To Roger Green it is self-evident that what the world needs now is a good blast of bass trombone. A retired schoolteacher living in the West Country, he is adamant that the instrument he has played part time for most of his life has been shamefully neglected; we only need to hear it properly to realise hoe much we've been missing.
Green has gone far to prove his point. He has spent four years of his life and put his family £26,000 in debt in order to bring out a CD of bass trombone solos with brass band accompaniment - the first ever, and therefore, in his opinion, "a world beater." A lack of suitable music, a surfeit of well-informed discouragement and even nervous collapse have not obstructed him.
The disc is aptly titled Proclamation. Its soloist is a fresh faced, mild-mannered American who can make his instrument sing like Chaliapin: Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The fruitful friendship between Yeo, a top-class professional, and Green, a grass-roots enthusiast, flourished in the early Eighties; an inquiry over a record review developed into a lively correspondence concerning the Thayer axial-flow valve.
Mention of such intricacies of plumbing will light up the eyes of Dr. Roger Challoner Green, a burly, eager-faced man whose unguardedness suggests both warm-heartedness and vulnerability. "Of all the brass instruments, the bass trombone is the one that's advanced the most technologically over the past 25 years," he gushes. "The old G trombone woul djust play oom-pah, oom-pah all the time. Most people never hear it."
Sandwiched between two tenor trombones and a tuba, the bass has been its section's underachiever: "Bass trombone players were, until recently, failed tenor players. You moved down. Nobody was writing solos for the bass trombone because no soloists were playing it."
A trombone enthusiast since his Glenn Miller-worshipping schooldays, Green started on the tenor, at 15 joining the Territorial Army band in his home town of Trowbridge. In 1958 he began national service as a bandsman with the Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards. "Imagine - to be able to play in a band not once or twice a week but every day!"
On his return to civilian life he continued to play in brass and dance bands. Twenty five years after his first - and only - trombone lesson, he moved from tenor to bass to fill a vacancy.
"I knew what sound I wanted. To me it's the most vocal of instruments. It's just a straight tube you blow down with nothing blocking it, no keys or valves in the way. That's why the purists won't play the B flat/F, because there's that kind in the airwaves."
You don't need to understand the (as it were) ins and outs of the instrument to appreciate how much its arcane lore matters to Green. Page 80 of his self- published book, In Pursuit of a Dream: Proclamation offers a revealing picture of "The author with the 'Adams Bend' attachment" (the detached attachment, seductively perched on a bar stool in the author's garden, gets a picture to itself on the next spread).
The real point of the book is to tell the story of how the CD came to be made. Having known Doug Yeo for a dozen years, Green interviewed his idol for The Trombonist magazine. After grilling him on the Elliott screw cup backbore system and the desirability of Slide-O-Mix cream, Green switched off the microphone and asked Yeo if he'd be interested in making a disc of solos.
"The gap that followed seemed like two minutes. But he looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Roger, I'd love to.' Though I think at that stage he didn't really believe I could get it off the ground."
The obstacles were not insignificant. First, there was little or no repertoire. If Green was going to make a 70 minute CD of bass trombone with brass band accompaniment he would have to commission the music. Second, there was no source of money. Requests for grants and sponsorship were turned down, in Green's view because of a lack of vision.
The money came from closer to home than Green might originally have hoped. "The bank lent me £9,000. My wife gave me £4,300 of her own savings. I borrowed £3,500 from my son's account - at present that's the only money I've been able fully to repay. £7,500 went in from my savings - my lump sum on retiring from teaching.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this story is that Green was emerging from the aftermath of the nervous breakdown which had ended his teaching career. For almost three years he had shrunk from social contact. His wife, Frances, realised that the local band could be his lifeline.
"Each Friday, she would open the front door, put the trombone case into my hand and motion me towards the car." he writes in the book. "On some occasions it was minutes before I found the courage and resolve to get into the car and go."
Putting the family £26,000 into debt seems an odd form of therapy. "I won't say the money side doesn't worry me," he admits. "But I was more worried about getting the music on time, getting the band fixed up for the recording, being sure that Doug was free to come over and do it. . ." The £8,000 spent on the book - engaging and informative though it is - is unlikely to be recouped. However, revenue from the CD has already made inroads into the £18,000 it cost to produce. If it breaks even, it will be thanks to the superlative quality of the recording, the specially commissioned music, and the artistry of Doug Yeo and the Black Dyke Mills Band.
How did Green secure such an illustrious backing group? It was Yeo who suggested the BDMB might be willing to return a favour. In 1993, Carnegie Hall's management seemed unwilling to publicise the band's New York concert. Only 20 tickets were sold until Yeo organised a protest letter from musicians, pointing out that the name Black Dyke Mills Band was 160 years old and not calculated to offend Afro-Caribbeans or lesbians. The concert went ahead successfully.
Will the story of Proclamation have a similarly happy ending? "I'm just thrilled that the recording is out there." says Roger Green. "If it takes from now until I die to pay back the money, I'm not worried."
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