This article is copyright 2004 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the International Trombone Association Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3, July 2004. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.
The transcription itself is not reproduced here, as it was only licensed for one-time publication in the ITA Journal.
Frank Rosolino & Carl Fontana: Together on Rock Bottom
by Antonio J. García
Associate Jazz Editor, ITA Journal
In 1975 trombonist/composer Bobby Knight began writing and gathering music for a new band he envisioned: The Great American Trombone Company. The ensemble made its debut in 1977; and though it packed the club on word-of-mouth advertising alone, it did not reappear until the start of an ongoing gig at Donte’s in North Hollywood, California in April 1978.1 The success of this trombone-plus-rhythm ensemble led to live recordings at the club in June 1978 that became the Sea Breeze vinyl BOBBY KNIGHT’S GREAT AMERICAN TROMBONE COMPANY: CREAM OF THE CROP, now available on the Jazz Mark 116 CD of the same name (105 North Newton, El Dorado, Arkansas 71730, or from your favorite CD retailer).
Aptly titled, this crop included the rhythm section of Lou Levy (piano), Chuck Berghofer (bass) and Frankie Capp (drums) interacting with some of the finest jazz and studio trombonists around: founder Knight plus Charlie Loper, Lew McCreary, bass trombonist Phil Teele and two jazz legends who had never shared a complete album together: Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino.2 They were inspired by the contributions of the accomplished arrangers Bob Florence, Gordon Brisker, Billy Byers and Knight. This CD captures the group in the very best of the live club-date recording tradition: “There are no intercuts, edits or electronic gimmicks to ‘enhance’ the music. What you hear is what we played...with no mixing after the session.”3
Rock Bottom serves as an ideal vehicle for the irresistible pairing of Fontana and Rosolino, who not only perform bluesy bebop solos but then trade improvisations as well. As they do so, they display so many expressive “tools of the trade”: strict versus loose eighth-note feel, variety of articulation, dynamics, motivic use, pace, lyricism, pitch-variance and tone color along with the added elements of interplay and humor. The landscape Rock Bottom provides adds one more, very significant element to their musical frolick: the solo section alternates between Bb minor and Bb major (or dominant) blues choruses. In order not to crowd the transcription of these solos, the exact chord changes “comped” by the rhythm section are not notated; however, the basic progressions are shown in the accompanying sidebar. These are altered at the will of the players, most substantially in Frank’s third (and minor) chorus.
Rosolino begins the solo section; and right from the start we can see his willingness to “go with the flow” of the tune he’s playing on: his opening, triplet motif quotes the material of the ensemble interlude that has led to his solo. And recognizing the bucket-muted ensemble melody that precedes his solo, his choice of using a buzz-mute allows him to shade his projected mood that much more, offering a viewpoint that at times seems earthy or sarcastic, other times as playful as a kazoo and at others downright joyous, often coinciding with the alternating major or minor quality of the blues changes.
Any Rosolino solo will likely include many rhythms not able to be literally represented on paper; so markings of “lay back” or “ahead” are common here, as well as alternations between swung eighths and straight ones. Such rhythmic fluidity is perhaps his most notable trademark, and the clarity within his abrupt streams of rapid notes is truly amazing.
He begins by toying with the Bb blues scale, implementing many long note-values, thus leaving room for growth later on. His first chorus has a rather earthy quality, combining that scale, the minor-based changes and the buzz-mute (mm. A-12). But with the arrival of the second chorus, this one in major, a brief passage of swinging eighths leads directly to an eight-bar assault of sixteenths (mm. 16-23), somehow each light and seemingly effortless, blending three, four or five notes together within a beat in a variety of different ways, including passing in and out of a cross-rhythm (mm. 19-20). The last sixteenths spill out into a long tone that crosses over into his third chorus.
This chorus (m. 25) is minor, and Rosolino returns to treat the blues similarly to his first chorus. Several simple phrases are followed by a set of sixteenth-note cross-rhythms (mm. 30-32) before returning to a groove that continues into his fourth chorus (m. 37), a major-based set of changes. Those fluid sixteenths return again (m. 40), bringing on a wave of notes one could perhaps best describe as “skittish” (such clean, staccato notes while dividing the beat four or five ways!) As contrast, Frank finishes his solo by “laying back” on a pair of eighth-phrases (mm. 46-48) and diving into his low range.
Carl Fontana’s entrance falls on a minor-oriented chorus, while pianist Lou Levy echoes Gil Evans’ orchestrational figures from Miles Davis’ Summertime rendition (m. 49) and Frankie Capp’s sixteenth-based ride cymbal (rather than triplet-based) continues to lock in so well with Chuck Berghofer’s bass. Carl responds by playing in a rhythmically loose fashion, likely inspired by Frank. Fontana’s triplet-eighths (m. 50) drag into delayed eighths, then rushed eighths (m. 51). The phrases that follow possess great rhythmic flexibility and at times bear close resemblance to Frank’s style.
One identifying factor is the syncopated-sixteenth rhythm appearing on beats three and four of bar 58; this recurs several times in Carl’s solo but is not present in Frank’s by this chorus. Fontana “lays back” that figure right over the double-bar line into his second chorus, one in major (m. 61). This chorus contains a Fontana trademark: the rapid, fluid, ascending and descending arpeggio (mm. 67-68). The syncopated figure (from m. 58) returns to open his third (minor) chorus and segues to a six-bar phrase that begins as his first sustained display of speed, then gradually tapers down into quarter notes (mm. 74-79). This syncopated figure is utilized several times before connecting to his fourth (major) chorus and a quote from circus music to invite laughter from the audience (mm. 85-86).
The phrase that follows splits the beats at will into three, four, five, even six parts (mm. 87-90). A brief respite (mm. 90-92) is followed directly by nearly a chorus and a half of double-time figures (mm. 92-109) that include parallels to previous measures (such as mm. 100-102 compared to mm. 85-86, mm. 103 such as m. 91) to complete his solo and yield to Rosolino, who begins trading fours.
This tenth chorus (in major) begins with Frank’s bluesy, swinging licks (mm. 109-112); but he challenges with a burst of energy (mm. 117-118) that invites Carl to respond with his trademark arpeggio (mm. 121-122), followed by an extra four bars that crowds far into Frank’s turn to play (mm. 125-128). Rosolino decides to get a word in edgewise, issuing a meek, almost whimpering sound (mm. 128-129) quoting Carl’s previous line that elicits some attendees’ laughter before settling back into the groove (mm. 130-132).
Fontana takes Rosolino’s pitches and toys with them further to open the twelfth chorus (m. 133), this one in major. He closes his phrase with the syncopated-sixteenth figure (mm. 135-136), which Frank in turn picks up and stretches into a remarkable display of rhythmic fluidity (mm. 137-141). Fontana returns to the figure to close the chorus (mm. 141-144).
In the thirteenth chorus (in minor), both players relax slightly off the pervious pace (mm. 145-146) at first; but Rosolino finishes with flair heading into the final tag (mm. 157-166) that segues back to the ensemble.
A Landmark Recording
These solos were transcribed from the original LP in real time using a basic cassette player—actually two, as the initial device broke under the pressure of the transcription challenge. The current CD release of 12 selections includes two gems that were not on the LP: Stardust (featuring Fontana) and Lover Man (Rosolino). Rosolino died not long after this recording; Fontana passed much more recently. But CREAM OF THE CROP documents their superb, fun, musical expression—and their interplay on Rock Bottom in particular—forever.
1Knight, Bobby. Liner notes to BOBBY KNIGHT’S GREAT AMERICAN TROMBONE COMPANY: CREAM OF THE CROP (Jazz Mark 116 CD).
This article is excerpted and adapted from the larger thesis “Tools of the Trade: An Examination of Selected Trombone Solos and the Devices Used for Expression Within Them” by Antonio J. García, © 1985, used by permission, all rights reserved.
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Antonio J. García is an Associate Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded the B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, and solo worksinstrumental and vocalincluding grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Bobby Shew, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own garciamusic.com, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton's JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ).
A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collinsand has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band. An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.
Mr. García is Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) and an Editorial Advisory Board member of the Jazz Education Network. His new book, Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by MENC). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA's All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association's 2001 Distinguished Service Award.
Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: "Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education." Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: "Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe." The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García's "splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing" and cited him as "a nationally noted jazz artist/educator...one of the most prominent young music educators in the country." Down Beat has recognized his "knowing solo work on trombone" and "first-class writing of special interest." The Jazz Report has written about the "talented trombonist," and Cadence noted his "hauntingly lovely" composing as well as CD production "recommended without any qualifications whatsoever." Phil Collins has said simply, "He can be in my band whenever he wants." García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.
A member of the board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.'s international management executives. The partnership he has created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association's Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest's "Midwest Jazz Masters" panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts "Artist Fellowship in Music Composition" panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of MENC, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 "Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching" award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE "U.S. Professor of the Year" (one of 434 nationwide). Visit his web site at <www.garciamusic.com>.
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