Curtis Fuller (1932-2021) – A Tribute by Nils Wogram

German trombonist Nils Wogram writes in tribute to Curtis Fuller:

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Curtis Fuller in 1982 at Capital Jazz Festival, Knebworth. Photo credit: Brian O’Connor/ Images of Jazz

Why is Curtis Fuller one of my ultimate heroes, writes Nils Wogram? Because he represents a way of playing the trombone which is more or less unique to him. For on the one hand there is something very trombone-like about his playing: it is melodic and straightforward, and there’s that wonderful warm sound. And yet it is also unconnected with the instrument, having its value musically in the broader sense: he can match the agility of other instrumentalists with his ability to play over the most complicated harmonic sequence or to deal with the most convoluted jazz line. The reason why Curtis Fuller was so popular with all his fellow musicians was that he brought the particular sound, and the forthright and direct style of the trombone, but at the same time he was their equal as a soloist and a musician; it was as if the instrument receded into the background, so that what we heard was just him – and his music.

The trombone is an instrument full of character, and therefore many people love it and want to find ways to integrate it into their music. But some trombonists can often be too hung-up about technical perfection, whereas others don’t always have the technical and melodic finesse to keep pace with other instrumentalists. And, to be frank, listener appetite either for trombonists whose only achievement is instrumental perfection or for those who need sympathy for their clumsiness or simplicity is bound to be very limited.

Curtis Fuller celebrated the soul and warmth of the trombone like nobody else, and played with ease over fast tempos and fast chord progressions. He was one of those who emancipated the trombone as a solo instrument, and also paved the way for generations of jazz trombonists who felt it was not enough to stay in the small trombone world where colleagues pat each other on the back, or in the so-called avant-garde where it is easier to hide behind technical and harmonic/melodic shortcomings.

Thank you Curtis Fuller for what you did for the music world – and for our instrument.

Nils Wogram‘s most recent album is Bright Lights. He recently won an Honorary Award at the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and is nominated for a Deutscher Jazzpreis.

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