Living trombone stars Jiggs Whigham and John Marcellus will be featured at the Memorial Trombone Festival at Case Western Reserve University, a concert by some 20 trombonists gathered from around the city.
The half-day event begins with a warm-up led by Case trombone professor Paul Ferguson, who is the artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and the event’s organizer. A rehearsal and a master class with Whigham and Marcellus will be followed by the culminating afternoon performance.
Whigham is the jazz orchestra’s weekend guest, Ferguson said, and the festival started with the idea of paying tribute to Whigham’s friend Allen Kofsky, a 39-year veteran of the Cleveland Orchestra who died in June at age 92. Kofsky had played under such renowned conductors as George Szell, Lorin Maazel and Christoph von Dohnanyi.
But sad news continued to greet the trombone world.
Respected trombonist and band leader Bill Watrous, who had redefined trombone technique during a 50-year career that included performances with Quincy Jones, Prince and Frank Sinatra, died in July. Edwin Anderson, a bass trombonist with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1964 to 1985 and later an Indiana University professor, followed in October. Then, on Dec. 31, the legendary Urban Clifford “Urbie” Green ended trombonists’ year on its final sad note, dying at age 92.
“I can’t think of any other year when we’ve lost so many, in what turned out to be a seven-month period,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the versatility of the trombone shows in the breadth of the four trombonists’ careers, which spanned classical, jazz and pop.
Revered by fellow musicians for the warm, mellow tone he could maintain even into the instrument’s highest registers, Green was perhaps the best known of the bunch. He played with most of the major jazz artists of the 1950s and 1960s, touring with Woody Herman and Gene Krupa. He played on more than 250 recordings and released more than two dozen solo albums.
Ferguson, also principal trombonist and arranger for the Cleveland Pops, said the trombone choir that will assemble to honor Green, Kofsky, Watrous and Anderson will include students from Case and the Cleveland Institute of Music and members of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and the Cleveland Trombone Collective.
Whigham, a Cleveland native, is considered one of the premier jazz trombonists of the last half century, according to Ferguson. He splits his time between Cape Cod and Bonn, Germany. After his weekend in Cleveland, he travels to Columbus for a performance Monday.
Marcellus, a trombone professor at the Eastman School of Music from 1978 to 2014, will be traveling in for the Cleveland event from his home in Chautauqua, New York.