Wycliffe Gordon

Wycliffe Gordon
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Kliman

Wycliffe Gordon

Ebullient brass pride is in the house as our host welcomes the exceptional young trombonist Wycliffe Gordon to his Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center stage. The young man known by musicians as "Pine Cone," seems well on his way to upholding the rich, though somewhat thin, ranks of first rate jazz trombonists. Often misunderstood, snickered at because of its cumbersome girth and peculiar method of manipulation by a slide mechanism, the trombone does not have the depth of great players of its wind instrument brethren, notably saxophone and trumpet.

As Dr. Taylor says in his intro: "When Wycliffe Gordon picks up the trombone, something magical happens." In addition to his obvious fluency and sheer dexterity, Wycliffe Gordon has invested a great variety of sounds and expressive effects in crafting his own unique approach to the instrument. He convincingly demonstrates conversing, chuckling, wheezing, whinnying, and crying dialogue on his instrument during his opening cadenza for the Duke Ellington classic "It Don't Mean A Thing." No mere special effects geek, Wycliffe achieves these sounds and nuances all in deep service to the music.

A native of Augusta, Georgia, Wycliffe shares anecdotes with Dr. Taylor about growing up in a home steeped in music, primarily European classical and gospel music. His father was a church pianist, so naturally he arrived at his current station in jazz thoroughly steeped in gospel music. He beautifully demonstrates this with Dr. Taylor on a duet version of the classic "Amazing Grace." Wycliffe first came to public attention as a member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet. He tells Dr. Taylor how he met the trumpet virtuoso, who had come to Wycliffe's campus at Florida A&M University for a speech, and subsequently visited the school jazz band in rehearsal. Coincidentally, at the time Wycliffe was infatuated by one of Wynton's primary heroes, the great Louis Armstrong. Incidentally, Gordon's late aunt had bequeathed his family a Louis Armstrong boxed set of recordings, whereupon the youngster became thoroughly engrossed in the music. Wynton strongly encouraged him to write his own music, the fine fruits of which he demonstrates for our audience with his own fiery tune "What."

The show's traditional audience question and answer segment draws an inquiry from a Howard University student currently studying trombone. The young man asks how Wycliffe stayed focused during his college days. The audience chuckles as Wycliffe responds: "I never said I was focused in college.... I know about college distraction because the four years I spent in college I was distracted." Among the other musical selections on the show are "Mood Indigo", where Wycliffe illustrates his multi-phonic technique, a means of playing multiple simultaneous notes -- and having them make perfect sense! The show closes with a red-hot "Sweet Georgia Brown," with some uncanny, hot trombone tonguing by our guest, Wycliffe Gordon.

Don't miss Wycliffe Gordon in our Photo Gallery!