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Does hearing music played on your own instrument change the way you experience the music? In my case it does in a huge way.

As a trombone player, I have surprisingly few jazz recordings that feature players of my own instrument. It’s not that I don’t like hearing trombone in a jazz setting (or in any musical setting); it’s that I can’t seem to separate the music listener in my head from the trombone player.

In fact, in any genre of music, whenever a trombone is present, I can’t seem to stop giving most of my attention to the trombone player. And, to a degree, I find that occasionally interferes with my enjoyment of the music. Or at least changes the experience for me.

I like to jump around in my listening, now paying attention to the bass player, then to the piano player; heck, sometimes I enjoy listening out for the kick drum. But the gravitational force of having my own instrument present seems to skew what I concentrate on overwhelmingly to my own instrument.  It’s like I can’t stop thinking to myself, “Hey, there’s a trombone playing!”

And then, instead of listening to the music, I find myself listening for technique. Not in a critical way—all the trombonists I’ll ever hear on recordings are much better players than I—but just in a trombone-centric way. As in: “Wow, that sounded like a difficult lick!”

Don’t get me wrong. I love the trombone. Believe me, I do. And I love it in jazz. In fact, jazz trombonists impress me no end. Obviously I am biased, but I think that it is one of the most difficult instruments to sound good on as a soloist. (I’ve often thought that of the stand-up bass, as well.) And when I hear great-sounding ‘bone soloist such William Carn or Ian McDougall, I can only doff my cap to them.

By Rob Tilley