Bach on jazz

Last I checked, Bach was not a jazz trombonist. He was a master of improvisation, trombone back in his time was called a Sackbut and wasn’t a very resonant instrument. But Bach does provide some insight into how to improvise well on the trombone.

In the early 1700s, Bach wrote his six cello suites. Hundreds of years later they would become standard repertoire for trombone. Trombone is, after all, in the cello range.

I just finished producing a video that encourages trombone players and other instrumentalists to dive deep into the cello suites in order to play segments of them in various keys/starting notes. My experience has been that once one’s inner musical ear is tuned so deeply to a piece of music that it can be played without music in any key, that facility helps dissolve some of the barrier between the right brain and the left brain mechanical workings of the instrument–in whatever is played (improvised).

The Suites are examples of Bach’s genius for crafting complex harmonic structures using only single-note melodic lines. I make the point in the video that those musical attributes are what we as improvisers try to create as we play. Weaving creatively and hopefully somewhat effortlessly in and out of harmonic structures. This is why I think Bach is such a great model for us.

Take a watch and listen:

I noticed just today, after creating this video and recording some of the suites, that my acuity for playing more solidly within certain key centers is a little sharper.

In the video, I showed a quote I put in Trombone Improv Savvy from Duke Ellington:

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.”

Leave a Comment