Farewell William Russell
William Russell Watrous recently passed at the age of 79. If you are or ever were a trombone player, and especially if you play jazz, you’ve been influenced in some way by this great musician.
I wanted to pay tribute to Bill, and doing so through a ballad seemed appropriate. He played higher and faster than just about anyone ever, but his ballad playing brought out his great musical sensibilities and expanded his popularity to a wider audience than just his adoring trombone fans.
I once asked him how and what he practiced early on. He replied simply, “I just improvised melodies.” And what a great melodic sense he had, no matter what he played. The impact of those four words have stayed with me my entire life.
While I’ve never had screaming high chops or great speed, the gift Bill gave me was an appreciation for the primacy of melody and for the ability to use the trombone as an expressive voice.
This little piece reflects Bill’s influence on my trombone playing, but more importantly, my musicianship.
The wisdom Bill shares at the very end comes from a video of Bill explaining his playing philosophy and can be seen here.