I began playing brass instruments at the age of 11 in Sydney, Australia. It was completely unplanned. Bands didn’t exist in my school but my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to join an adult brass band since my cousin was already playing cornet with them. They needed a euphonium player, so that’s what I was given to play. It felt enormous compared to me.
Most of my initial learning was via osmosis – watching experienced players around me cringe as I stumbled through various valve combinations on my quest for notes that would fit with the piece the rest of the band was playing. By the time I found them, the rest of the band had usually moved on to the next bar. The chicken scratches on the paper in front of me weren’t much help.
A year passed and I switched to an old discarded trombone in the band closet. (Kids these days have no appreciation!) I stuck with trombone and under the guidance of some top teachers I began to improve. I quickly fell in love with the sound and characteristics of the trombone, buying up as many ‘trombone’ recordings as I could.
At the age of 16, I became a founding member of the Young Northside Big Band which was inspired by the enormously popular Daly/Wilson Big Band – run by Warren Daly and Ed Wilson. The highlight of my time with the Northside band was performing at the 1979 Monterey Jazz Festival in the US.
On a visit to Australia, we accosted Count Basie backstage at the Sydney Opera House and thrust our recently recorded album, “Quiet Breaker”, into his hands. He graciously listened to it and arranged for us to perform at the famous jazz festival.
It was there that we met and watched all the jazz greats – Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Woody Herman – they were all there. And we were on the same program! Little did they suspect; we had brought along our secret weapon – James Morrison!
I went on to study trombone at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music as part of the Jazz Diploma course run by Don Burrows and was soon earning a respectable living as a professional musician – teaching and playing music. In those days, the clubs reigned supreme and their micro economy supported an ecosystem of performers who required backing bands – so there was plenty of work. Musical stage shows, such as “Cats” and “They’re Playing My Song” provided me with additional paid performing opportunities.
In my early 20’s, Warren Daly invited me to play in his big band. I spent 5 years playing and touring with his band, playing lead trombone. This was one of my childhood ambitions realised.
Fast-forward 30 years and I am still actively playing euphonium, trombone and more recently, bass trombone (yes, it’s a different beast to a tenor trombone and it requires taming) – and I’m still loving it!
I tutor young players in the hope that some of my experience will be useful to them as they embark on their own journey.
Being able to play music is a skill that the player will appreciate throughout life.
Start early, start right and your early commitment will soon bring great enjoyment and continue to deliver rewards well into your twilight years.
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