There are so many excellent and important pieces of trombone music, people who are interested in this wonderful instrument have a wide variety of compositions and recordings from which to choose. In order to really gain an understanding of and appreciation for the instrument, there are some cornerstone works that everyone should be familiar with. While some of these pieces will be above the skill level of some beginning players, they provide stellar examples of what the trombone is capable of and the best of the best in trombone music. My list is not intended to be exhaustive, and certainly other people would no doubt select different works, but these are some of my favorites.
*Melodious Etudes for Trombone (Bordogni/Rochut) – My first selection is not so much a piece, but a collection of etudes and vocalises. The importance of the Rochut books can almost not be overstated. They are how most of us really learned legato playing, endurance, musicality, and pitch. The Rochut books are transcriptions of the vocalises of Marco Bordogni and are among some of the most beautiful melodies ever written. While the Rochut books have no piano accompaniment, some newer release include piano accompaniments that are suitable for solo or recital performance.
*Blue Bells of Scotland (Pryor) – Any serious trombone student must know a little about the life and work of Arthur Pryor. Pryor was trombone soloist with the Sousa band between 1893 and 1903 and later became the leader of his own band. His compositions employ virtuosic variations on beautiful melodies, of which Blue Bells of Scotland is arguably the most famous. Even for those of us whose technical abilities prohibit a good performance of the piece, Blue Bells is a tune that everyone should know.
*Requiem (Mozart) – The trombone solo in “Tuba Mirum” from Mozart’s Requiem is one of the most beautiful and moving in all of the literature. This orchestral excerpt shows up on more auditions than any other. A challenge to the player’s control and legato style, this beautiful melody in the 2nd trombone part is a joy to play and to listen to.
*Sonata for Trombone (Hindemith) – This demanding work has become part of the core repertoire for trombone. Modern and bold, the Hindemith is a must-tackle piece for all serious students of the instrument. Accompanied by a phenomenally difficult piano part, this work is challenging and rewarding for both performer and audience.
*Getting Sentimental Over You (Bassman) – To be a well-rounded trombone enthusiast, one must learn something about jazz and big band trombone music. While myriad pieces and recordings exist in the jazz idiom, one of the classics is Tommy Dorsey playing Getting Sentimental. Few have matched the exceptional range and silky smooth tone with which Tommy played. This is one for everyone to be familiar with.
*”Just a Closer Walk” (Gillis) – If you play much trombone, you will eventually come across this classic New Orleans funeral-style brass quintet. Beginning as a dirge, the tempo picks up then continues to build as the piece progresses. The centerpiece of the tune is a really fun tailgate trombone solo. It is a great piece that most trombonists end up playing regularly. Learn it. Know it. Memorize it.
Trombone music is very diverse, and this list is just a starting place for exploration. The repertoire includes hundreds of other sonatas, orchestral excerpts, and jazz solos. Get to know the music of this really unique instrument.