When you hear the word “trombone,” marching bands at halftime shows may come to mind. However, the instrument is so much more than that.
It’s found in wind ensembles, Big Bands, orchestras, and more.
I’ve been a bass trombonist (also called the ’bone) in jazz bands for the past 10 years, and I love its rich, smooth timbre and wide sound spectrum.
Beethoven even called the instrument the “Voice of God,” because he believed it had a perfect tone.
I embarked on a quest to discover famous bass trombone players who exemplify that heavenly sound
After reading this article, you’ll know:
- Biographical info.
- Where the trombonist plays/played.
- His awards.
- What type of instrument and mouthpiece he uses.
- His sound and technique via YouTube videos.
Let’s dive into the biography of people who showed us the bass trombone at its best.
1. Ben Van Dijk
Ben Van Dijk was born in 1955 in the Netherlands. Coincidentally, Van Dijk’s father was the solo trombonist for the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra and gave him his first lessons.
Playing the instrument was his calling: In 1976, he became the bass trombonist for the Netherlands’ Radio Harmonic Orchestra, holding that position for 23 years.
Next, Van Dijk became the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s solo bass trombonist. He also performed with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Dutch Brass Sextet and played solo bass ’bone for the Dutch Jazz Orchestra.
In 2003, the International Trombone Association (ITA) bestowed Van Dijk with their prestigious ITA award.
Van Dijk collaborated with Thein Brass Instruments to develop the Ben Van Dijk Personal. It’s his go-to instrument, along with their Ben Van Dijk Mouthpieces.
Donn Schaefer of Trombone.org gushes: “Van Dijk’s ringing and energetic tone are always consistent in spite of any musical challenges.”
Dean Olah, also of Trombone.org, contends that “…Ben Van Dijk has excelled at presenting his horn as a truly melodic instrument…”
Van Dijk demonstrates his masterful slide work in the video of him playing Caprioccio-Verhelst with the International Trombone Ensemble.
He offers these wise words to aspiring trombonists: “The instrument is primarily an ensemble instrument. Make sure you are social and can collaborate with your colleagues.”
The next musician is an exceptionally gifted one who also knows a thing or two about playing unusual 16th Century instruments.
2. Douglas Yeo
Douglas Yeo started playing the horn at the tender age of nine. That early training paid off: he later played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and played for 27 years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was the first bass trombonist to play with them.
As a soloist, he played with the Williams Fairey Band, the Black Dyke Mills Band, the Pennine Brass, and others.
In 2014, Yeo received the ITA’s most distinguished award, the ITA Award.
Yeo collaborated with Yamaha to create his principal instrument, the Douglas Yeo Signature Series YBL-822G bass and his mouthpieces, the BL-YEO-GP and the BL-YEO-ST. He also plays the serpent, a 16th Century instrument with a snake-like shape.
Dr. Michael Wilder, Dean of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music comments that: “A very few minutes with Douglas Yeo will pull any person into a whirlwind of ideas and inspiration.”
Yeo’s talent on his CD, Cornerstone, is lovingly described by Michael Brown of the Online Trombonist’s Journal as, “There are no flaws of intonation, tone or technique on any of the tracks.”
Check out the video below and prepare to be awed by Yeo’s virtuoso playing.
Just for fun, I’ve also included a video of Yeo playing the weirdly wonderful serpent.
Yeo insists that bass horn players learn to read sheet music: “If you hope to enter the freelance pool…your ability to sight-read may determine whether or not you get called back to the job.”
Read on to find out how a broken arm was one of the best things that ever happened to the next player.
3. Matthew Guilford
Matthew Guilford started playing at the ripe old age of nine and graduated to bass horn when he was only 12. He wanted to be a football player, but when he fractured his arm during a high school game, he had to change his plans.
That was actually a blessing in disguise because it forced him to refocus on music, which he says gave him the same adrenaline rush as a touchdown.
Guilford played with countless esteemed musical groups, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony.
In 1997, he won the Best Classical Album Grammy for Of Rage and Remembrance.
Guilford plays an Edwards B454-E and a Conn 62H. He uses Griego mouthpieces.
Commenting on Guilford’s playing on the Brass Trios CD, the ITG said, “Some of the most elegant, suave and dramatic chamber brass playing this reviewer has ever heard.”
American Record Guide shares this sentiment: “Excellent musicality and virtuosity are applied to modern compositions that span a wide range of style and color.”
Listen to Guilford play the powerful Concerto for Bass Trombone as soloist with the Arlington Philharmonic.
Winning an audition is crucial to a trombonist’s career. Guilford shares advice about how to accomplish this: “The three “must haves” of auditioning are what I call the three T’s: Time, Tuning and Tone.”
The next hornsmith got his start in the sixth grade, and after that, there was no stopping him.
4. Brian Hecht
If you want to see an impressive musical résumé, look no farther than Dallas native Brian Hecht. He started playing in the sixth grade; after that, he became a force of nature.
Currently, with the Atlanta Symphony, he’s played with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, NY Philharmonic, and National Symphony Orchestra, among others.
As a soloist, Hecht has been showcased with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, USS Navy Band, and Georgia Brass Band, to name a few.
His impressive talents can also be heard on the US Navy Band’s DVDs and CDs, as well as the CDs Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem and Christopher Theofanidis’ Creation/Creator by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Hecht has received many distinguished awards including First Prize at the Zellmer-Minnesota Orchestra Competition, the ETW Quartet Competition, and the Edwards Big 12 Solo Competition.
He gets his signature sound exclusively with the S.E. Shires “Lone Star.”
ArtsAtl reviewed a 2016 concert that Hecht performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, saying, “ASO bass trombonist Brian Hecht made his ASO solo debut in what proved to be the most interesting work of the evening.”
Or as Reddit contributor Tromboner25 succinctly proclaimed, “The guy is a beast!”
Hecht demonstrates his breathtaking mastery in the video below, playing The Sword of Orion by Adrian Sims.
The bass trombonist says, however, that some drudgery is necessary for learning the instrument: “You’re never going to get better without putting in practice time on the fundamentals — and those aren’t usually what people want to practice.”
The next player revolutionized the bass ’bone as an instrument that could be played solo.
5. George Roberts
One of the most famous bass trombone players, the late George Roberts, went from being a boy who wanted to play the instrument “that went back and forth” to a trailblazing bass trombonist of such skill and influence that he was nicknamed “Mr. Bass Trombone.” One of his monumental achievements was establishing the bass horn as a solo instrument.
Roberts’ first gig was with the iconic Gene Krupa Band. Next, he played with Stan Kenton, before departing to pursue freelancing.
He recorded with luminaries including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett. An in-demand studio musician, he played on about 6,000 recordings.
Establishing himself as a Hollywood studio musician, Roberts recorded film scores for King Kong, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, and many more.
In 1982, the ITA gave Roberts their ultimate honor, the ITA Award. In 2007, he received their Lifetime Achievement Award.
Roberts played a Kanstul Model 1670, 70-H Conn, and the Olds P-22 George Roberts Model Single Valve. He used a Kanstul GR and George Roberts Mouthpiece.
Doug Yeo gives Roberts high praise: “He can take credit for shooting the bass trombone into orbit as a viable solo instrument.”
Tom Everett, first president of ITA, had this to say in Berklee Archives: “That was my first experience hearing a bass trombone featured, and the sound knocked me out.”
Roberts played smooth as butter in the video of him performing “Makin’ Whoopie” with the RIAS Big Band.
“Your playing is really a reflection of your personality,” Robert advised new bass trombonists. “The type of person you are is the way you are going to play.”
From rockers to Rat Packers, the next player worked with them all.
6. David Taylor
What a way to start a career: Right after graduating from the prestigious Julliard School of Music, bass trombonist David Taylor joined Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra.
At the time, he was also playing with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Band and recording with hundreds of musical icons, including the Rolling Stones, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra.
A prolific musician, Taylor has performed as a soloist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, The NY Chamber Symphony, and many more.
Taylor currently plays with numerous outfits, including the Charles Mingus Big Band, Eos Orchestra, and the Michelle Camillo Band.
The trombonist also has four albums to his credit.
For his profound contribution to music, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Taylor with the Most Valuable Player Award. Impressively, he received this award for five years in a row.
NARAS also honored him with its Most Valuable Player Virtuoso Award, an award no other bass trombonist has ever won. Two CDs on which he played, the Joe Henderson Big Band and the Randy Brecker Band, won Grammy Awards.
Another award on his mantelpiece is the ITA’s Award, which was presented “in recognition of his distinguished career and in acknowledgment of his impact on the world of trombone performance.”
For his trademark sound, Taylor exclusively uses Edwards bass and Griego/Taylor mouthpieces.
In the Unanswered Question blog, Joe Horowitz said, “Taylor’s virtuosity is divinely wed to an idiosyncratic musical personality wholly his own.”
Renowned trombonist Douglas Yeo says on his blog, “There has never been a trombonist, much less a bass trombonist, who has distinguished himself in as many [musical] areas as David Taylor.”
The instrument becomes a “voice” that speaks eloquently when Taylor plays Franz Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger in the video below.
Taylor’s advice about how to grow as a musician? “Always play with people you can learn from. Take chances. Hang out with people who take risks.”
Next is a trombonist whose list of accomplishments is very long and very impressive.
7. Jeff Reynolds
Virtuoso bass trombonist Jeff Reynolds spent most of his life in Southern California, where he had the distinction of playing with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra for over four decades.
He also served as a bass trombonist for symphonies including Long Beach, Orange County, and San Diego.
Additionally, Reynolds is an accomplished chamber musician, playing with California Brass Quintet, the Summit Brass, the LA Philharmonic Institute, and more.
Reynolds also imparted his magical sound to Hollywood. He’s appeared on countless major motion picture soundtracks and has played on famed record labels including RCA/Red Seal, CBS/Sony Classical, and Crystal.
In 2018, Reynolds was awarded the esteemed ITA President’s Award by that year’s president, trombonist Ben Van Dijk.
Reynolds gets his signature sound with an Mt. Vernon Bach 50B with a Ferguson JR mouthpiece.
Van Dijk gave Reynolds high praise: “I had the great pleasure of studying with Jeff in the mid-80s…enjoying Jeff’s tameless [sic] energy, his knowledge of the bass, his inspiration. The knowledge I learned was a turning point in my musical life.”
Daniel M. Forman, an Amazon.com reviewer, raved about Reynolds’ The Big Trombone and Sterling Brass CD: “I was astounded at the high quality of technique and musicality in every piece.”
Prepare for some serious jaw-dropping when you listen to The Creation/Háry János complete with brief introductory instructions.
Drawing from his many years of recording, Reynolds offers this advice about the studio: “Putting an album together is work, no matter how you do it. If you have the stuff, record it quickly before you don’t have the stuff.”
Lastly, here’s a player who’s an integral part of the Hollywood entertainment scene.
8. Bill Reichenbach, Jr.
Have you heard of the album Like a Rock by Bob Seger? How about Off the Wall, HIStory, or Thriller by Michael Jackson? Maybe The Wiz?
If you have, you’ve heard bass trombonist Bill Reichenbach, Jr. These are only a fraction of the hundreds of albums on which he’s played.
His movie participation is also vast and includes Armageddon, The Matrix, and Jurassic Park.
Reichenbach was strongly influenced by his father, Bill Reichenbach, Sr., who played drums for the famous Charlie Byrd. The junior Reichenbach even sat in with the band when he was still a teenager.
As a testament to his immense talent, Reichenbach was hired to play with the Buddy Rich Band after graduating from the Eastman School of Music. He quickly became the featured player because he could play jazz on the bass ’bone.
In 2019, he received the distinguished ITA President’s Award, presented by ITA president, Ben Van Dijk.
Reichenbach plays a GC5-2R Tuning-in-Slide and a GC5-3N Tuning-in-Slide. His mouthpiece is a Schilke Bill Reichenbach Signature Series.
Renowned jazz pianist, Dave Brubeck, says that Reichenbach “has surpassed all expectations for the bass trombone and redefined new ones.”
In a review of Reichenbach’s Bill Reichenbach: Nothing But Bills, Michael G. Nastos of the Ann Arbor News says, “Reichenbach has produced an album that does not depend on funky clichés or hackneyed rhythms to make it work. He has transcended his Hollywood studio status.”
Experience Reichenbach’s brilliant improvisational work on All the Things You Are.
What advice does he give to novice bass trombonists striving to be soloists?
“Whatever the style, players will have to encourage writers and leaders of groups that the bass horn is a valid solo voice.”
- George Roberts – Mr. Bass Trombone →
- Jazz Trombone Players →
- 10 Websites of Orchestral Bass Trombone Players →
- Top repertoire choices for bass trombone →
Where Words Fail, Music Speaks – H. C. Anderson
All of these famous bass trombone players have powerfully influenced my style and musical growth. Each is legendary in his own way and offers something for everyone, from the casual listener to the symphony soloist.
Now that I’ve told you all about the best bass trombone players, click here to learn all about the best bass trombones. Happy sliding!