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Roger Bissell | Reflective Trombone

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Easy Listening: Orchestral Jazz: Bossa Nova Moods: Type: Lyrical
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Reflective Trombone

by Roger Bissell

A smorgasbord of lovely trombone and vocal pieces--differing in mood and style, but sharing a common feeling of enthusiasm, caring, and joy. Is "A Little Less Wonderful" a candidate for performance on Fox's "Glee"? You be the judge!
Genre: Easy Listening: Orchestral
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Reflective Mood
3:38 $0.99
2. A Little Less Wonderful (feat. Charlie Bissell, Rebecca Troxler & Mike Allen)
3:57 $0.99
3. Where Are All the Happy Days?
5:08 $0.99
4. When I Fall in Love (medley) [feat. Andrew Bissell]
3:38 $0.99
5. Friends and Lovers
4:10 $0.99
6. Once in a Dream
3:55 $0.99
7. A Little Less Wonderful (A Capella) [feat. Daniel Bissell & Andrew Bissell]
3:59 $0.99
8. Blue Trombone
4:55 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

I lovingly dedicate this CD to the memory of my teacher, colleague, and good friend, Rex Peer (1928-2008), for the immeasurable value of his guidance, camaraderie, and friendship, and for the wonderful gift of his composition, “Blue Trombone.” Two years after I started playing trombone as an 8-year-old third grader in the “senior band” in Cumberland, Iowa, I began my studies with Rex. He was a skillful, soulful trombonist and (if possible) an even more incredible teacher. He taught me basics, jazz, ballad playing, and music theory. As a result, I was not only well prepared for a career as a performer, but also got the bug for song-writing, arranging, and composing, which have been a cherished part of my adult music career. Needless to say, if it weren’t for the many ways in which he helped me get my start as a player and writer, this CD would never have happened.


Theme of the CD: Reflective Trombone--First and foremost, this CD is about my trombone playing, which extends back more than 50 years, to when I started out as an 8-year-old third-grader, playing in the “senior” band in Cumberland, Iowa. In 5th grade, I began studying with a master trombonist, Rex Peer (1928-2008), who taught me basics, jazz and ballad playing, and music theory. As a result, I got the bug for song-writing and arranging and composing, which have been a cherished part of my adult music career. So, this CD also provides a chance to hear some of what I like to create, other than on the spur of the moment (as in jazz solos)—as well as some of what I think is truly beautiful, as a setting for those creations. I have also, since early childhood, been an irrepressible singer and whistler, probably inheriting that from my dad, Eldon Bissell (1925-1984) who, along with my mom Deloris, was one of my biggest fans. I wish he could hear this CD, for it carries on that Bissell “tradition,” including also a couple of songs that provide a vocal showcase for his grandchildren and my children, Charles, Rebecca, Andrew, and Daniel, all of whom are fine, active singers in the Nashville TN and Lexington KY areas. Finally, it allows me to feature one of my very best friends and fellow Disneyland band members, Brian Atkinson, who is a fantastic jazz trumpeter and vibes player. I think you will agree that his solo on “Once in a Dream” is just lovely.

On a deeper level, however, what I am trying to do in this CD is to “reflect” on things I have played or written in the past, in a way that goes beyond their original embodiments. Here are some informative and (I hope) interesting details about each of the pieces...

Track 1--“Reflective Mood,” by the great Sammy Nestico, has been played with piano or concert band accompaniment by countless trombonists (some of whom have had their performances posted on uTube), and I was honored to play it with the Iowa State University concert band on the Fall 1966 concert and the Spring 1976 tour, and again with the Cedar Rapids Community Band in the summer of 1970. I am aware of only one person who has performed it with an orchestra: the excellent Swedish flutist Goran Marcusson on his CD “Reflective Flute,” and I have attempted to “up the ante” a bit by adding a choir singing “ah’s” here and there. If only the 18-year-old from Cumberland, Iowa had had this kind of backup when he played it in college!

Tracks 2 & 7--“A Little Less Wonderful” is a fun song that I composed in 1982, and it is intended to be a sort of hip “flirtation” song, as can be gathered from the lyrics. (Would this be a fun piece for the cast of Fox's hit show "Glee" to perform, or what!) I always wished it could have been recorded by the likes of James Taylor or Barry Manilow, but that was then—and now it is presented through the talents of my children singing with me a la Manhattan Transfer. My son Daniel and I handled the scat-singing duties, and I threw in a little whistling for fun. (Take that, Toots Thieleman!) We recorded the vocal tracks in Nashville at my son Andrew’s studio in November of 2009, and my son Charlie, who has a glorious bass voice, was on his way down from Lexington when his car broke down, so he had to “mail his part in.” (He recorded it at home and sent it to us over the Internet.) But by hook or by crook, we did it! (Note to CD purchasers: the a capella version is actually track 7, not track 2, as listed on the back of the CD.)

Track 3--“Where Are All the Happy Days?” is a song I wrote about 1978, and it had a set of rather gut-wrenching lyrics, which are (happily) lost to history. (I loaned my only copy of the vocal lead sheet to a guitar player, who could not find it when I later asked him to return it.) My teacher/colleague/friend, Rex Peer, and I played this as a bossa nova in our quintet, Hip Bones, in performances in Nashville in 1978 and 1979, but I always thought it needed a grander setting. Sadly, he’s no longer around to hear it done up in the symphonic manner I devised for this CD. The bridge made a good enough introduction in the old days, but I have written a good amount of additional material around it, allowing the strings and woodwinds to weave a “reflective” mood that I hope makes the piece something more than just another “sad” bossa nova in minor. (Yes, it’s somewhat autobiographical. No, please don’t ask me for details.) I also opened it up in the middle to allow for a jazz solo in samba rhythm, then reversed direction, going back to bossa nova, and finally ending with a reprise of the intro material, capped with a salute to one of my favorite composers, J. S. Bach. (The 4-2-3 suspension in the last chord basically says, “…and I mean it!”)

Track 4--The next track, “When I Fall in Love,” is not quite a medley, more of a blending, of Vincent Young’s well-loved ballad standard and Stevie Wonder’s more dynamic pop song, “I Believe When I Fall in Love with You It Will Be Forever.” I first heard the Stevie Wonder song on a Sergio Mendez album in the 1970s and always wanted to record it someday, because of its poignant harmony in the verse and its three-part structure, which gave it a more dramatic feel than most songs. As for the Vincent Young song, it was always just another pretty song to me, until the fall of 1985, when I was hired to write it up as a female vocal. I came up with such pretty and satisfying harmonies, that I decided someday I just had to record it that way as a trombone feature. But I didn’t think of combining it with the Stevie Wonder song until I was well into the arrangement for this CD. I realized at some point that, not only were the titles very suggestive of a possible marriage of the two songs, there were also overlaps in their harmonies, as well as related meanings in some of the lyrics, so I decided to exploit them for this recording. I also used a motif from the chorus of Stevie Wonder’s song for the intro of the arrangement, and it really seems to set up nicely the first entrance of the trombone solo.

Track 5--“Friends and Lovers” is the “happy” bossa nova I wrote about 1977, and which Rex and I played two-trombone style in Hip Bones in 1978 and 1979, as a sort of book-end to “Where Are All the Happy Days?” It was inspired by Antonio Carlos Jobim and by Sergio Mendez’s Brazil 66, who respectively wrote and recorded so many of my favorite bossa novas during the 1960s and 1970s. More than one person has pointed out the strong mis-match between the upbeat melody and harmony and the unhappily protesting lyrics. I can’t disagree, but I also have always thought that they were great fun together, despite the emotional disconnect between them. In addition to saluting Brazil 66 (with a unison male vocal in place of Mendez’s chick singers), I also give a tip of the hat to Andy Williams and the Williams Brothers with some four-part vocal harmony, along with a little Urbie Green high-note trill on the ending.

Track 6--“Once in a Dream” is what I call my “movie theme” tune, partly because I think it really would make a nice movie theme, but mainly because I have never been able to compose a coherent enough set of lyrics that would make an actual song out of it. (Here is the first line I came up with: “Once in a dream I held you tight and thought you might be mine.” If anyone reading this wants to try his or her hand at writing some fitting lyrics for it, please be my guest. I will gladly share the royalties with you, if I like them enough to use them!) The tune was originally conceived as a piano solo, then adapted for big band in the same format at Thad Jones’ big band arrangement of “A Child is Born.” We performed it a number of times in the Nashville Jazz Machine in the late 70s and early 80s, but it was decided we would not record it for the band’s album, because it was too close stylistically and formally to Jones’ chart on “A Child is Born.” Now that it’s completely revamped, with vibes and trombone solos, new intro and interlude material, and voices and strings, it is different enough from its earlier incarnation that there should no longer be any issue about it. In any case, I think all will agree that Brian Atkinson’s vibes solo is just scrumptious, as is Deborah Avery’s tasty double-reed work.

Track 8--“Blue Trombone” was originally composed by Rex, probably in 1966 (but perhaps a bit earlier), and I re-wrote the ending so that it would resolve with a major tonic chord and not be left hanging on a four-chord. On my first visit home from college in the fall of 1966 (just a week or so after performing “Reflective Mood” with the ISU concert band), I stopped by Rex’s home, and he told me he had something he wanted me to try out. He handed me a hand-written trombone part, and sat down at his piano and asked me to play it with him. We played through it a couple of times, he made a couple of suggestions about style and tempo, and then handed me the piano part, saying, “Here—I don’t know what you might want to do with it, but it’s yours.” Over the years, I thought about when and where I might perform it, but never seriously considered recording it until late summer of 2008. When I spoke to Rex by phone during his convalescence from surgery, I told him I was going to record the piece and add strings and brass to it, and he said, “Well, don’t wait too long!” I didn’t realize that only several weeks later, he would no longer be with us. That’s why this piece is so very poignant and meaningful to me, beyond just the emotional content of the wonderful vehicle that it provides for trombone. I wish Rex could have heard it “in all its glory,” but I suspect he knew the potential it had, even back in 1966 when he first pounded out the orchestra-like piano part as I plowed through it in his living room.


I also want to thank the following people: my good friend and studio engineer, Bryan Evans, for his outstanding recording and mixing efforts, his percussion overdubs, and his guidance and unfailing good cheer and humor during the drawn-out process of putting this CD together—my daughter-in-law Christi Bissell for her fine clarinet and saxophone overdubs on “Reflective Mood”—my son Andrew for his expert vocal recording and editing of the vocals by himself, his siblings, and me on “A Little Less Wonderful” and “When I Fall in Love”—my other kids, Charlie, Rebecca, and Daniel for their sterling vocal efforts (along with Andrew) on “A Little Less Wonderful”— my good friends Brian Atkinson (vibes and trumpet) and Deborah Avery (piccolo, oboe, English horn) for their tasteful, skillful overdubs—my personal coach, Robert Hartung, for convincing me that my dream of doing this CD could be done much more easily and affordably than I first imagined—my good friend Ron Bruner Sr., for much the same guidance and for connecting me with Bryan Evans—my wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Rachel, for their unfaltering love and encouragement in doing this project—my parents, Eldon and Deloris Bissell, for the years of support they gave me for my trombone studies and early career efforts—my first college band director, Frank Piersol, for giving an upstart freshman the solo spotlight with the Iowa State U. concert band, and for sending me much more recently a reduced score to “Reflective Mood,” so I could adapt it for winds, strings, and voices for this CD—my college music theory professor, Gary White, for his insights and guidance in composition and orchestration—and my teacher, Rex Peer, for the immeasurable value of his teaching, guidance, camaraderie, and friendship, and for giving me the incredible gift of his composition, “Blue Trombone.” There are many others I haven’t mentioned, but to whom I also say thanks. (You know who you are!)


Artist Bio: Roger, a free-lance trombonist and arranger in Nashville (1971-1985 and 2010-present), played on many commercial and jazz recordings, including Earwitness "The Secret's Out" (NJP Records, 1978), Louis Brown Orchestra "Big Band Bridge" (JMH Records, 1978), Nashville Jazz Machine "Eli's Coming" (AM-PM Records, 1982). After moving to Southern California to join the Disneyland Band, he continued his free-lance recording work. Most notable of this period was the Don Miller Orchestra CD, "This Swingin' Life" (MG Records, 1998), one of Roger's two solo tracks being used on the trailer of Jerry Seinfeld's 1998 HBO special, "I'm Telling You for the Last Time." Most recently, Roger has soloed on Edmund Velasco's "Smoke Rises" (Gemtone Records, 2003), and Doug McDonald's Jazz Winds/Brass Coalition "Turn" (Sea Breeze Records, 2003), Rob Verdi's "Prose and Connversations" (2004), and the Side Street Strutters Jazz Band's "Back to Bourbon Street" (2006). Roger, whose email address is REBissell@aol.com, has been increasingly busy since the mid-90s writing essays and reviews on jazz and other topics. These can be accessed from his home page at www (dot) rogerbissell (dot) com.



Sammy Nestico: "There are many golden moments on this recording. All of these songs, despite their different moods and style, share a common feeling of enthusiasm, caring and joy. The band's dynamics and shadings are a wholesome complement to the beautiful trombone solos by my gifted colleague, Roger Bissell."

Dave Wolpe (9/9/2010): "Roger Bissell ranks among the finest trombonists in the world. His tone, range and impeccable technique is as good as you will hear anywhere."

Bill Watrous (9/4/2010): "I thought it was wonderful -- absolutely great. I'm really impressed with the way you play. Whatever you want to write and blame me for, go ahead. I love it!"



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