Important Historical Recordings: the First Great Trombonist!
Dr. Christopher Coleman | HONG KONG | 09/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD is a compilation of only a very few of the literally thousands of recordings Arthur Pryor made as a trombonist during a span of about 20 years. Since they date to the earliest days of recording technology--all of the works here are from 1901-1911--the sound quality is terrible compared to our modern recordings. Although all sorts of manipulations were used to improve the sound, including the combining of two different copies of the same recording, there is still a significant amount of hiss, crackle, and pop--it's more like a bowl of Rice Crispies than a newly recorded CD. If you can think of it like listening to an old Victorola it has a certain amount of charm, but surely some listeners will be immediately put off by the distortion, which admittedly lessens in the later works. Add to this the logistical problems of recording at the turn of the last century--only a limited amount of players could gather around the equipment--and it becomes clear that we aren't really hearing what an audience member at the time would have heard during a live performance of Sousa's Band. In fact, the band comes off quite poorly here--in The Blue Bells of Scotland they can barely keep up with Arthur Pryor, and their ensemble playing is poor in many places to an extent that's hardly credible for what was widely believed to be the best band in the world.
But of course one doesn't buy a CD like this to hear the accompaniment, or to listen to the sound quality. The only reason is to hear Arthur Pryor, surely the first great trombone soloist, in what is a wonderful piece of turn-of-the-century Americana. Pryor was the son of a bandmaster and learned to play all sorts of instruments (violin, cornet, alto horn, string bass, and valve trombone!) at an early age and was given his first slide trombone some time after his 11th birthday. He became a trombone virtuoso in the face of overwhelming difficulties--not only did a kick from a mule result in partial paralysis of his face, but also the trombone he'd been given was damaged and could only use the first two positions. In overcoming these seeming adversities through an astonishing work ethic he developed many of the features which made his performance so special: his characteristic constant shimmery vibrato created by "waving" his jaw; and an amazing embouchure (lip muscle strength) which allowed him to play every chromatic pitch using only those two positions (normal trombone technique employs 7!). Pryor revolutionized trombone technique and set a new standard, not only at home in America, but also abroad during his many European tours with the Sousa band and his own ensemble. One of his trombones, covered in engraving and with the characteristic unusually small bore he favored, can still be seen on display at the Interlochen School of the Arts outside of Traverse City, Michigan.
Featured on the CD are 26 Pryor performances, a few with piano, 10 with the Sousa Band, and 12 with Pryor's own ensembles. The music ranges from Italian opera arias (Verdi's Celeste Aida) to American popular songs of the day (Foster's My Old Kentucky Home) and contains a good portion of Pryor's own compositions and arrangements. Among my favorites are Pryor's The Patriot-Polka and Polka Fantastic, both clever pieces with amazing trombone performances. A real oddity is We Won't Go Home Until Morning (known to me as The Bear Went Over the Mountain) "played in four octaves"--it's exactly what it says it is. After a short piano introduction, Pryor plays the melody unaccompanied and unadorned in a high octave, then an octave lower, another octave lower, and finally in pedal tones. The whole thing has a real carny atmosphere, as if P. T. Barnum were hiding just around the corner. Van Alstyne's Navajo also captures this air of a time long gone, when Americans were wide-eyed and innocent and the world was never far from a Saturday afternoon near the bandstand.
Of special note are the unusually thorough notes in the programme booklet. Daniel E. Frizane supplies terrific biographical notes, from which I gleaned much of the information above; articles about the recordings and the Arthur Pryor performances are supplied, as well as an engineer's note describing the equipment and techniques used to restore the recordings. It's clearly a labor of love from all concerned."
A great find
Chuck | 11/10/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you're a trombonist, you've heard of that crazy song, Blue Bells of Scotland, and you may have noticed the name of the composer, Arthur Pryor. You may not know that he was a trombonist himself(!) and played in the John Philip Sousa band for many years, and then had his own band afterwards. Pryor was a famous name in the trombone world, and he wrote many pieces featuring a solo trombone; most of them are featured here.If you want to buy this album to hear fantastic trombone playing so fast it'll blow your socks off or so pretty in a ballad you fall right to sleep, this is not the album for you. It is a recording produced from an OLD master (you may recall the Sousa band was at the turn of the 20th century), and with trombone playing that is not the style thought of as 'pretty' by today's ear. If this describes you, look for some of these same songs (blue bells, thoughts of love, fantasic polka), recorded by some of today's trombone virtuosos - Christian Lindberg, Mark Lawrence, Joe Alessi, etc. to find a more modern sound.If, however, you want authentic period music, this is about as authentic as you can get. The trombone style is choppy when fast, and not as connected for slow tunes also, and the band accompaniment is the same way; that was the popular style of the time. It is nice to hear these pieces and realize how the composer intended them to be played (because he's the one playing them).So, good for novelty purposes, bad for high quality recording of highest quality trombone playing"
One of the greats
Chuck | 12/17/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a must buy for any trombonist. I play trombone, and Arthur Pryor is, in my opinion, the all-time best trombone performer, and song writer that I have yet encountered. I have played the Blue Bells of Scotland, and it is wonderful."
Arthur Pryor Forever
Chuck | 12/17/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I play trombone, and I have listened to this album, and I think it's wonderful. The sound is not very good, as it is a VERY VERY VERY old original recording, but it is an absolute must have for any trombonist. What can I say, I love it."