Bill Green is an unassuming IT guy, but he’s also a wicked bass trombone player, and his warm tone adds presence and power to several of the city’s bands, from the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble (his longest gig at 18 years) and the Mennonite Community Orchestra, to the East Side Jazz Band, the Winnipeg Jazz Collective, and the Big dig! Band. Green credits Wayne Bowman, a trombonist and music professor (now retired) from Brandon University, as his biggest inspiration. As he puts it: “I feel like he actually gave me Music, as if he took it out of its display case and showed me how it goes—then handed it over to me.” Ever modest, Green calls himself “a community musician, a high-schooler who just never stopped playing when everyone else did.”
When did you first pick up a trombone?
I started playing trombone in grade 7. I was transferring to a new school, and since the five kids I knew all picked band over art, I did too. Who wants to be alone in a new school? My band teacher, the unforgettable Muriel Milgrom, wanted me to play the euphonium or tuba, but I had seen trombone players on Lawrence Welk, and I really wanted to know how the heck that contraption worked. I am still really looking forward to figuring it out—it’s a crazy instrument!
What do you like about playing in the lower registers of a band?
The bass trombone (or, as I like to call it, the pig) is great fun, as the part is often written very independently from the rest of the trombone section, and sometimes from the whole band. It makes an essential contribution to the overall sound of a big band and requires independent responsibility, but it is not showy. Let the trumpet guys have their heroics in the screech register, and the saxes their noodly 64th-note passages—I am happy just filling out that bottom end.
Jazz history includes some pretty colourful trombonists. Who stands out for you?
Trombonists of course owe everything to JJ Johnson. Every human person should have The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Volumes 1 and 2, in their collection, but I also really like one of his last albums, Tangence, recorded when he was 70. By this time, he has slowed a little from his bebop days, but his musicality and sound are perfect as ever.
Another stand-out is this New York trombonist, Gary Valente, who has this crazy, raucous, sort of double-buzz sound. Play “Bird of Paradise” off of Carla Bley’s Big Band Theory album as loud as you and your speakers can take it. The band cooks along, then a minute in Gary takes his solo. He reaches this high, searing C# and he just can’t seem to get enough of it, and neither can I, and the first time I heard him do this, I couldn’t stop laughing at his sheer, primal exuberance! I was elated to hear something so crass and beautiful, to hear someone getting away with that on the trombone.
There is a lot of musical landscape between JJ and Gary Valente, but on any landscape, it is good to know where the shoreline is, and where the volcano is.
Tell us about the jazz ensembles you’re playing with at the moment.
East Side Jazz Band: I’ve been in this group for seven years. Dan Steinhilber somehow manages to get this group together every week when so many folks are so busy. We play good big band repertoire and the musicianship is very high.
Winnipeg Jazz Collective: An amazing group of musicians and friends. I don’t deserve to play with these guys, but I just keep my nose in the book and hope they don’t say anything. We played the first concert of Jazz Winnipeg’s Nu Sounds series in January, and I was proud that both sets were almost entirely composed by band members.
Big dig! Band: Oh man, this group! These guys are world-class monster players and I was having trouble playing at our first rehearsal because I kept giggling at how great it already sounded. I was walking around blissed out all the next day after our first gig on January 15. I feel like Ringo Starr in this group—I am just happy to be here.
How does playing jazz impact your life?
I don’t play jazz for a living, but it’s an important part of how I live. I realized in university that I didn’t want to be a school music teacher, but I knew that I loved music and didn’t want it to stop. I make music because I have to. Music is not just for experts and specialists—it is for everyone to do. I meet up with people who were fine high school musicians and I’m dismayed to learn that they have almost all stopped playing music altogether. I don’t understand that. If this describes you, find your horn and start playing. I don’t care how it sounds today—you will be better tomorrow. Do it for yourself.