James Burton – Trombone Interview
Welcome to the show notes for Episode #17 of the Trombone Corner podcast. This episode features New York trombonist James Burton III.
Listen to or download the episode below:
About James Burton
Trombonist, composer, arranger James Burton III has lent his sound to multiple Grammy Award-winning albums and Tony Award-winning Broadway productions. Born in Queens, now a resident of Harlem, Burton III is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute at the Hartt School of Music. While earning his Master’s Degree and Artist Diploma from the Juilliard School, Burton held both the Morse and Gluck Fellowships and received the Schuman Prize, an award named for Juilliard’s founding president and given to one graduating Masters Degree candidate annually.
Burton got his professional start playing with many of the great large ensembles; the Illinois Jacquet Big Band, the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars, the Lincoln Center and Vanguard Jazz Orchestras etc. Additionally, the opportunity to perform/record with legends Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Ron Carter and Christian McBride inspired Burton to co-found a 10-piece ensemble called the Uptown Jazz Tentet, which celebrated the release of a second album in late 2020, to much critical acclaim. Currently, Burton’s playing and original compositions can be heard alongside band mates Jeremy Pelt and Wayne Escoffery in a dynamic new ensemble; Black Art Jazz Collective. BAJC has released three albums since its inception, the latest two reaching the #1 position on the JazzWeek Charts for international radio play.
In the model of jazz education pioneer Jackie McLean, Burton is an avid educator and has been a full time associate professor at both the Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music as well as Director of Jazz Education at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Burton continues to pass on the legacy of the music via master classes, ensemble coachings and workshops for arts education institutions across the globe.
James Burton Links
[0:00:00] Intro Music
[0:00:08] John Snell: Welcome to the Trombone Corner podcast where we feature interviews with trombone ists from all over the globe. It is great to have you join us as we talk all things. Trombone brought to you by The Brass Ark and Bob Reeves Brass. This is your host, John Snell from Bob Reeves Brass, along with my co host, Noah Gladstone of The Brass Ark. Today’s special guest is James Burton the third. We’ll get to James’s interview here in a moment after a word from our sponsors and some trombone news. Take it away. Noah.
[0:00:45] : Hello, loyal listeners. This is Noah Gladstone. I founded The Brass Ark in 2010 to celebrate the love and passion for legendary brass craftsmanship. I wanted to share my joy for the best gear and bring it to the forefront of musicians minds through the development and cultivation of modern equipment with roots firmly established in the classic designs of the vintage masters. Bob Reeves Brass is a world renowned mouthpiece maker of the highest quality and has been handcrafting mouthpieces for professional trumpet players for over 50 years. Together. We are excited to bring a premium line of handcrafted mouthpieces to the trombone community inspired by rare and vintage classics and modernized for the needs of today’s musician. Models are available in a variety of sizes from small and large tenor bass, trombone, euphonium, as well as custom sizes. We also have artist models available as used by David Rejano, Jay Friedman and Charlie Vernon visit brass ark dot com or trombone mouthpiece dot com. For more information and remember to follow us on Instagram at The Brass Ark and at Bob Reeves Brass. Back to you, John.
[0:01:48] John Snell: Noah, you are getting better and better at that ad read one of these days. It’s, it’s just gonna be perfect. So thank you for that. Um
[0:01:56] Noah Gladstone: Be careful. I might rerecord it one of these days.
[0:02:00] John Snell: Oh,no. Come on, come on, you’re giving away our secrets. Oh my gosh. You know, I can’t wait to get to James interview. We just recorded it and it is, you know, to use a sports analogy. It is a home run, it is a hat trick, it is touchdown. So we’ll get to that right here in a few minutes, but there’s a couple of things we wanna let you know about the goings on The Brass Ark and Bob Reeves Brass first things first. And I’ll make this short. We will be exhibiting at the International Trombone Festival this summer, July 12th to 15th, 2023. This year it’ll be in Salt Lake City, Utah. So we’ll be heading north. So be sure to join us there. We’ll have more details obviously as it gets closer. Noah, what’s going on at The Brass Ark?
[0:02:44] Noah Gladstone: Yeah, Brass Ark been been pretty crazy. First of all, we got a bunch of snow up at the shop. So that was pretty wild this week. But I have, I know pretty crazy. Uh, literally looked like it was a blizzard outside of the door because there was. But yeah, some really interesting, interesting horns at the shop. This week. Finally, my Marcus Leichter project that I started in 2017 has been completed and Marcus made seven instruments they’ve all been sold. So the next batch will be 2 to 3 years, but I’ll be doing a big post about those. And all I can say is they are amazing bass trombones. He somehow managed to capture the essence and DNA of my 1916 Conn Fuchs bass trombone. Uh It’s a modern version. It sounds nearly identical to the original, which is just a quite a feat by Marcus. I also have new trombones from Stephen’s Brass made by Steve Shires at his house shop in Vermont. Very exciting. So a couple of those coming in, have a new M and W trombone coming in from our friends, Matt Walker out in Wisconsin and uh a lot of other great stuff at the shop right now, Haag bass trombones, all sorts of good stuff, plus a lot of used consignment instruments. So definitely a good time to check out the website, really rare vintage stuff and some great new things as well.
[0:04:03] John Snell: Well, it sounds like you got a lot going on at the shop then. Noah.
[0:04:07] Noah Gladstone: Certainly. Uh, it keeps me busy and then, you know, I’m working hard to try to keep up with all the emails and all that stuff. So, thanks for everyone’s patience if you’re waiting for a response from
[0:04:18] John Snell: me. But speaking of keeping things going, let’s get to our interview with James Burton because there’s a lot of great stories he’s got to tell. So shall we, James Burton is a highly regarded trombonist composer and arranger who has lent his talents to multiple Grammy and Tony Award winning albums as well as Broadway productions. He is a graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute at the Hartt School of Music and holds a master’s degree and artist diploma from the Juilliard School. James has played with prominent large ensembles like the Illinois Jacquet Big Band, Dizzy Gillespie All Stars, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. And he’s collaborated with legendary musicians such as Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Ron Carter and Christian McBride. In addition, he co founded the Uptown Jazz Tentet and the Black Art Jazz Collective, both of which have released critically acclaimed albums. Burton is also a dedicated educator and has taught at the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music and NJPAC and conducts workshops and master classes worldwide. And now here’s our interview with James Burton the third.
[0:05:35] Noah Gladstone: Um You know, what, what was your inspiration? How did you get started? Like, you know, when did you start playing the trombone?
[0:05:41] James Burton III: I started playing in fourth grade and uh I didn’t choose it. It was chosen for me. I think I wanted to play the dreaded trumpet or the saxophone. Oh,
[0:05:52] Noah Gladstone: no, not the trumpet. We’re already down this, this slippery slope here. But uh you know, did you have a musical family or, or you, you come from any musical background and, and how did, how did they just get forced upon you?
[0:06:05] James Burton III: Well, uh music was big in my household, not from, just from a listener’s standpoint, music was always playing, you know, Motown Typical hits of the, you know, 50s, 60s, 70s, a lot of vinyl. But I had a father that played saxophone when he was a teenager, but he kind of gave it up when he got into college and my mother uh was completely tone deaf, like completely tone deaf. And so it was literally just a crapshoot whose genes I would get with regards to music. But music appreciator, I should say for
[0:06:42] Noah Gladstone: sure. And you started in an elementary school, just a band program in school or, or how did that?
[0:06:47] James Burton III: Yeah, everyone was supposed to either go into, you know, chorus or pick an instrument and I wanted to play trumpet, saxophone. But my father was out of work at the time. And so he looked at the list of instruments and how much it cost to rent each one for the school year. And he scrolled to the bottom trombone. You’re getting that one. There you go.
[0:07:07] Noah Gladstone: There you go. And was it, was it a, did you hit it off with the trombone right away or, you know where you’re like, this is like, this is for me. I found my, my way at fourth grade and never looked back,
[0:07:19] James Burton III: you know, something, the bass player, Todd Coleman said once about when he chose the bass, it really resonated with me. I think I had a similar feeling when I picked the trombone. It just seemed like something you could cause a lot of mischief with.
[0:07:31] Noah Gladstone: Totally, I get, I get it. I mean, I was kind of the same way. I walked into the band room and I was like, oh, what’s that in the back over there? That’s, they look like they’re having a good time back there, for sure, for sure. And then, you know, did you, did you get private lessons right away? Completely self taught? How did, how did that come to pass?
[0:07:49] James Burton III: Okay. This is kind of out. But I didn’t, I didn’t get a lesson until I was in college.
[0:07:53] Noah Gladstone: No way.
[0:07:55] James Burton III: Yeah. Yeah. I had my, my, all my band directors were, one was a saxophonist, one was a trumpet player and their vibe was, here’s a position chart kid, you know, work it out. Wow.
[0:08:09] Noah Gladstone: You just kind of figured it out on your own, you know, made it work.
[0:08:15] James Burton III: Yeah. Yeah. Just using your ears, listening to recordings and getting information where you can. One thing they did tell me was long tones but, you know, if somebody just says long tones, you know, and doesn’t tell you how to do them, that’s, you know, for
[0:08:28] Noah Gladstone: sure, for sure. So, so you, you, you’re in high school, you’re playing trombone pretty well on your own, then you decided you wanted to be a music major and went into school or did you do other stuff first or how did that, how did that all work out?
[0:08:41] James Burton III: So, I love music, but I got the typical message that adults give you when you start talking about wanting to go into music. Um, you know, you can’t make a living. It’s a dead end street kid, don’t do it. And so I was pretty strong academically and also played sports. I was pulled in a lot of directions. So I ended up going to SUNY Stony Brook to be a pre-med major and to play football.
[0:09:06] John Snell: So that’s a combination.
[0:09:11] James Burton III: And I did, I participated in a big band one day a week at the school to kind of keep my music interests going.
[0:09:20] Noah Gladstone: Amazing. So, so what was the tipping point where you just decided, you know, I think music is the career that I want to take, was there an epiphany moment or, or anything like that?
[0:09:31] James Burton III: I think just adulthood being able to say no to my parents. Like, I think it was just, it was just a waiting game until I could do what I wanted to do. But I actually got a lesson with Mike Powell from the American brass quintet while I was there and he would just, he put a brochure in front of me for the first time and he said, you know, here play this, you know, and I had no idea what I was doing at all, but he would kind of just sit back and stare at me and he’s like, you’ve never had a lesson before. And he basically told me I was a natural at just playing the instrument from a raw standpoint, but I didn’t know anything about interpretation or, you know, phrase markings or any of that stuff.
[0:10:18] Noah Gladstone: Yeah, a diamond in the rough, I guess as, as they say, so, amazing, amazing. So then, you know, you decide you’re going to be a musician, you’re taking lessons, you do it, you know, what was your first big break?
[0:10:33] James Burton III: Uh Probably so I had seen, I’ve gone to see, I’ve gone to music camps. I went to the Skidmore camp and Jackie McLean brought a band to that camp and Steve Davis was playing with him and he was, first of all, he sounded great and his sound kind of, I was a big Curtis Fuller fan at that point in time. And just something about Steve’s approach resonated with me and he was such a great guy. We just hit it off and we started kind of scheming on how to get me out of stony, broken up to heart where he was teaching.
[0:11:09] John Snell: How old were you at this point?
[0:11:11] James Burton III: At this point when I met Steve, I was 18 and then it was like two years of scheming and then I got to heart when I was 20.
[0:11:21] John Snell: So you’re still, still pretty young then at this point?
[0:11:26] James Burton III: Yeah. Yeah.
[0:11:28] John Snell: Yeah. So can you talk a little bit? I mean, who are you listening to? You said you’re always surrounded by music and you know, you obviously didn’t have any lessons. So what were, you know, who are your inspirations? Were they all trombone players that run the gamut?
[0:11:43] James Burton III: So in this little 22 year waiting period when I should have been doing my chemistry labs and uh my cognitive psych homework. I was listening to like John Coltrane, Interstellar Space all day, you know, doing, doing the stuff kids do when they first discover that music. Um But it was pretty much a mixture of J J Johnson, uh Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton, Loved Miles Davis. Um John John Coltrane, of course, as I mentioned and um any good kind of R and B R and B S pop music to anything that had a groove and a strong melody.
[0:12:26] John Snell: Anything in particular.
[0:12:29] James Burton III: Yeah, This is the late 90s. So, do you remember the rock band Sublime?
[0:12:35] John Snell: Long Beach?
[0:12:37] James Burton III: Yeah, great. They had a great, had a great trombonist, uh, that played with them and that kind of grabbed my ear. Of course. Um, Fred Wesley, um, Clifford Adams from Kool and the gang just, you know, players like that.
[0:12:59] John Snell: So, you’re at the Hartt School, you’re finally getting lessons. like, what did that look like for you?
[0:13:07] James Burton III: I was a fish out of water. It felt like because everyone, all of my peers, my peers there had, you know, a couple of years of, you know, they’re getting theory and arranging and they had come up in enrichment programs in high school and I was still learning, you know, scales and basics and stuff like that. So it was a big game of catch up. And I remember telling Jackie McLean at the time, he put me in his advanced ensemble at the heart school. And so I, I asked for a meeting with Jackie and I said, uh Dr mcclean, I can’t do this like I can’t do it. I have no idea what’s going on. I’m looking at chord changes. I don’t know what they mean. Everybody sounds so great. I can’t do this. And he just laid into me like, you know, I put you here, you’re here for a reason, you know, trust the process and, you know, stick it out and then I’m so glad he went off on me.
[0:14:04] John Snell: What a conversation and at a, at a young age too. So then, so did you turn it around and also what did that look like in terms of giving up on the sports and on the pre med and all of that stuff? I mean, was it like a pressure being lifted or was it a difficult decision?
[0:14:21] James Burton III: Well, going to quote unquote straight ahead college for a couple of years was a blessing in disguise because all of those prerequisites they bog you down with, at a university had already been knocked out. So I really had a truly immersive musical, you know, conservatory experience when I got to the school, it was just, you know, music and trombone 24 7.
[0:14:47] John Snell: Amazing. Amazing. So, and at that point, where did you start freelancing at all over? Is it just purely heads down into the books and being in the practice room?
[0:14:56] James Burton III: It was, it was all well at heart, you know, Jackie was good about kind of community engagement. And so he started a big uh nonprofit arts organization there, the artist collective. And so he would have students from the school come teach the little kids at the collective and, you know, do gigs and stuff like that. So I started doing little performances in and around the Hartford, greater Hartford, Connecticut area. My first professional engagement was with the bass player, Nat Reeves. He hired me to play quartet with him. And yeah,
[0:15:35] John Snell: that was it. So you’re working professional or does it, did it just kind of grow from there? It
[0:15:40] James Burton III: was, it was, you know, Jackie used to call Hartford. He called it Mars. You know, he would say, you know, when you guys get out in the Real World down there in New York and stuff, you know, this, this and this will happen. But right now you’re up here on Mars with the rest of us. And so it took a while to, to break into the real world. My first kind of big professional engagement was with the tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet with his big band.
[0:16:09] John Snell: Wow, what was that like?
[0:16:12] James Burton III: It was like finishing school, you know, it was a direct connection to another time, another era like the felt like, like touching the essence of, of the beginnings of, you know, swing dance era.
[0:16:29] John Snell: Mhm. And uh what did your plane look like at that point? Were you doing primarily jazz stuff or were you going through the roof? A tude things like that?
[0:16:40] James Burton III: Oh. Uh It was completely, still, completely ignorant to how to, uh you know, I don’t want to use the term properly because there are many ways to approach playing the instrument. But the accepted common practice method for approaching trombone. I’m completely ignorant at that point in time, it was just jazz around the Yeah. Yeah.
[0:17:02] Noah Gladstone: I think there’s a little bit of validity to that though sometimes because, you know, if you get just bogged down in the traditional way, you know, learning attitudes and you never get exposed to other things. So it kind of goes both ways, you know, kinda when you find it, sometimes people just need to find it at the right time. And, uh, and that, I think that works out. So, you know, are you doing touring stuff at this point? Are you on the road? You, you know, pretty much localized or, you know, how does, how does it go to, like, how do you make that next jump to the next part of your
[0:17:32] James Burton III: career? Well, Illinois had a couple gigs in New York City. I remember we played the Jazz standard for a week for his uh 80th birthday and then he also took the band to Rio de Janeiro for a week, which was like my first time leaving the country to do a gig, which was huge eye opener. And actually Michael Diaz was in the band at the same time too. We’ve, we’ve kind of been stable mates for a long time. We were at Juilliard together and actually got, I actually got him in Illinois is banned.
[0:18:04] Noah Gladstone: That’s awesome. And Rio is such a wild place to just to go for your first gig. That’s, that’s a pretty, it’s a long flight. That’s a really long flight. But what a, what a culturally crazy just experience to be in Rio and, and see the poverty and then other stuff and the craziness and the culture and the music and the food and it’s just wild but pretty, pretty crazy. How old were you when this was all going on?
[0:18:33] James Burton III: Um let me see. This is so this is I was 24 when this happened because I just started Juilliard and somewhere in between, I had met Curtis Fuller because he was teaching at Skidmore. I went back to the Skidmore program for a second year for a second helping. And Curtis was the teacher. And so we had connected and uh he was such a huge influence on me. And I remember in Rio Curtis was down there playing with Cedar Walton’s group, Cedar Walton had a quintet with Curtis and Donald Harrison. And while they were sound checking and we were kind of, the band was checking them out. Curtis kind of looked out into the front row of the crowd and he goes, hey, man, what are you doing here? And so we struck, struck up a conversation. I just remember the group of guys that I was with, they were like, whoa, he knows Curtis felt like such a big shot.
[0:19:37] John Snell: So now, now you’re teaching your at SUNY Purchase. Uh You know, what advice do you give your students that maybe you learn from, you know, kind of your missteps or stumbling when you were a student?
[0:19:49] James Burton III: Well, it’s, uh, it’s not cut and dry. It’s kind of a mixed bag because I kind of look back on my time as a student with kind of rose colored, uh, you know, lenses because, you know, we don’t have so we didn’t have social media back then when I was going to school. You know, I’m a dinosaur. Um, we didn’t have all these distractions constantly, you know, in the palm of our hands so we could actually sit down be in the room and focus on something for a lengthy amount of time, you know, but I don’t know, you know, I actually, here’s, here’s the advice that I would give. I had another kind of distraction. I would tell students that you have plenty of time after school to cultivate meaningful romantic relationships, you know, but sometimes, you know, in, in college, you know, and we can’t help when this happens when you meet, you know, when you meet someone and want to spend every second with them. But sometimes I felt like I should have been shedding more than I should have been like, you know, chasing the fair a gender,
[0:21:08] John Snell: great advice, great advice and advice we don’t get a lot on the trombone corner. So you were getting through your college, you start, you know, Illinois Jacquet, you’re starting your professional career. Was there a point when you thought, hey, I’m making it or uh you know, you were just, you were gigging full time or on the road full time.
[0:21:27] James Burton III: This is actually pretty funny. Uh I never felt like a professional musician during this entire time. I never felt like I was in the club or, or that I was meant to do this this entire time. And it was, it was kind of like funny experience. I was working on a cruise ship After finishing a graduate degree at Juilliard in 2006, uh took a cruise ship gig to Alaska. It would go from Vancouver to Alaska and there was a moment where there was a trio playing on board the ship and they used to do, you know, pop covers and they quit all of a sudden and everyone uh the cruise director, everybody’s losing their mind. How are we gonna replace this trio? Um They hired another trio but they don’t do the same songs that everybody loves. And the big hit was Dancing Queen by Abba. You know, they were like, we must have dancing queen. And so I remember sitting down and listening to it and writing out a chart and you know, like 20 minutes or something like that and giving it to this trio and the big, you know, opening night party for a week, whatever of the cruise was a huge success. And I remember thinking like, I feel like a professional musician now
[0:22:47] Noah Gladstone: dancing queen
[0:22:48] James Burton III: check,
[0:22:50] Noah Gladstone: got it.
[0:22:52] James Burton III: I rescued the party.
[0:22:55] Noah Gladstone: You got the Dancing Queen merit badge and uh ready, ready to go. Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of it though, right? Like you, you’ve sharpened all your skills and then, you know, you’re out in the field and you gotta make it work. That’s just part of being doing the gig sometimes. And, you know, here you go, you’re in the situation, make it work. And it’s funny, you know, we had Alex Isles on the, on the podcast and, you know, he was on a cruise ship for a long time and, you know, he, it was like his first gig and I think he had a kind of similar experience where like, you know, here you go, you know, trial by fire. And, uh, and that’s kind of like a big moment for a lot of people. I think you’re like, wow, I did all the schooling. I did all this training. I’ve done all this listening now. Here I am actually doing it and it’s a, it’s a good feeling, I think when you, you know, and that could be an orchestra world or jazz world or any kind of music, I think when you’re actually holding the instrument doing it, doing the job, it’s, it’s a pretty cool experience.
[0:23:49] James Burton III: Yeah, we can’t pick when the moment happens. It just does.
[0:23:53] John Snell: Sometimes it’s on the Lido deck. I mean, that’s when it happens,
[0:23:58] Noah Gladstone: James, you mentioned, you know, one of your influences was, was J J um, did you ever get a chance to meet him?
[0:24:05] James Burton III: I actually did get to meet J.J. when I was a teenager, I think I was 17 years old. And uh he was playing at the Blue Note doing a double bill with his quintet. And Johnny Griffin had a quartet that was, you know, they would do the second set or whatever and transformative experience. Um There’s so many things about that night that just are indelibly seared into my memory, but his playing was absolutely flawless. And he had one of these multidirectional sounds where the sound was immediately in front of you, but then also completely around you at the same time. And there are very few people, brass players that I’ve encountered that can do that. It’s, it’s a total phenomenon, but he played beautifully. He, um and at this point in time, I was playing football, so like big burly guy and I remember he played the ballot. It never entered my mind, you know, the same one that miles, you know, played with the Harm Mutant. I remember tearing up a little bit like, so, you know, big £230 tight end at a front row table at the Blue Note, like tearing up over a ballad. My masculine side was, was, you know, I was offended at myself. But anyway, after the music was over, we went upstairs to the dressing room to meet him and my dad shoved me into the doorway of the dressing room and said, you know, my son plays trombone like one of those embarrassing, like stage parent things and he goes ask him a question and I couldn’t think of a single thing to ask him. And so JJ is signing autographs and he’s eating an apple. He’s wearing a, like a white linen suit with a purple shirt just, just looking like a God. And he looks up at me and he goes, well, you have any questions. And I said, no, sir, I just, I really, really appreciate and enjoy your music. And JJ kind of tongue in cheek, he just looked up and he said, well, this young man seems to have it all figured out and he like gently shut his dressing room door because I guess he had had enough of visiting with the public. And, you know, when I got further away from that experience, it was like at first I was like, oh man, did I just get iced by J J? You know, but then when I got further away from it, I thought it was absolutely hilarious and very, very truthful, very honest, you know, here’s the modern master of the trombone and I don’t have a question for him. It’s like kicking myself to this day, right? But I wasn’t old enough at that point in time. Yeah.
[0:26:54] Noah Gladstone: Yeah. Kind of fun to look back at those moments though, for sure. What a great story.
[0:26:59] John Snell: So, uh, when did you leave Mars, so to speak? And settle in New York. Was that because of your Juilliard experience or is that where you had it in mind where you wanted to go?
[0:27:11] James Burton III: I, I knew I wanted to, uh, had gotten the gig with Illinois Jacquet because he came through Hartford and Jackie McLean. I didn’t know he and Jackie were speaking daily on the telephone just talking all things, saxophone. And when Illinois came to play at the artist collective, Jackie recommended me to join Illinois’s band. So, Uh I said it’s time to move to New York. This is 2002. And I didn’t realize that Illinois, you know, he was getting on in years and he didn’t quite have enough work to sustain, you know, the younger musicians and, you know, you get a gig and you get excited, you’re like, you know, this is it. So I’m ready to pay sky high rent with, you know, four gigs a year. So I moved to a very expensive neighborhood, got a very small room and got a job at Starbucks. Wow.
[0:28:12] Noah Gladstone: Yeah, I mean, you do what you gotta do.
[0:28:15] James Burton III: Yeah. So while I was, I was working at Starbucks and then I was also working at Roberto’s Woodwinds. Yeah, his repair, his repair shop and he was, he was very kind to me and, uh, he had a, he had a brass store for a little while there too. And so I would be like practicing at work and stuff and he gave me a very valuable lesson. He said, either you’re gonna work or you’re gonna play, You Gotta Pick one. And so I took an audition at Juilliard and I ended up getting in and I missed the opening festivities, the communication that they had there. And Victor Goins great tenor saxophonist with Lincoln Center jazz orchestra. I remember him coming into Roberto shop while I was working and he’s like looking at his watch. What are you doing here? I said, I’m working. He said, man, don’t, you know, it’s convocation. You should be at the school right now and he said you no longer work here. He quit my job for me. here’s your letter of resignation. Go turn it in and get over to the school.
[0:29:20] Noah Gladstone: That’s cool. That’s a good, that’s a good story. That’s a good story.
[0:29:32] John Snell: Like kicking you out of the nest.
[0:29:34] James Burton III: Yeah, that’s right. You’re gonna do it or you’re not gonna do it.
[0:29:37] John Snell: So when you get this is your doctorate at Juilliard, right? At this point,
[0:29:41] James Burton III: this, at this point, this was a degree they had called the Artist Diploma. It was the first thing they were ever accredited to give and it was supposed to be I think what they were trying to do is revolutionize um the nature of jazz degrees, meaning it was supposed to be a merit based degree that you could get, you could basically jump, you know, go pass, go collect $200 you jump to the end, like post grad degree out of the gate if you were, you know, talented enough. And so I got that degree and then they got accreditation for a bachelor’s. And so the younger students, I already had a Bachelor’s at that point in time, but some of the younger cats at the school kind of rolled those credits into the bachelor’s program. And me, I was out trying to get teaching positions with this artist diploma and I would get to the end, you know, be, I would be between myself and another candidate and they would always ask the same question. Well, what is this degree? Is it a master’s? Well, no, it’s not a masters. It’s a and so it didn’t quite take. So I ended up going back to get my masters after the post masters degree. So I did it out of order.
[0:30:46] John Snell: Interesting. So you, you said you mentioned you wanted to be a professor at that point as well as playing or that was on your radar
[0:30:53] James Burton III: being a, being a teacher, sharing the music with younger students actually at the top of my list, like I loved playing, but I sort of came from a family of educators, educators all throughout my family. And it came so inherently, I just thought of myself as you know, a teacher that plays and not necessarily a teaching artist.
[0:31:21] John Snell: Interesting, interesting. So, and what getting professor job or teaching job somewhere at a university. Um because a lot, like these days, like getting an orchestral job or, you know, you have to go around, you have to audition or, you know, fly around all these places, apply all these places, you know, what advice can you give for young people that want to do what you’re doing? You know, in terms of getting to the degrees and jumping through the loopholes, that sort of thing.
[0:31:46] James Burton III: Well, I, I took a very unusual path, uh, and almost like, like I made a concerted effort to do my career backwards. Like, usually folks, like they get out there, they play, they make a name for themselves and then once they get burned down on being on the road and all that stuff, they kind of say, all right, I’m ready to settle down and share this with some students. I started teaching straight out of the gate because I felt I had something to offer And I had the energy for it and I wasn’t, you know, jaded yet by the how political these processes are. And I, I always say I did my hard 10 years, like I did a hard decade of giving and being spread thin. And now I’m sort of sort of quote unquote. I make the joke that I’m retired from jazz education and now I’m like, well, I just want to play, you know, and share in that regard.
[0:32:46] John Snell: So you, so you’ve been all over. Um, so now, now let’s focus on the playing a little bit. That’s great advice. Um, I mean, looking at your resume and who you played with the big bands, you know, Lincoln Center, all that stuff. Uh, when did those things really start kind of building up? You know, was that after your time at Juilliard or was it, uh, you know, after your time at Starbucks?
[0:33:10] James Burton III: Uh, definitely not after the time at Starbucks. I had some amazing experiences while I was at Juilliard. Um But it’s, it’s kind of a, it’s a strange alchemy. It, It literally is just word of mouth and one thing leading to the next thing to the next thing it’s feast or famine. Like you look around one day and you realize you’re like Curtis Fuller in 1957, you’re everywhere. You’re like, wow, I’m on everything. But a point of pride for me is I’ve always been kind of allergic to fame when people talk about like trombone fame. That thing always, you know, that nature of the business always kind of rubbed me the wrong way. So I’ve kind of just made it a point to just be like the guy in the room to be the guy on the date to be the guy in the session. And so I knew I made it one day when I was on Facebook and there was this huge, huge threat about current jazz big bands and who people like to listen to and this, this young trouble player got on there. He said, man, really the best section and all of jazz big band is Christian McBride’s trombone section. He was like, man, I mean, they got Michael Davis, Steve Davis, Doug Purviance and that other guy and I was like, yes, I’ve made it. I love that. I love that. That’s great.
[0:34:35] Noah Gladstone: That’s great.
[0:34:36] James Burton III: You know, I’m just allergic to the cult of personality and I just like to go about doing things earnestly and
[0:34:45] Noah Gladstone: that, that is kind of the nature of the studio business a bit to just, you know, there’s a lot of really, really great players that you don’t necessarily know about, but they’re out there gigging all the time and doing the jobs and, you know, keeping their head down and just, it’s all about the music and getting the, getting the work done, which is, I think, extremely commendable, uh, and bringing the, bringing the goods when, when you need to bring the goods and not, you know, shooting off flares every time that you get an opportunity to do that. Certainly. Uh, do you have my respect for sure. So, uh, that’s, that’s really, really, really, really great, really great James. Um, let’s talk about some nerdy gear stuff because, you know, I know you’re a trombone, nerd, trombone nerd, a lot of our listeners are trombone nerds. So, what instruments are you playing these days? What are you into?
[0:35:34] James Burton III: well, it’s taken years and years and years to figure out what works for me. One thing I didn’t mention during this whole process was when I first went to Hartt, I got braces. Like I started my college playing career off with braces.
[0:35:49] Noah Gladstone: That’s really rough.
[0:35:51] James Burton III: aReally rough. It wasn’t just the braces. What I didn’t realize I had wisdom teeth extraction at that point in time and this is, this gets kind of heavy. But the orthodontist told me that, you know, at the time, this is, you gotta remember, this is the late nineties and the world had a certain perspective. What this guy told me. He said, well, the thing is with, you know, African Americans, they have very prominent draw lines and their teeth protrude a lot. So he said, in order to fix your teeth, um it would be better if I pulled some of your molars and give you a more Eurocentric profile. And that was, I mean, that was, this is, you know, at that point in time, this is commonly accepted. Yeah, look at, look at the newspapers, look at the magazines, look at all the models. So I thought he was the, he was the authority. And so what he ended up doing was he pulled, I got eight molars pulled and they retracted everything in with the braces shrunk the size of the cavity. It’s funny, my wife works in anesthesia. And when I first told her this. She didn’t believe me. She was like, no, you have, you know, whatever amount of teeth that everybody has, you know, 32 or 36 or whatever. And she goes open your mouth and then I open my mouth. She goes, Oh my God, what did they do to you? And so during the wisdom tooth extraction, I got nerve damage in my face. So I lost some of the sensation in the left side of my face. And so that’s another reason why I’ve kind of done my career backwards is because I’ve slowly been getting the feeling back in my face to be able to like turn my corners down. And so I say all that to say is that it’s taken years to figure out what equipment actually works for me. I’m very equipment sensitive because of that change in the cavity. So I tend to feel things more than most Ramon players when I pick up a horn and play it.
[0:37:51] Noah Gladstone: That’s a, that’s a crazy story. I mean, dental stuff is so crucial to what we do. Uh That’s, that’s, that’s wild. I mean, that, that’s uh so you’re really relearning how to play from that moment on uh
[0:38:06] James Burton III: It’s been 20 years of more than 20 years of relearning. Wow, that’s so 1st, 1st things, first mouthpiece wise. Um I play everything on a rim that’s just slightly larger than a 1.5. Wow. And it feels to me the way 6.5 A L used to feel before all of this dental shenanigans.
[0:38:30] Noah Gladstone: Right. Right. Right. The wide, you need that space. That’s, that’s wild. So, you’re using a small cup with a big, big rim.
[0:38:38] James Burton III: What kind of a medium, medium cup
[0:38:40] Noah Gladstone: It’s a Doug Elliott or? What brand are you using?
[0:38:43] James Burton III: Greg Black
[0:38:45] Noah Gladstone: Greg Black, he custom made stuff for you?
[0:38:47] James Burton III: Yeah.
[0:38:49] Noah Gladstone: He’s amazing at that stuff.
[0:38:52] James Burton III: Yeah, I kept kind of going up in cup sizes until I got to, I guess the what, you know, Joe Alessi’s the one and then at a certain point, you know, you have to have a talk with yourself. Like uh do I want to dare to play uh rim diameter larger than you know, the king of the trombone? Let’s go for it. So, and so Greg made me one, just a couple of clicks bigger and it was like the Gates of Heaven opened up. It’s like my face finally fit.
[0:39:28] Noah Gladstone: Amazing, amazing. So, and then you’ve been, you’ve been playing con trombones, of course, I know that. And, and what other brands you have? Kings do you like box? Do you like? What are you, what are you into?
[0:39:39] James Burton III: So I am technically a Rath artist. I’ve been playing Rath for years, but I stumbled upon, you know, because of playing the show, Chicago and my stand partner Bruce Bonvissuto, who’s an amazing trombonist. He’s one of my favorite players. Now, I feel lucky to be able to sit next to him eight shows a week. Um, he plays an old New York Bach. And so in order to blend with him, I said, you know, screw it, I’ll try an old New York Bach. And there was just something about the way those responded that, uh, it resonated with me, you know, like the one piece bell, the double long sleeves on it, you know, like I just felt like I could push against it without falling in it. And uh yeah, I was like, that’s it New York Bach. So it’s been this dance of getting my Rath. So dialed in to feel like a New York Bach, even though that is a two piece bell and it’s a screw bell so I could take it to travel and stuff. And so that’s one of the reasons I do love the rafts is that they’re so customizable.
[0:40:43] Noah Gladstone: Yeah, Mick, Mick. Mick makes great stuff. I remember when I met him the first time at the Ithaca Trombone Festival and uh we, we had a lot of late night calzones and beers and he’s a great guy, really interesting, interesting guy and amazing craftsman. And there’s a lot about trombone making. So, uh big Rath hormones are really, really cool. So, are you using like a New York six or an eight or 12 or 16 or a combination of things.
[0:41:09] James Burton III: Well, when I, when I play the lead book at the show I used a New York six. And when I play under Bruce, depending on what he’s playing. If he plays his smaller bell six, I’ll play an eight. And if he plays his bigger bell six, you know, like you actually
[0:41:25] Noah Gladstone: He has the one he got from, got from me. 7.5 inch bell. Right.
[0:41:28] James Burton III: I’m looking for one of those. But when he plays that I play in Old New York 12 that I got from Bones Malone. But, but the horn, my jazz horn. Now, the thing that I play for, If I don’t know what I’m walking into, the thing that, that I found that I absolutely fell in love with is a, is an L car 34. Something about it has its own mandrel, something about that taper. It was just like playing that horn was the first time I haven’t had to think about babysitting the instrument in, I don’t know, 25 years about music.
[0:42:04] Noah Gladstone: Yeah, they’re, they’re, they’re rare. It’s, it’s funny they’re not that much different from a 36, but there’s something magical about 34 is for whatever reason. Any time I see one for sale I was trying to snatch it up because I’m obsessed with that stuff, you know. But, But that’s really, really cool. That’s, that’s really cool. And do you play any bases trombone or only tenor?
[0:42:24] James Burton III: I do.
[0:42:28] Noah Gladstone: How is that? That’s, that’s quite a, its own little special journey on the bass trombone.
[0:42:34] James Burton III: Yeah. Well, you know, a little known fact, Michael Dease and myself subbed with uh the trombone choir at Juilliard for a year while we were going to school there with Joe Alessi conducting. And so I think Mike did it on tenor, but I did it on bass trombone, which I feel like I had no business doing that. Like, because I was literally learning the double while playing with a group that plays on such a high level. But it was great because I got tips from Joe’s bass trombone students. You know, they just like, took pity on me and they’re like, you know, here kid, this is how you do this, you know, or they would take the time to play Rochut etudes with me and yeah,it’s great.
[0:43:18] Noah Gladstone: Bass is fun. It’s just totally different kind of vibe but, but it’s, it’s really cool. What kind of bass do you use when you, when you have to play bass? You have a Rath?
[0:43:29] James Burton III: I have a Yeah, I have a cut bell Rath base that I use and Greg Black actually made me like my same rim size with a deeper cup and different backboard to play bass. And it’s like a Godsend.
[0:43:47] Noah Gladstone: Do you do any valves too? I mean, probably some of the shows you have to do valve doubles, I imagine. So, euphonium and things like that?
[0:43:55] James Burton III: Not right now. Not in Chicago. Right? Sure. Sure. I have done some tuba doubles.
[0:44:03] Noah Gladstone: Yeah, that is definitely an adventure whenever you get a tuba double. I don’t know how those guys do that with that giant mouthpiece but they don’t know. Always, ever ceases.
[0:44:13] James Burton III: Yeah, I did a show called after midnight where there was a lead, a lead and tuba chair and then the second chair was like the tricky Sam Norton book, like heavy, heavy plunger pixie stuff. Then the third chair, which was my chair and the band was like the changes chair. And I remember there was, and I was the associate conductor. There was a week where I, you know, it was like Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday where I moved from my chair to the plunger chair to the lead tuba chair. And then on the fourth night, I got him on the conductor’s podium. And I remember Greg Gisbert, the trumpet player, he’s warming up and he just looked up at me and he goes, holy crap. You are a deep cat. It was the first time I felt like I’d ever been seen, you know, eally get to show off all your skills.
[0:45:05] Noah Gladstone: Then you just keeping your head down, of course, and you know, you just get to get to get up and do it. That’s, that’s great.
[0:45:13] John Snell: That’s great as a naive L A resident. Uh and we were just talking to Tony Kadleck the trumpet player about this the other day. I mean, how do you get around New York with all of that equipment? I mean, are you lugging a tuba and a trombone on the subway or do you have one just like at the hall? Like, how does that work?
[0:45:31] James Burton III: Yeah. You just, luckily you just have to get it. You just have to move it twice when a, when a show starts, you have to get it to Carol’s studios to rehearse where they all rehearse, you know, the big room. And then if you’re lucky, the producers will take it for you over to the venue and then it just kind of lives there and you do have to make sure it remains rodent free. Unfortunately, that was a big thing with COVID guys came back to their tuba as being like shelters for
[0:46:03] Noah Gladstone: There’s pizza rat and then there’s tuba rat, right? I guess I could go viral. Maybe there’s pizza in the tuba sometime. And then the two, yeah, the rats pulling the pizza out of the tuba.
[0:46:16] John Snell: Uh, since as long as we’re kind of on the Broadway theme here, would you talk us a little bit about kind of the challenges of what it’s like doing a show eight times a week and trying to balance that with other types of playing and, you know, other things in your career and how do you stay focused?
[0:46:32] James Burton III: Yeah, there was a point in time. I looked back, I think it was 2014 where I had a show. I was the director of jazz education at New Jersey, performing arts Center like jazz routines and I was full time and Juilliard conducting the jazz orchestra, teaching trombone lessons, jazz theory arranging. And I look back on that and that was too much. That was too much, you know, I mean, it was a good time in my life to do that. You want to do that when you’re in your early thirties where you can just kind of, you know, you’re impervious, you can run through a brick wall and you’re fine. But I was spread too thin. You know, I couldn’t really, like, drill down on any one of those things as much as I wanted to. Um, and so now my big pursuit is balance. But, yeah, doing it eight times a week, you’re in the chair. And, um, luckily I have a great crew. It’s all about personnel, you know, surrounding yourself with really supportive, understanding folks. We all lift each other up because if it’s not that then it gets to be really hard and it gets, you know, it gets to be a drag. But, you know, I just, I feel lucky I work with the best people.
[0:47:41] John Snell: Mhm. And does it drive you crazy? You know, the eighth show of the week and you’re playing the same stuff or is it like, you have to find ways to make it challenging or, you know, what does it just come naturally? To you.
[0:47:55] James Burton III: I, I had a conversation with a great vibraphonist and pianist named Mark Sherman. He called me on the phone and he, he just retired after, you know, years and years of Broadway. And he kind of, matter of fact, he said, like, you know, Broadway stifles your creativity and I kind of pushed back a little bit like, no, it doesn’t. He, he kind of said no, it does. It does. And I said, no, it doesn’t. And because that’s kind of my mission, like it doesn’t have to like, if you just drill down a little bit on the minutia of, of playing, like you can shift your focus to like trying to play a perfect show or, you know, focusing on phrase. There’s so many aspects to playing, even if it’s the same music every night. Like if you come at it with a fresh perspective and, and really challenge yourself to do the best you can, it really keeps things fresh, you know, it’s like sometimes we focus so much on what we’re playing that we forget to focus on how we’re playing, you know, and I find that folks are either geared towards one or the other. And so that’s just, that’s just my perspective on it.
[0:49:11] Noah Gladstone: I think that’s a great perspective. I mean, something we can all, all strive to do, I think, and definitely gets lost. Sometimes musicians tend to get pretty jaded. It’s like, you know, how do you get musicians to complain, you give them a gig. So, you know, so, uh, it’s kind of true. But, yeah, you know, I can see, you know, eight shows in a row every week that could be, could get dark pretty quick in the pit and the pit of course is where insanity begins. So, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s cool to have a real positive outlook. I think. I’m sure your colleagues appreciate that too.
[0:49:49] James Burton III: Yeah, we used to have a joke at the show after midnight, which was like the best music. It was all Duke, Strayhorn, Quincy Jones arrangements. Just like sweetest nectar. We had a joke. Like after show 280 we were like, do I like Duke Ellington anymore? It’s like, of course you do you idiot. Like, it’s just, you’re doing eight shows a week.
[0:50:12] Noah Gladstone: It’s a lot of sugar. Sometimes you get, you know. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And you know, the, the audience, certainly a lot of them. It’s probably the first time they’re seeing it. So you still kind of have to bring, you know, your energy for them. They’re, they’re paying good money to see you guys play. So, it’s kind of like that is the gig. But, you know, I imagine if you’re like, you know, you’re 30 on Cats or Phantom, then it’s a little different vibe. But, you know, yeah. Kudos to those people. They are, they are, they are heroes in their own. Right? Getting through 30 years of that stuff. But, you know,
[0:50:46] James Burton III: There’s a couple guys on our show on Chicago right now that have calculated that they’ve done 11,000 of them. Wow.
[0:50:56] Noah Gladstone: Amazing phenomenon. I think it’s just, it’s cool. It’s cool when you think about that and, you know, people can make careers doing what they love to do. You know, playing music. I think that’s just the best thing ever. So, you know, Bravo. Bravo to all those folks working hard out there entertaining people.
[0:51:17] James Burton III: Oh, you know, that’s a thing at our show
[0:51:20] John Snell: really changing every,
[0:51:22] James Burton III: every vocalist, whether they’re a sub, whether the record everybody has their own keys. And so we have maybe five versions of each thing in the book for all the vocal features. And so that really keeps,
[0:51:35] John Snell: that helps to mix it up a little bit, I would guess.
[0:51:37] James Burton III: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
[0:51:39] Noah Gladstone: Are you just getting called audibles like tonight? So, and so’s singing and you’re doing this key or they give you a printout or? How does that, how does that work?
[0:51:47] James Burton III: That’s right. Two minutes to downbeat. Hey, guys. Number eight. Version 4 – B Major. Ouch. Right.
[0:51:54] Noah Gladstone: Right. Exactly. That’s, that’s cool. It’s kind of throwing a curveball every once in a while.
[0:52:01] John Snell: So James, can we talk a little bit? Do you have like a daily maintenance routine or something that you go through just to get yourself going or are you kind of the, depends on the day kind of person.
[0:52:12] James Burton III: Oh, no. So I have something that I stumbled across a few years ago that it saved, it changed everything for me. Um It saved my career. Uh The great contractor, Red Press who contracted a bunch of Broadway shows Here in New York called Me for West Side Story in 2018, the reboot. And he asked me on the phone, he said, James, can you like play principal trombone in a symphony orchestra? And I lied through my teeth. I was like, yes, red, yes, I can. It was like, I went to Juilliard, but I didn’t do that at Juilliard, you know, And, but I had about eight or 9 months to get ready for the show. So I just went about the process of okay. So how do I do that? And I started doing research and so I stumbled across a routine. Uh You guys might have heard of it. I know it’s because it’s a West Coast thing that Claude Gordon method trumpet player of like building from the bottom up instead of from the middle out. So a combination of the Claude Gordon routine and he, he builds in um the Walter Smith Flexibilities and the why am I blanking on the name now? Clarke studies. That’s built into his book. So there’s that and then the Alessi routine. A combination of those things touch upon everything I feel I need to touch upon too start playing music
[0:53:46] John Snell: So that’s a daily religious routine you go through or does it vary at all?
[0:53:53] James Burton III: Um, I kinda have to do that because of the nerve damage in my face. I have what I feel. What I’ve named as is like poor retention for like muscle memory for playing. It’s almost like uh Groundhog Day. Like, I wake up every day and I have to reteach my face everything to play. It’s just, it is what it is. Have
[0:54:19] Noah Gladstone: you had any students that have had chop issues that you had to work with and, and, and things like that because I imagine you have a lot of perspective for them. So um or anyone that you had to rebuild from focal dystonia or anything like that.
[0:54:32] James Burton III: I, so this, this is my thing. I can take a student from like chop failure to the finish line because of that. I have this weird, I don’t know because I know how the mechanism is supposed to work and I kind of have an empathy for how things feel. I’m really good at walking a student from, from kind of negative playing behaviors to, you know, helping them get where they need to go playing wise and it kind of ties into the equipment thing too. Like I have a nickname here in town guys call me like that, either the trombone whisperer or the sommelier because I help guys find their setups and you know, I just, I can tell how the thing is working or not working and, you know, provide insight to that end.
[0:55:27] Noah Gladstone: Amazing. That’s extremely, extremely valuable, I think for sure. And we all kind of go through evolutions for sure. Go ahead, John,
[0:55:38] John Snell: say that. I think that could be our next next podcast. We can do the Trombone Whisper James if we can, if you wouldn’t mind co hosting with us, I think that’d be awesome. I, you know, would you mind talking a little bit about, like, the mental side of that? I mean, having so many physical issues and stuff, I mean, did you ever have issues with your confidence? You know, when you actually did have to show up to a gig or, you know, you’re on a band?
[0:56:04] James Burton III: Oh, absolutely. It’s, it’s just, um, you know, everything boils down to just the raw mechanics and the biology behind everything. And so all of this, like, picking equipment and playing, it gets very subjective and feelings oriented, but you just kinda have to strip all that away and look at like, what’s actually happening and how the face is supposed to work. And once you can kind of teach a student to observe themselves, you know, when I was a kid, my dad was a big baseball guy and I remember spending like, we spent like a nine hour afternoon in the backyard with me pitching, trying to get my, like, motion together and he was ruthless. Like, I throw a pitch and he’d be like, you know, it was your release like it was sidearm. No, three quarter, it was your plant foot. No, you didn’t do it. And so like picking apart each little facet of pitching is kind of like the same thing with operating a brass instrument. It’s like, or flying a plane, like all of these things have to happen simultaneously in order for us to be successful. And if you can teach someone to be mindful of all those things without getting emotional about it, then they can kind of observe themselves and progress, you know,
[0:57:25] John Snell: great advice and it’s not getting emotional part. That’s, that’s difficult for us, right? Especially as brass players because we have no one to hide behind, you know. So if we’re not feeling it that day or we’re not confident in this or with the equipment, you know, when the red light comes on or the down beats coming, you, you know, sink or swim and it’s gotta come from up here. So, I mean, any advice you give your students about how not to get emotional.
[0:57:50] James Burton III: Uh Well, I tell them whenever something’s going wrong on the instrument, I call it the three T’s, it’s either um tension, tuning or the throat, sorry, tension, tuning or the tongue is what it is. Um So tension, we want to get out of the way, we want to get out of the way of the air ultimately to let it do its job. And that’s the gift that keeps on giving. We can like continuously keep removing tension from our playing over the course of a playing career and then tuning, you know why fight the instrument if you’re hearing a note in a certain place, but the tuning side isn’t where it’s supposed to be and you’re blowing true, then you’re not gonna get the note that you want to get. And then with the tongue, it’s like just a mechanism. It has to be in the proper position to elicit the result that you want to get. So that kind of allows them to kind of, you know, distance themselves emotionally and be like, oh yeah, of course, this didn’t work because I did this, you know,
[0:58:50] John Snell: great way to distill that simplify it. That’s uh that’s great. Um And I can’t believe we’ve already gone an hour. So sorry for going a little overtime here. A couple of, couple of, couple of follow up questions here before we head out. First of all. Do you have any projects you’re working on now that you want to talk about any albums or tours or new positions?
[0:59:12] James Burton III: Oh, absolutely. So I’m, I have a, I’m a co leader of a 10 piece band called the Uptown Jazz Tentet with I have two brass comrades, a trombonist named Willie Applewhite and the trumpet player named Brandon Lee plays with the Count Basie Orchestra. And uh we write all the, we compose and arrange all the arrangements for this band. It’s four brass and three reeds and rhythm section. And we’ve really kind of figured out. I think writing wise how to make that band sound like a 16 piece big band. Like it sounds full to the point where, like, I think everybody’s trying to, Trying to get our 11 herbs and spices. They’re trying to get our recipe. Like, can you guys send me some of your scores? How are you? It’s like, no, you can’t have our music. Um but I’m very proud of that project and then I’m also leading at attribute orchestra for the great saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Um I ended up with his complete library after he passed away. And so we’ve been kind of getting that, that music played again in tribute to him because it needs to be heard and that’s,
[1:00:27] John Snell: and uh you’ll have these available on your website or you know how folks find out about what’s going on with your social media.
[1:00:34] James Burton III: Absolutely. If they follow me on Instagram JB3ISMs, James Burton third JB three, or they can check out uptownjazztentet dot com.
[1:00:47] John Snell: Okay. And we’ll make sure we have the links to all of those. Um One other thing I wanted to touch on. Um you know, because you do play a lot of big bands around New York. What, what advice can you give the trombonist that are either in town or considering moving to New York about, you know, how not to trip over themselves. You know, if they’re getting called a sub on a local big band, but, you know, what are the things you’ve observed or maybe done personally that, you know, maybe you shouldn’t have done
[1:01:16] James Burton III: well. Uh, great bass trombonist, Doug Purviance. Hit me to one, you know, uh, never miss an opportunity to shut up. I definitely wish, you know, I had remained quiet in certain instances and just been an observer at different points in time because, you know, you learn more just being quiet. I would tell young Trombonist just, you know, the thing they say about New York is you can throw a quarter in the air and it’ll probably hit, you know, a great musician, you know, so many great cats here. It’s all about balancing, checking out everybody’s greatness versus, you know, you know, believing in your own greatness, you know, and trusting the process, nothing happens overnight.
[1:02:06] John Snell: Gotta, gotta pay your dues and persevere. Right.
[1:02:10] James Burton III: Yeah. Yeah, it’s, yeah. Yeah, there’s, there’s a balance of paying dues versus being opportunistic. Also.
[1:02:18] John Snell: Wonderful advice and I have to bring this up. I’m sorry, because I, I found it online but somewhere online it says you’re a fan of bad 80s pop music. So can you maybe give us your top three uh indulgences for lack of a better word?
[1:02:36] James Burton III: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s hard to, to limit it to three Wow.
[1:02:44] John Snell: Are you gonna give us up or let us down? Are you that kind of pop music or you gonna?
[1:02:48] James Burton III: That one’s cool. But I like the little overplayed. Yeah. No, I’m talking about like Thompson Twins. Uh, the Human League, Soft Sell like, yeah, I’m talking about the bad Casio keyboard. Yes. Oingo Boingo. You know. Okay.
[1:03:11] John Snell: So forget the trombone whisperer. We’re gonna do bad 80s pop podcast. Next. That’ll
[1:03:16] James Burton III: I mean, I’m considering a band to, you know, to bring some of that music into like the big band.
[1:03:28] Noah Gladstone: I think you would find a lot of fans actually James, I think, I think you could, you could strike something there.
[1:03:35] James Burton III: The thing I keep getting hung up on is wardrobe. What are we gonna wear when we play?
[1:03:41] Noah Gladstone: That is the discussion, I guess. Yeah, that’s almost as important as the music,
[1:03:48] James Burton III: right?
[1:03:49] John Snell: Well, and, and the problem is dancing queen came out in the seventies. So you wouldn’t, I mean, you’d already have that in, in the, in the book, But you have to go back to the 70s. Well, anyway, James, it’s been awesome having you on here. Um, again, thank you so much for your time. And, uh, before we let you go, if we could ask you one last question, if you could leave our listeners with your best piece of advice, what would that be?
[1:04:17] James Burton III: When you get discouraged? Listen to something that’s above your head. Something that you think you don’t understand and it will pull you right out of it. You know, like if you’re in a rut, you’re like, I’m just playing the same old stuff all the time or I can’t, whenever you’re just stuck, put on something like John Coltrane Interstellar Space and you’ll be cool.
[1:04:44] Noah Gladstone: Fabulous James. Thanks so much for being with us in the trombone corner today.
[1:04:49] James Burton III: Thank you.
[1:04:52] John Snell: Well, what an awesome interview with James. James. Just huge. Thank you for joining us and spending your, I guess it was lunch time there in New York when we interviewed him. But, man, Noah, what do you think? There was some, what,
[1:05:05] Noah Gladstone: what a great episode and I can’t believe that it’s colder here in L A right now with snow everywhere um than it is in New York, which is also boggling my mind, but James is great. I just love to hear his stories about, you know, his influences and what an interesting experience coming from like the athletic side to, you know, the whole reconstruction and, and just the great success that he is now in, in New York and just killing it on, on all fronts. And I just love to hear that kind of stuff. Inspirational. Yeah.
[1:05:33] John Snell: And for a guy who said, you know, he didn’t really, he kind of alluded to the fact that he was a natural player, but, you know, so many natural players never develop the skill set to read. And then you know, now, here, here he is sitting in Broadway musicals, day in and day out and then he’s out playing with big bands and doing his own projects and stuff
[1:05:51] Noah Gladstone: is very, very cool. What a great, so I hope everybody really enjoyed it, but we have some great stuff coming up for, for future trombone corner episodes. Um Yeah, we have some exciting, we have some big guests coming along and uh and uh you know, a lot of great trombone content,
[1:06:08] John Snell: always great trombone content and occasionally we talk about valves. So
[1:06:12] Noah Gladstone: occasionally, occasionally, but you know, we’ll let that slide. It’s funny.
[1:06:17] John Snell: It’s funny you bring that up because you know, one last thing that we can wrap up, but that thing that James was talking about being recognized as the anonymous trombone player in that Facebook post, you know, of all of these great trombone players. Oh, and that other guy in the, in that guy’s favorite trombone section, I mean, um yeah, I don’t know a trumpet player. I’m sure there’s some, some not egotistical trumpet players that would do that. But, but seriously sure be that caliber of player but still be that humble and want to just show up and play your role and then go home and not have to have your name and stars somewhere. It was really amazing. So
[1:06:55] Noah Gladstone: we can all learn something from James.
[1:06:57] John Snell: We all could, we all could amazing interview. So Noah, always fun being with you buddy.
[1:07:02] Noah Gladstone: Hey John, you look great today. By the way,
[1:07:04] John Snell: you know, you inspire me every time you’re really taking
[1:07:08] Noah Gladstone: care of yourself. I like
[1:07:09] John Snell: that next time I’m gonna wear a tie. Oh
[1:07:12] Noah Gladstone: my gosh. Oh my gosh. Alright. Well, thanks everyone for joining us on the Trombone corner this week and we look forward to seeing you next time and John, you want to take us
[1:07:21] John Snell: out. Yeah. Hit that hit that five star review button. Leave us some constructive criticism but be easy on us were gentle and until next time, let’s keep on sliding.