Mark Nightingale - Trombone

David Gallant talks to the trombonist about how he got started, the instruments he has played over the years and his all time favourite choice.

“I remember it being a tremendous thrill to suddenly find I could play ‘Home on the Range’ right the way through without a mistake
," says Nightingale. "Those 'Tune-a-Day' books were great!" Mark Nightingale - Trombone
Joking aside, Nightingale’s musical adventure had started when he was just eight. “I loved the sound of the piano,” he says. “So my parents bought a cheap one and I started taking lessons.” Then a year later, a friend of his across the road started playing trombone at school. “So when I eventually went to the same school, I applied to play the trombone like he had done.” It was Nightingale’s good fortune that the brass teacher at the school gave everybody a trumpet, a French horn, a trombone and a tuba with a mouthpiece. “He sized them all up,” remembers Nightingale, “and then allocated the instruments as to how the mouth looked around this huge mouthpiece."

Nightingale’s first trombone was an “old Boosey.” “It came in a cardboard case that used to wreak of brasso,” remembers Nightingale, “and it had a very dodgy looking mouthpiece!” Within weeks his parents had bought him a new silver Chinese one. “I was very lucky to catch the system as it was then,” says Nightingale. “Fred [the peripatetic teacher] was in school for two full days a week – that’s unheard of now.” Fred also gave Nightingale private lessons alongside his school hours. “He taught me an awful lot,” says Nightingale, “it was he who put me on the right route.” After doing grades, Fred suggested that Nightingale should go along to the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra who had three bands. “I was just 13, so I joined the junior one.”

He remembers rehearsing on a Wednesday evening at the Midlands Arts Centre, opposite Edgbaston cricket ground. “That was when I acquired my first ‘real’ trombone,” says Nightingale. “It was a lovely King 2B, from a little shop called Music 47 in Worcester. The owner of that shop was an ex- trombone player, and he persuaded my dad that it was worth the extra few pounds to buy this really good make of trombone. Actually, I went on to have a couple of Kings, a 2b and a 3b and everything snowballed from there really.” As he says, “I guess I kind of stumbled across the sort of music that I really loved."

When his father realised that his son was getting serious about the instrument, “he’d look out for trombone records,” says Nightingale. “One day he came home with a record called Bobby Knight’s Great American Trombone Co. and that was the first time that I heard Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana. They absolutely knocked me out with the way that they approached jazz playing on the trombone.” Nightingale remembers that the disc was a “huge influence.” “I used to stick the record on,” he remembers, “and try to play along with all the solos.”

When he was 15, MYJO entered the BBC national rehearsal band competition, and Nightingale was awarded the Don Lusher prize for the best trombonist. “That was good for a number of reasons,” says Nightingale. “It brought me to the attention of Bill Ashton, the leader of NYJO, and he invited me to come down to rehearsals with NYJO, which I duly did. And of course after going to a number of rehearsals and playing well enough, you get picked to play in the band.” For a while Nightingale duetted between both MYJO and NYJO, and eventually ended up on the music course at Trinity College. “One of the main reasons for wanting to go there, was that the big band was directed by Bobby Lamb,” says Nightingale, “who I have a great deal of respect for. This is when I got into playing Bach ’bones, and Bobby took me under his wing and always pushed me that stage further than I might have pushed myself. Bobby’s an excellent motivator.”

When Nightingale left Trinity, he was already doing a few odd gigs. “That’s when I bumped into Michael Rath,” muses Nightingale, “that was really exciting. Michael had always wanted to make trombones, and was looking to set himself up in business – so I offered to be the guinea pig. I didn’t really know anything technical, but I’d just say that I prefer this over that, and it feels better because.” After two years they came up with a trombone that they were happy with. “I’ve still got that one in the cupboard,” says Nightingale. So why is it in the cupboard I wonder, and why doesn’t it come out any more? “I bring it out occasionally,” says Nightingale, in a somewhat embarrassed tone. But immediately counteracts with: “I’ve got a slightly different sized one that I use now – it’s a different model. It better suits the range of work that I’m doing these days.”

He continues: “I was looking for something that was very responsive for my solo work, something that had a nice depth of sound, that didn’t break up at a large volume and that at the same time was warm. When I first tested out the trombones, Michael put a gold brass bell on. These days, I’ve got a yellow brass bell, with slightly different percentages of the metals in it. It’s absolutely wonderful – rich and warm.” Nightingale still tests out various Rath bells. “I’ve got a Nickel silver one that he made, which is very bright and razzy – not a lot of good for everyday use. But who knows, I might end up playing with a Sousa band one day! I like variety,” he enthuses. “If it’s good music, it’s good music, whatever genre it happens to be in.”

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