In Praise of the Trombone

Photograph — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Last night I sent this lovely piece on the trombone from the NY Times to my friend Sharman King who plays the bass horn and a bass trombone for the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and for Turning Point Ensemble.

Guest Blog by Sharman King

The mention of Combo-Orks brought me back to my childhood.

My Dad had them and I still have them, along with the waltz medleys my Dad scored for The Serenaders in Trail.

It also brought me back to my Dad’s trombone, a King 2B he had bought in 1936. It, too, lived under his bed, in a very thin black alligator-patterned case and smelled of disuse, the horse-based adhesive used to fasten the plush lining to the case, stale Pond’s cold cream and, most of all, memories.

My Dad had graduated from UBC Engineering in 1936 but the depression meant there were few jobs for Chemical Engineers. However, if one played music or hockey there was work in Trail so Dad took a job sweeping in the phosphate plant and playing in the two town bands which were supported by The Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. One band, the Maple Leaf Band was largely Italian and had woodwinds. The other, the Legion Band was a brass band (no woodwinds) and, in keeping with the British brass band tradition, played at the old British high pitch of a=456 cycles per second.

That meant that Dad’s trombone was a custom ordered instrument, built a bit shorter than an instrument designed for our a=440 cps. In order to be useable at the lower 440 pitch a second, longer tuning slide was supplied. In trombone nerd talk, he thought the longer tuning slide caused a problem with his D harmonic being flat.

Dad encountered MS shortly after I was born and by the early fifties he was unable to play. However when I brought home a baritone horn in grade seven — that would have been in 1959 — I remember him playing “The Lady in Red” on the baritone (in Eb, starting on Bb) and on his violin. I have practically no other memories of his playing but I will never forget that day.

In Grade 12 I became interested in the trombone and switched instruments with our school band’s trombonist, Bob Barton. I played Dad’s trombone for a while but by that time larger trombones were becoming popular so I traded his trombone and a couple of instruments I had been given for a larger King 3B. I wish I’d never done that — I would love to have that smelly, pitchy 2B back.

I later sold the King 3B to local trombonist Bob Fraser who uses it to this day, and I bought my first bass trombone, a German Latzsch instrument that we still use in the Vancouver Opera Orchestra for Mozart and other earlier operas.

But I still remember Dad’s 2B, the smells, the comfortable handgrip and the fantastically smooth and even slide. I just wish I’d heard him play it more.


PS Alex, I’m in Spain right now, thinking longingly of your linguistic abilities. I’m also thinking cameras, like instruments, have stories locked up in them. I have a 2.8E Rolleiflex which I bought from Fred Schiffer — can you imagine who that camera has seen and the stories it’s witnessed?

Dear Sharman,

I hope you don’t mind including your very nice essay here. I might add a few things. My mother knew Fred Schiffer in Buenos Aires. He was the first professional photographer there to use electronic flash. He was Juan Domingo Perón’s favourite photographer until Perón asked him to photograph his wife Evita. Schiffer declined. This might have been the reason for Schiffer and wife Olive to move to Vancouver. When I arrived in Vancouver Schiffer and wife gave me advice on how to persist in my goal to make it as a photographer in Vancouver. Shortly before he died we compared notes. We were going to have a show of portraits of young men, movers and shakers of our city, that I subsequently photographed when they were older. Who knows, that Rolleiflex might have face the General!

My first memory of the trombone was when I was in St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas. It was during the 10 grade when we all lived in a huge dorm with bunk beds. The prefect was a very cool but firm Brother Rene Lenhard, C.S.C. It was his goal to increase our musical culture when he turned off the lights. He would play classical music (and odly, the Amos & Andy Show on the radio). My favourite was Ravel’s Bolero. I waited always for the moment when the trombone kicked in.

Many years later I sat at a table at the Iridium Club in New York City with trombonist J.J. Johnson who we all now know that he was born in Indianapolis. We know this because he wrote a jazz classic Why Indianapolis, Why Not Indianapolis?

Link to: In Praise of the Trombone

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: