes a significant number of works both as a leader and as a sideman.
When it comes to trombone players who shaped how this instrument is played, Emory Remington is a key figure. Thanks to his unique playing methods, he came to be regarded as a pioneer in this field. He embraced a modern approach when playing the orchestral trombone, and he is also the one who developed the warm-up routine for this instrument.
Remington was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and he was a teacher at Eastman School of Music in New York. His career as a teacher has helped many musicians learn and master the trombone, and his dynamic range, modern approach, and unique tone contributed to the instrument’s popularity among young players.
Melba Doretta Liston
The world of music has also been shaped by Melba Doretta Liston’s activity as a trombonist, composer, and arranger. She is not only one of the most famous female trombone players but also the first woman trombonist who played with major bands during the 1940s and 1960s.
She worked with important musicians of her time, such as Randy Weston, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Coltrane. Her discography includes a noteworthy number of works both as a leader and a guest.
Not only a skilled trombonist but also a jazz composer, Kai Winding shaped the way jazz evolved through both his trombone performances and compositions. He is well known for his collaboration with the above-mentioned J.J. Johnson.
His career spanned over three decades and included performances with important musicians of that time and orchestras. He appeared on a great number of recordings, and his discography includes many works as a leader/co-leader and as a sideman on recordings with Quincy Jones, Sarah Vaughan, and Stan Kenton, to name a few.