Interview with Bob Hughes (from 2006)

In 2006, I began a series of interviews with bass trombonists around the globe. For one reason or another, the posts were removed as I made room for other material. Beginning with this interview of Bob Hughes from 2006, those interviews will reappear here in no particular order.

Bob Hughes, Bass Trombonist

Short Bio;

I was born in Oswestry in 1957. Studied trombone with Harold Nash at the Royal Academy of Music. Bass trombone with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1978-1981, Scottish National Orchestra 1981-1989, Philharmonia Orchestra 1989-1994, London Symphony Orchestra 1994-2006.
Professor of trombone Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama 1982-1989, Professor of Trombone, Royal Academy of Music 1990- present. I also teach at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music and have given Masterclasses worldwide.

Matthew Guilford: Why do you play the bass trombone?

Bob Hughes: When I was young I was always put on third trombone in bands and orchestras. So I kind of developed a speciality for the low register. I always loved the sound of the Bass trombone and enjoyed being the foundation of the section.

M.G.: When did you decide your make music your career?
B.H.: I was about 15 or 16 and started being selected for the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. I enjoyed the courses and the music making so much I thought it would be great to make a career from playing in a good orchestra.

M.G.: Were your parents supportive of your career choice?

B.H.: My parents were fantastic and fully supportive. They did point out the precarious side of the music business to me and my Mum thought that I should become a dentist ! I’d probably have made much more money doing that but wouldn’t have had half as much fun !!

M.G.: What were the factors involved in choosing a college?

B.H.: The trombone tutor on the Welsh Youth Orchestra was Harold Nash, principal trombone with Covent Garden Opera. He’s a great musician and I learnt so much from working with him. He was trombone professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London so that was my first choice.

M.G.: What/who were your biggest musical influences early on? What about now?

B.H.: A short list of my early musical influences early on would include Gordon Tune (that’s correct !) my first trombone tutor from mid Wales, Harold Nash (mentioned above), Denis Wick ( I was knocked out when I first heard Mahler 3 with Denis and the LSO), Don Lusher ( Have a listen to Oriental Holiday with Don and the Ted Heath Band ), Ray Premru ( The best Orchestral Bass Trombone Sound –check out the New Philharmonia recordings, try Vaughan Williams 4 to start), Bill Watrous, the Stan Kenton Band, George Roberts ( whenever you get a glimpse of that sound !), Charlie Vernon. That’s a few to be getting on with !
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with most of the top brass players in the UK. They have all influenced me in one way or another. To mention a few names ( too many to mention all here) Lance Green, John Gracie ( Scottish National orchestra), Peter Bassano, John Jenkins (Philharmonia Orch) Dudley Bright, Jim Maynard, Patrick Harrild, Maurice Murphy, Rod Franks (LSO), Eric Crees, Ian Bousfield, Lindsay Shilling, Gordon Campbell, Derek James, Arthur Wilson. To mention a few.

M.G.: Did you consider any career other than music?

B.H.: Not really.

M.G.: What do you like to do completely outside of music?

B.H.: I love spending time with my family as much as possible. Hobbies include walking, running, golf. Oh yes, eating and drinking !!

M.G.: What are your pet peeves with your students?

B.H.: I’m very lucky to have some great students at the moment. My pet-peeves would probably be getting them to see and hear themselves as a listener would; not to be so insular; be more imaginative and creative; be more aware of phrase shapes, dynamic and stylistic contrasts; think on a bigger canvas; be much more aware of your role and how you should fit in to whatever ensemble you are playing with.

M.G.: What is the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring young bass

B.H.: Be open minded. Listen to all kinds of music and musicians. Most of the time the Bass trombone is playing a supportive role but occassionally you have to shine out. It’s important to understand when and how to to do this. By studying scores and listening to good players who you respect you can build up a true picture of how you’d like to sound.

M.G.: Your recordings are legendary in the trombone world, particularly the RSNO recording of Kalinikov’s Symphony #1 and Walton’s Symphony #1 under William Gibson. The bass trombone sound is incredible; present, commanding and exciting. What can you tell us about these sessions: how the orchestra was miked, what Gibson asked of you, what equipment you played on, etc.?

B.H.: I was lucky enough to be in the Scottish National Orchestra at a special time. We made dozens of exciting recordings with Jarvi and Gibson. The 2 main venues for these were the SNO centre in Glasgow and the Caird Hall in Dundee( one of the great halls of the world but very few people have even heard about it ). I can’t remember too much about the miking. We certainly were not close miked but both venues did have quite a lively acoustic.
Gibson was a very good musician but not the clearest of conductors. Most of the time we were just trying to get things together! Jarvi started in about 1982 and the orchestra loved him The chemistry was great and we had a fairly young enthusiastic orchestra. Jarvi sometimes didn’t worry too much about the detail but he was always exciting and inspiring and loved the brass!!
On the Walton 1 recording, I was still playing a Bach 50B2. In about 1983 I managed to find a great Elkhart 62H which I still play today. My mouthpiece is a 2G with a wide rim similar to what Ray Premru played on.

M.G.: What is the strangest thing to have happened during your musical career?

B.H.: The strangest and the most frustrating thing to happen in my career has been the onset of Task Specific Focal Dystonia. This started about 4 years ago and affected my control on a few low notes. Over about 18 months it gradually got worse until I could hardly produce a sound in the mid and low register. Unfortunately I have recently resigned from the LSO which was a very sad decision to make.
I would like to mention the kind and generous support I have received from all my friends and colleagues, but especially Jan Kagarice in Texas who has given hours of her time in trying to help me overcome this condition. She has a remarkable understanding of problems affecting brass players and her expertise, generosity and enthusiasm in helping players overcome Focal Dystonia is quite remarkable.

M.G.: What characteristics do you admire in others that you do not see in

B.H.: One characteristic I admire in some people is their ability to see the big picture and not get cluttered by the minutia. I tend to be a very careful person with an eye for the detail in things. I think this can be somewhat limiting at times. As Denis Wick says for 95% of the time an orchestral trombonist is more of a craftsman than an artist. Maybe this can limit one’s creative way of thinking.

M.G.: What is the last book that you read?

B.H.: My wife is a great reader and devours books. I’m not ! I tend to dip into encyclopedias on jazz or great recordings etc. However, I am reading “Dispatches” by Michael Herr at the moment.

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