Navona Records and trombonist Andy Malloy present BEST OF FRIENDS, a collection of personalized pieces for trombone and piano. Featuring works that Malloy commissioned from his colleagues over the years, the album is truly an ode to the relationships formed through musical collaboration. Each piece on the album pushes the musical boundaries to which the trombone is often held through creative uses of tonality and soaring melodies. Rhythmically energetic passages, jazz harmonies, and more speak throughout the album, highlighting the musicianship of Malloy and the compositional dexterity of his colleagues, a musical testament to the power of collaboration.
Today, Andy Malloy is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about Andy’s “AHA” moment that led to the creation of this album, and the importance of being bold!
Who was your first favorite artist(s)?
My dad had been a trombonist through college and had been an avid follower of big bands. While I heard recordings of all of them from my VERY early years, I was familiar with the trombone band leaders. Early in high school I heard Trombones Unlimited with Mike Barone and Frank Rosolino. During my high school years I was starting to get serious as a player and to hear their playing and arrangements was very exciting and motivating for me. Our high school jazz band played a few of their arrangements which I got to play with my best friend in high school and thought all of that added up to the coolest thing I had ever done. Bill Watrous is another player I have been in awe of all my life – fabulous ballads, amazing improv and endless range. Once I became a working musician in LA I had the privilege of working with Bill on several occasions and got to know Mike Barone and hear his band rehearse at Local 47 nearly every week.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
As I progressed through high school I realized my preferences (options) were narrowing. I was an average student with a strong interest in English and history but music became an ever stronger pull for me. Not only did I enjoy playing and performing but the fact that my close circle of friends were all involved in music made it the most comfortable setting during high school years which can be awkward or challenging at best. As playing opportunities expanded I also realized that the musical universe was much larger and varied than I thought. While this could be intimidating it also made me realize that such a large career field might possibly have a place for me. This possibility definitely added to my desire or motivation to continue to study and hope to improve. I realized then that any musical group or community I participated in was made up of not only my competition but also my friends, colleagues and support.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
For many years I played in a summer music festival on the central coast of California. Part of the job was to play in a brass quintet which did community outreach events. We often gave two concerts a day for hospitals, wineries, orchards, libraries, senior centers, etc. in addition to orchestral responsibilities. After we had been doing these events for several years we were scheduled to play a concert at a mens correctional center — prison…. We were told very clearly that due to security concerns our vehicles, cases, instruments would all be thoroughly searched before being allowed entry. We were also told to wear colors contrasting with the prisoners’ jumpsuits color. Finally, if there was a disturbance, they had a no hostage policy and couldn’t guarantee our safety. Not your normal performance environment. We set up to play in the “yard” between all of the buildings that housed the prisoners. We were separated by a very tall chain link fence topped with razor wire. Not the most inviting performance atmosphere. We did our concert and it was very well received with lots of good humor and great questions from our audience. As the MC, I was wrapping up the program (and still nervous) so the last thing I said, as usual, was thanks very much for coming to hear us. One of the prisoners quickly responded by saying “it’s OK, we had to be here.”
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
By the time we began recording the album I had performed each of the works for trombone and piano several times. I knew them well and could anticipate the most challenging and satisfying moments in each. The Bach Preludio and Fugue IV is written for five voices and, as such, was impossible to perform on my own. I had diligently practiced and learned each part and felt fully prepared to record each of them. At no point in my career, which included extensive studio work, had I ever done multi track recording of myself. As we recorded the Bach one voice at a time, the tuning, blend, timing and balance became ever more complicated and time consuming. When we finally had recorded each part or voice to our satisfaction we could sit and listen to all the parts put together. The moment of hearing the Bach done with five trombones in Robert Marsteller’s stunning arrangement gave me a sense of relief and accomplishment. And enjoyment.
What does this album mean to you personally?
This album came from a giant “AHA” moment at a time in my career when I was already well established as a performer and teacher. From the time I was an undergrad my teacher had urged me to perform recitals and seek out new composers and new works for trombone. For many years I dutifully sought out information about premieres of new works for trombone and new publications of repertoire. It has always seemed to me that many teachers and performers rely much too heavily on the known or tried and true all drawn from a somewhat limited range of possibilities. My “aha” was that I was fortunate enough to actually have a career in music and from such a position it was my turn to commission new music for trombone. Having lived in Los Angeles for about 20 years at the time, I decided to ask composer friends of mine if they would consider writing a piece for me. To my surprise and great relief, people were very interested and pleased to be asked. At that time, I promised each of the composers that I would give multiple performances of their pieces and create a recording. In a way the album was a way to make new pieces available to players, promote the talents of my friends and pay a debt to others who had created new music for the rest of us to hear, enjoy, perform and teach.
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
Asking about a specific feeling allows me to give my shortest response: Don’t always listen to or play the same old stuff. There’s a lot of great same old stuff that, as players and listeners, we keep going back to. Ever heard any of the works on this album before? Don’t shy away because you don’t think you know enough about music to have an opinion? Be BOLD! Listen in and decide. Listen to everything. Listen more than once. Is there something you like? Something you don’t like? Does this make you realize that the trombone can be a beautiful solo voice?