The Troy Street Observer

Apr 30, 1974: Premiere of “God’s Trombones”

Photo of Phil Wilson and Carl Fontana
Phil Wilson and Carl Fontana. Photo Phil Wilson.

In April 1974, trombone players of all musical persuasions gathered for the second Boston Sackbut Week, the brainchild of local stalwarts Tom Everett, Phil Wilson, and Tom Plsek. One of the Big Deals of 1974 was the April 30 debut of “God’s Trombones,” a work composed by Richard Allen and performed as part of the annual Berklee Spring Concert.

The Berklee Performance Center did not open until 1976, so for this concert the college rented the New England Life Hall on Clarendon Street, a space that was closed in 2005.

“God’s Trombones” featured the Berklee Jazz Trombone Ensemble and Wilson’s Thursday Night Dues Band, plus guest soloist Carl Fontana. “God’s Trombones” was written with Fontana in mind, and he plays the voice of God throughout the work. Fontana in 1974 was making a very good living in Las Vegas, and jetting to occasional jazz jobs across the country.

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Apr 29, 1974: A Week in Praise of the Sackbut

Drawing of man playing sackbut
Pre-Berklee Sackbut Player

The second annual Boston Sackbut Week, the celebration of all things trombone, commenced on April 29, 1974 with a concert featuring Carl Fontana with the Harvard Jazz Band.

“Sackbut” is a word with a fascinating etymology, but all we need now is the quick definition: the Renaissance-age forerunner of the trombone.

The idea of dedicating an entire week to the trombone, Renaissance or otherwise, originated in 1973 with two of the sackbut’s local stalwarts, Tom Everett, the then-president of the International Trombone Association, and the director of the Harvard Jazz Band (he retired in 2013), and Phil Wilson, at Berklee in 1973 but named chairman of the jazz studies program at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1974. Boston Mayor Kevin White issued a proclamation in honor of Sackbut Week that first year.

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