Review


Nelson Riddle
Five Pieces for Bass Trombone:
solo bass trombone and brass quartet

Ithaca, New York, United States
Publisher: Ensemble Publications
Date of Publication: 2012
URL: http://www.enspub.com

Genre: CHAMBER MUSIC

Five Pieces for Bass Trombone was commissioned by Dick Noel near the latter half of the 1960’s to be a featured work on the record album Practice Makes Perfect. The album was conceived as a music-minus-one type project that featured Mr. Bass Trombone himself and the Academy Brass Quartet. On one side of the album was the complete recording with George Roberts and the Academy Brass Quartet. On the other was the brass quartet alone, absent the solo bass trombone part. The album’s purchase was accompanied by the sheet music for the solo bass trombone that, in tandem with this second side, could be played along with the recording. This way, owners of the album could practice along with the Academy Brass Quartet, no doubt chasing after that sound that we’ve all come to know so well as uniquely Roberts’. Contemporaneously, a complete print music edition was published by Rumson Music, including the full score and accompanying quartet parts, but it quickly fell out of print. Since then, this illusive work has lived in the cabinets of trombonists, being passed down from teacher to student. This carefully crafted edition is the first move in over thirty-five years to bring the work back to general circulation.

This edition, seeking to restore the work to urtext level, does a wonderfully balanced job of navigating the dangerous waters that surround this endeavor. At issue are discrepancies between Rumson’s original publication and the LP recording. Whether the reasons were of personal taste, or practicality, there are numerous notes and articulations in the recording where both Mr. Roberts and the Academy Brass Quartet deviate from the music as it appears in the original publication. Not wanting to pronounce judgement on either the performer’s choices present in the recording, nor obscure the original intent of the composer, DePaolo provides the performer with a list of itemized changes containing the major editorial additions and corrections. A quick review of the changes alongside the score and LP recording reveal them all to be judicious. The editor is successful in restoring the necessary musical constraints, tempi, expressive markings, etc. that allow the performer’s choice to be well informed. The clarity brought by DePaolo’s editorial markings do a great job of allowing Mr. Riddle’s composition to speak for itself.

Five Pieces for Bass Trombone bears the unique stamp of Nelson Riddle’s compositional language. A prolific arranger for some of the great big bands of the 1940’s, like Tommy Dorsey and Charlie Spivak, Riddle’s experience echoes through the pages. Although much of his harmonic writing could be related more closely to his film scores, the relationship of the brass quartet and solo bass trombone is reminiscent of his big band song arrangements like Ella Fitzgerald’s 1959 Gershwin Songbook with the solo voice being dominant but not tyrannical, interacting with and occasionally joining the ensemble in melodic interplay.

Five Pieces for Bass Trombone, though not technically demanding, should be musically edifying to both the undergraduate college student and professional alike. Being perfect for a recital, this piece provides a reprieve from the standard literature without being overtly commercial. It is both a serious piece of music and an imminently listenable work. Though all of the five short pieces are unique, they are knit together with common harmonic and melodic elements that stop just short of a third stream sound. They seem born of an honest outworking of his compositional language rather than any self-conscious attempt at stylistic synthesis.

All in all, DePaolo has returned to the bass trombone community an important part of our musical heritage with a responsible edition that, with care, provides all of the clarity Riddle’s music deserves. Five Pieces for Bass Trombone should be a part of every trombonist’s library. It provides us a great opportunity to strive for that unique George Roberts style and ease of sound that Riddle must have had in mind when this was composed.

Reviewer: Joe Murrell
Review Published January 31, 2019