The Trombone Comes Home

My father known as Charlie ran Charles liquor store and was a Yiddish speaking second baseman on the Hope high school team in Providence Rhode Island. His brother Bob played the cornet and sister Adele played the trombone. Sunday afternoons he took his horn and myself as a page turner to a vaudeville theater in Pawtucket. The only instrument I ever learned was the piano but the 1910 Olds trombone in its green velvet case seduced me.

The horn was put away during my father's liquor day stores but during hard times he took it out again and formed a 1950s Bar Mitzvah band. It was called the Marty Curran Orchestra and played music for every occasion. I had long since gone to the upstairs closet where the trombone was stored and taught myself to play well enough to play in our elementary school orchestra. At the age of 11 I formed a dance band I wanted to play all sorts of crazy noises from this instrument. I was a trombonist who wanted to be the pianist. The trombone was a good friend but the piano was clearly becoming me.

By the time I graduated from high school the piano had become my main instrument, but the trombone gave me a seat in the Brown University Symphony Orchestra. This is where I learned what Brahms was and how to play marching band music on a football field in the Ivy League. I've been orchestrating brass ever since.

The Brown University Symphony Orchestra (

The Brown University Symphony Orchestra (

In 1960 at the Yale school of music I had put my dads trombone in mothballs. I was a pianist. I only took it out for one crazy session with several friends after that it went back in the closet in Providence where it stayed until the late 80s when my father died. After a couple of moves it was lost and I was heartbroken as it was the only link to my father and my own early years. Searching for it in pawn shops was too difficult I had to accept it was gone.

The simple instrument of the trombone had become a powerful catalyst in my becoming a professional music maker. It's primitive brass tubing, curves and split valve was a resident gesture resembling a person about to start making music. Now that it was gone it left only a tarnished brass memory. For many years Dixie trombone could make me stop and listen and open a nostalgic bottle of India pale ale.

Just a few months ago amazingly the slim black musty trombone instrument case was found in a basement. I let it sit for a few days and then with my wife snapping pictures I opened it and there was an unpolished silent brass corpse inside, smelling exactly the same as it did when I had open that case for the first time 70 years earlier in Providence. I took it out, assembled its beautiful slender parts, deposited some spit on the slide and proceeded to play the Prelude to the third act of "Lohengrin" which I'd never played before in my life. I got through three arpeggios when my lip turned blue and thought I was going to have a triple bypass. Soon my childhood horn will forget that it ever spoke Yiddish and now start speaking proper Italian.