Leading jazz trombonist in the world at center

Wycliffe Gordon and his International All Stars honor the great Louis Armstrong

BRATTLEBORO — Wycliffe Gordon is one of the leading jazz trombonists in the world and he will be performing at the Vermont Jazz Center on Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. Although he is the recipient of numerous awards, Gordon is best known for his long tenure with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. For his Vermont performance, Gordon will be joined by his touring ensemble, "The International All-stars." They are a group modeled after trumpeter Louis Armstrong's All-stars. Their music draws from and builds on Armstrong's rich and varied repertoire as demonstrated in their 2017 recording, Hello Pops, which features a varied repertoire influenced by or dedicated to Louis Armstrong. The recording even includes a New Orleans second-line brass-band tune called "Pops for President."

Ever since his youth, Gordon has been enamored with traditional jazz. In an interview with Jazz Times magazine, he reminisced about learning jazz as a teen, "I gravitated to New Orleans music because I was playing trombone and tuba at that time. Even though we as teenagers were listening to a lot of pop music. I had a five-record jazz collection that I got from my recently departed great aunt, I loved that jazz. My friends used to say, `We all love jazz, but Wycliffe, he loves that deep jazz' Yeah man I would go in my garage and listen to Sonny Rollins, James P. Johnson and a whole lot of Louis Armstrong."

All the musicians in Wycliffe Gordon's International All-Stars play traditional jazz with comfortable assurance. Their improvisations are playful, yet they stylistically honor earlier versions of classics like Armstrong's Keyhole Blues and jazz standards such as "When You're Smiling" and "Basin Street Blues." Even their originals swing hard and feel like traditional classics. Members of the International All-stars include Wycliffe Gordon (from Georgia, US) on trombone, trumpet and vocals; Adrian Cunningham, (Australia) on clarinet, flute, saxophone and vocals; Ehud Asherie (Israel) on piano: Ben Williams (Washington, DC) on double bass and Alvin Atkinson (North Carolina) on drums.

Gordon has been recognized as "a superior technician" and "one of the premier trombonists of our time" by Nate Chinen of the New York Times. He was the winner of the 2017 International Trombone Association (ITA) Award. On its web site, ITA offers this reasoning: "His unmatched modern mastery of the plunger mute and his exceptional technique and signature sound, has solidified Gordon a place in musical history." Gordon's fascination and internalization of the development of the trombone throughout the evolution of jazz has resulted in his mastery of a vocabulary informed by the sounds of the instrument's earliest progenitors all the way to today's most current techniques.

In an interview with ITA in 2006, Wycliffe discussed his primary influences. Not surprisingly, many of the trombonists where members of Duke Ellington's Orchestra: "I first got into plunger-mute playing by listening to a recording of 'Bubber Miley' on Duke Ellington's 'Black and Tan Fantasy.' I worked and worked at re-creating this sound. I was later turned on to "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Al Grey, Tyree Glenn, and more and then began transcribing those solos as well, developing a vocabulary of various plunger styles and approaches to playing mutes." Gordon went on to discuss how listening to and transcribing other trombonists helped him develop his own voice and dynamic variety.

It is clear that Gordon has worked diligently at his craft and relies more on listening and persistent study than on raw talent to achieve his goals. In a recent Jazz Times, interview he recalls being asked by a student "what's the shortcut?" His reply was — "Shortcut? The shortcut is the straightest line between where you're standing and the practice room. There's no app for your ability. You have to actually do that work. You can't Google that. You have to practice." Gordon wrote a book describing his method called Sing It First. In the promo for this method he states: "If you can sing it, then you can play it, [that is my] philosophy on everything from double-tonguing to doodling to scatting. If you're having trouble executing something, work on singing it first." This tendency toward vocalization helps define Gordon's sound and is immediately apparent when listening to him improvise. Gordon's solos feel inseparable from his persona. It is as if the trombone is an extension of his voice; the instrument becomes a means to ornament his singing with mutes, growls and bends.

Gordon is also an acclaimed composer and arranger. He has published dozens of works for a variety of instrumentations including small jazz ensembles, big bands and orchestras. He has composed two film scores for silent films that were created in the 1920s by Oscar Micheaux, regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker. Micheaux sought to create films that would counter white portrayals of African Americans, which tended to emphasize inferior stereotypes. Gordon composed film scores for Micheaux's silent films Within These Gates of Mine (1920) and Body and Soul (1925).

The International All-stars are aptly named. Along with Gordon, hear Australian saxophonist Adrian Cunningham who has been called "indispensable to the New York jazz scene" by Hot House Magazine. He leads a band called Professor Cunningham and His Old School, which has been highly successful in its tours in the International Swing dance scene. He is a member of Grammy Award winning Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who recorded the soundtracks for Boardwalk Empire. He has toured/recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Jonathan Batiste, Chris Potter, Geri Allen, Bucky Pizzarelli, Herlin Riley, Nate Smith, Adam Rogers, Reginald Veal, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Mintzer, Lew Soloff, Harry Allen and many others.

The pianist in the group is Israeli-born and Italian-raised Ehud Asherie, who is considered "a master of swing and stride" (The New Yorker). He has since worked with a broad range of musicians. He has 12 albums out as a leader, including a solo album, Shuffle Along, which is a tribute to Eubie Blake. He also appears on the 2010 Grammy Award winning soundtrack of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

Bassist Ben Williams is the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition on bass. He is also the recipient of a Grammy Award for his work with Pat Metheny's Unity Band; he was voted as top overall rising star in Downbeat's 2015 Critic's Poll. Williams was chosen as bassist for the Obama White House's 2015 celebration of International Jazz Day, where he accompanied Chucho Vald z, Paquito D'Rivera, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Trombone Shorty, Lionel Loueke, Robert Glasper and Herbie Hancock.

The drummer for the group is Alvin Atkinson, Jr. As the leader of The Sound Merchants, he participated in several tours as a U.S. State Department Jazz Ambassador; as such he presented his music in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, South America, Haiti, and Africa. Atkinson also toured with an all-star group from Jazz at Lincoln Center, which performed in the Mid-East, Russia, Mali, India, and China. He has performed with Freddie Redd, Steve Wilson, Jimmy Heath, Ellis Marsalis, Barry Harris, Frank Wess, Oscar Brown Jr., Ernie Andrews, Don Braden, Houston Person, Roby Hargrove and many others.

It is likely that this concert will sell out in advance, so reserve your tickets now. The VJC is especially grateful for the sponsorship of this event by Ed Anthes and Mary Ellen Copeland, as well as a friend of the Vermont Jazz Center Summer Jazz Workshop. Their generous contributions have made this concert possible. The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support from the Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW, WFCR and Olga Peters of WKVT's Green Mountain Mornings.

Gordon to perform at the Vermont Jazz Center, 72 Cotton Mill Hill, #222. Tickets are $20 plus general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, online at vtjazz.org, and by email at ginger@vtjazz.org. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line at 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802-254-9088.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions