Popular sideman and emerging bandleader, Jimmy Bosch.
Interview: Between Gigs with Trombonist Jimmy Bosch
by David Carp
In demand sideman, moñero extraordinaire, and passionate enjoyer of life are phrases that have accurately described trombonist Jimmy Bosch. He is also one of today’s hottest emerging bandleaders, which can be confirmed by anyone who was at S.O.B.s in New York City on April 11 of this year or at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, also in NYC, on August 9. Jimmy has performed with the most impressive names in the business: Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, La India, Ray Barretto and Manny Oquendo. The song “Lluvia Viento y Caña” was written for Bosch by Israel “Cachao” Lopez and can be heard on the Grammy-winning recording Master Sessions Vol. 1. The above topics and many others were recently subjected to a three-way discussion by Jimmy Bosch, David Carp and Bruce Polin.
David Carp: You were born October 18, 1959, in Hoboken, New Jersey. What music were you hearing before you started playing an instrument?
Jimmy Bosch: Well, as a kid, the old Eddie Palmieri records. A lot of boleros, Pellin Rodriguez, Pedro Flores, the old typical stuff from Puerto Rico, and some Cuban records. My father and my uncles used to come and play maracas and guitars, that was always present in my home. I kinda identified a passion for the music and the rhythms early on. I started playing trombone at age eleven, and within two years I realized that I was able to imitate the sounds and rhythm patterns that I was hearing either in my head or on records.
Bruce Polin: How did you pick the trombone?
JB: Well, I didn’t pick it. It’s a funny thing. In the fourth grade I was playing flutaphone, and I got to take some solos that year. In the fifth grade I was offered an instrument and I asked for a saxophone, which they did not offer, and they said, “Well, what we have is a trombone,” and I looked at the music teacher and I said, “OK, what’s a trombone?” He said, “Well, this is it.” He put it together and the thing was bigger than I was, frankly. One of the first songs I remember teaching myself and writing out was “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” As far as the Latin music, you know, it was about just trying to imitate solos or different lines or trying to create lines to play with records.
DC: So what were your first opportunities to actually try this out with live musicians?
JB: Well, the Hoboken public school system had bands. Basically, you learned the music of the bands note by note, phrase by phrase. But, outside of that, by age thirteen I was already playing with local merengue bands, and I remember cats used to come to my house and beg my moms for permission to pick me up and take me to a gig and bring me back and all that stuff.
BP: Can you name some of those bands?
JB: Oh, boy! There’s a group called La Caliente that I worked for, that was actually a salsa group. Arcoides was a merengue group that I worked for. There was a group in Elizabeth called La Sonica, that was a two trombone group that played a lot of Hector Lavoe numbers. These are groups of musicians from Hoboken and Jersey City that just got together and created music and some guys scratched out charts and stuff. A lot of the time we actually put the parts together by workin’ ‘em out by ear and memorized every single song literally that way. There weren’t too many charts.
DC: OK, so at what point did you start to come to New York?
JB: 1978. I graduated from high school that year. Prior to that I was already visiting clubs in New York and I often times would take my trombone into clubs and stand in front of the bands and ask permission to come up and take a solo, and I remember some groups actually allowed me to do that. Luis “Perico” Ortiz let me come up. I remember takin’ a solo at the Corso, Barney Google’s. I did that with Libre in 1978. I think it was at a place called Caborrojeño. On the stage were José Rodriguez. Steve Turre, I forget who else, but they had a slammin’ trombone section. Andy Gonzalez looked at me, he must have thought, “Who the hell is this little kid?” and he said, “Well, come on if you think you’re that bad!” But I went up, and they treated me with a lot of love, and I got to play a moña or two. It was really a lot of fun and right after that I got a call to do a gig.
DC: This has been a formative experience for a number of people. The University of Manny Oquendo and Andy Gonzalez...
JB: And of Libre.
DC: Well, all of them. How about working with Manny? What is his role in the whole process?
JB: I’m a rhythmic trombonist, I’m a percussive trombonist, and a lot of that I get from the school of Manny Oquendo. You know, it’s really an institution, Libre, that whole style of playing, and I very much made that a part of my own trademark.
DC: Is it what they said to you, or not so much what they said, but what they did and your watching them?
JB: What they did and how they played. The love and the passion and the seriousness with which Manny plays his instruments, and this music that he loves so very much, you know, he’s a very serious man. You just get it, and when you’re on stage you experience it, you feel it coming through the stage floor, man, right through your body. And, inevitably, it was really about imitating and playing back, playing to Manny in such a way that I get to acknowledge that I was getting a lot from him and wanted him to get something back, and that’s a pretty powerful process. It’s still that way every time I share the stage with him. And Andy is the heartbeat of any band he plays with. He’s got this really powerful groove and is able to create a really good vibe amongst the band and so that whole dialogue, musicians contributing and playing for each other, happens a lot.
DC: The decision about what tunes to play and when, how does that come about?
JB: Well, usually Manny has the final word in the Libre setting. Andy will call a tune, and if Manny for some reason doesn’t feel like that’s the number he wants to play, he’ll just turn once and look at Andy in a very, very stern way, and Andy’ll say, “Oh, OK, let’s try something else!” Or he’ll convince Manny that that’s the number we should play at that time.
DC: I talked to Marty Sheller recently and he told me he contributed a chart on "Estoy Como Nunca."
JB: Oh, yeah!
DC: Yeah, and the end has this unison fall-off for the trombones. He said that this was spontaneous and they said, “Yeah, we’re gonna leave that in!” How often does stuff like that happen either in recordings or in performances?
JB: Quite a bit with groups like Libre. With groups like Cachao, the Caiman All Stars, and all that kind of stuff that I’ve done, there is freedom for stuff to happen spontaneously and to be captured. The band’s recording all at the same time as opposed to overlapping and overlaying and stuff like that. And so you get a lot of moñas that are either created on the spot or somebody creates a coda or an ending, they make signs and that’s how it happens.
BP: And people feel good about it, and then it becomes part of the song.
JB: Yeah, ‘cause everybody’s connected, you know? The energy’s happening, people are in touch and that musical magic that happens just makes it work somehow, you know?
DC: In the written-out sections, for example, where there’s a harmonized trombone chorus does one player always play lead or is that rotated?
JB: Both, you know, depending on who’s in the band. I’m one of those cats who always preferred to play second trombone because I do a lot of soloing. In doing a lot of soloing and moñas I always shy away from the lead trombone book. It was never really that important to me. It’s still like that today.
DC: It’s a given that concept is paramount. Mostly you’re going to sound like what you hear and what you feel. How important is equipment to you? Have you experimented much with horns and mouthpieces?
JB: Not a whole lot. I’ve been using a Bach 16 for twenty years. I also have a King 4B and those are the two horns I still use.
DC: What determines which one you use?
JB: Ah, the King 4B is a bigger horn. It’s got a darker sound, a big, rounder sound. I prefer the King 4B for the most part. When I get lazy, I whip out the Bach 16. I’m able to achieve similar results with a good sound system, you know, if they give me a good EQ. With the Bach 16, I can do a little more smackin” in the upper range and play a little harder.
DC: I can imagine that the rise of electronic technology has produced more sound for the salsa trombonist to cut through. How have you dealt with this factor?
JB: It’s funny, David, up until the last four or so years of my career, I was one very aggressive trombonist. I very much shied away from the mikes. I was always used to playing so hard that people didn’t like me to play into the mikes, I never developed a knack for it. With Papo Vásquez and some of the jazz trombonists that I started to share the stage with, I started to learn that I didn’t have to play so hard, and I’ve really started to utilize some of the more melodic stuff and I’ve developed a lot more flexibility. It’s a little more fun, actually, as opposed to blowing my brains out throughout an entire solo, which is what I normally used to do.
DC: How much formal study of trombone have you done?
JB: Not a whole lot, David. In the Hoboken public schools it was really about learning the music for the bands. After that, I went to the Rutgers University, the New Brunswick campus and I had some formal study but not very much. It was more about music history and the book study.
DC: So you’re basically something like 95 per cent self taught.
JB: Yeah, you could say.
DC: Well, you must be doing something naturally right technically speaking because with the physical demands of playing trombone in Latin groups, you’d be in big trouble if you weren’t?
JB: Yeah, I have to say that I often tell people that I have the natural ability to play the trombone. I never really learned to practice with discipline and do the daily things like most musicians who practice four or five hours a day. I’ve basically just put the horn up to my face and played.
DC: The fact that you haven’t been through the cookie cutter approach of mechanically using chord scales and Jamie Aebersold tapes, is this part of why your playing is so different from other people’s?
JB: I would say so. The musicians who are technicians tell me that I have a gift, no question about it, and sometimes I wonder if I had done some of that if I might be a better trombonist, and I have to say that I’m lacking in some areas as a technician and stuff. I’ve never been considered a studio cat. I don’t get called to do records unless they’re records that involve playing with freedom and passion and there are settings where they allow me to contribute artistically. I was working with La India until recently. Her book is very, very fixed. You play the book for the most part, but India was one of those artists who acknowledged my ability to contribute as a soloist. I got to stretch out on a couple of numbers, “La Rumba,” “Ese Hombre,” and we started to open up some of the numbers with a moña.
DC: The group that you’re fronting now, when did that start and how?
JB: Wow, interesting! You know, I’ve been playing at S.O.B.s with various bands over the years and Ana Araiz has been managing that club on Monday nights. I basically asked Ana for a night to do a show and she said, “Well, do you have a band?” I said, “No.” She asked if I had music and I again said no, and she said, “Well, how do I responsibly give you a date at S.O.B.s?” I said, “Well, you give me the date and I’ll put a band together in the next fifteen minutes.” And that’s exactly what happened. She looked at me and saw the conviction and said, “Yeah, well, OK.” She opened the book and said, “All right, how’s March 11?” I said, “March 11 is great.” I called the musicians for the gig. We did one rehearsal before the show with a very little bit of music, I remember writing out one or two bass vamps.
DC: Who was there?
JB: Chocolate Armenteros on trumpets. I used Mauricio Smith on flute, Joe Santiago on bass, Willie Rodriguez on piano, Jimmy Delgado, timbales, Eddie Montalvo on congas, Louis Bauzó, bongo, Steve Gluzband on trumpet, Jeff Lederer and Pete Miranda on sax, Papo Vásquez on trombone, Frankie Vásquez on vocal and Jorge Maldonado, who used to sing with La Sonora Matancera, I pulled him out of retirement for the gig. We really had a great, great night.
DC: One thing that impressed me about the show, other than the obvious high caliber of musicianship, is that although you’re the leader, there isn’t an overabundance of Jimmy Bosch solos, that all the players have their space and I was very pleased that your ego is not a big part of this project.
JB: Thank you for acknowledging that, David. It really is about featuring all these players, that’s why there isn’t a principal singer. I’m still gettin’ feedback that I need to get a singer and that’s something I have to look at and then create other projects where we have a lead singer to make sure we tap into marketability in other areas. But it’s really about featuring the talent and artistry of everybody in the band.
BP: When was the first time you did your famous chicken walk across the stage with your horn? When did you first get the balls to do that?
JB: I don’t know. Where did you see it first?
BP: I saw it a couple of places. I saw it at Cachao, Radio City...
JB: That was a good moment.
BP: That was a great moment. It worked perfectly! You know, the audience dug it because it was a great visual thing.
JB: Well, you know, for me, it’s really been about entertaining, it’s beyond just playing the trombone. It’s really about facial expressions, connecting, eye contact with people, and creating energy that becomes contagious for my fellow musicians on stage. So, I’m dancin’ and doin’ some of the steps with the brass section in the back and creating some smiles and some laughter, that’s part of who I am.
BP: The vibe I’m getting is that the whole salsa romantica thing is sort of on the wane. It’s like the market has been saturated with that. People are tired of the canned sound, you know, and the thing is turning around again, like, “let’s let the musicians do what they do.”
JB: Yeah, I’m totally in agreement with that. However, there’s a space and there’s a market for everything. Sure, the buying public is getting a lot from stuff, but there’s a bigger desire every day to have the musicians play. “I want to hear the trombone take a solo,” or “I want to see the pianist take a solo.” My commitment is to empower musicians to want to be expressive, to ask for solos, to play ad lib lines and to want to contribute. There were times when I played with a band and I would take twenty dollars out of my pocket and reach out to the musical director and say, “Give me a solo, GIVE ME A SOLO!” It was literally an expression of, “Let’s play, man! What do you have me here for, to play these parts and that’s it?” Of course, the musical directors directors don't take the twenty bucks, but they look at it and they say, "All right, take a solo!" And, before you know it, they like it, it feels good. The band, their energy rises and they say, "Wow, let's try that on the next gig!" I really believe we have to take a stand for ourselves, to make that happen and I've always been that way.