Arthur Pryor, Trombone Soloist of the Sousa Band
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Arthur Pryor is remembered today as the composer of the novelty number 'The Whistler and his Dog' but he was also once regarded as the greatest trombonist of all time. On this CD, you can hear why. --Classic CD, Jun. 1999
His (Pryor) instrumental playing is, without fail, of an incomparable warmth and is frequently humorous, providing the evidence that the trombone is at its best. --Michel Tibbaut
The CD recording is a treasure for everyone to hear and the jacket notes well worth reading. This is an album not to be ignored. --ITA Journal, Fall 1998
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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.
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