When people talk of jazz alto trombone, the name Tom Ervin is mentioned first. Tom was the Professor of Trombone at the University of Arizona for 36 years and was principle trombone in the Tucson Symphony for 28. As that rare breed of instrumentalist who fluently plays both jazz and classical, Tom also has the distinction of playing both tenor and alto trombone.
I received an email recently from a man affiliated with the International Trombone Festival who heard Tom play jazz on the alto trombone back in 1978 at the ITF Workshop in Nashville. Reminiscing about Tom’s alto performance, he wrote, “I thought then and still do now that that was one of the sweetest things I have ever heard.”
Well, I forwarded that comment to Tom who replied back with what I think is a gem of jazz alto trombone history (you didn’t know there was an jazz alto trombone history?). With Tom’s kind permission to reprint, here’s his story about the events leading up to the performance introducing his alto jazz chops to the trombone world.
“I had barely picked up the alto, an old Bach in the exhibits (the one with the bell in the wrong place and only six real positions). 1976 approximately.
I was noodling jazz licks on it, and you’ll remember I simply pretend it is a tenor trombone and I “just play” as a saxophonist would, not worrying about the real pitches, which makes it easy unless I have to read.
Hank Romersa, the ITW director, had me on the faculty that year I think, but he came ALL unglued and demanded I perform on jazz night. I really did try to get out of it, aw shucks, but he was insistent so what the hell I agreed to a rehearsal with BeeGee and her fine combo; if the rehearsal went okay I’d try it, and if it wasn’t comfortable I’d decline/refuse
The rehearsal went well so I agreed to play two tunes. I expected to go first, a warmup act. But no, Frank Rosolino wanted to go first, and Bill Watrous wanted to play last, so I was stuck in between them. I was quite uncomfortable about this, all of it. But the combo played great and I got away with it, showed them some vibrato and some bebop and maybe a high G#. There are recordings someplace.
So for a few years I was famous as the Jazz Alto player. Hardly ever did it again in public.”