The trombone is not just a means of expression for Raphael Reiter; it’s a method of tapping into the depths of humankind’s moods. In “Lettre à PDC,” his lyricism is gentle and airy. With a light touch as well, he sings and plays in “Almost Blue,” doing sweet justice to the Chet Baker classic. In the funky, beat-box take on “So What” with the David Amar Trio, Raphael’s notes glide like honey in perfect counterpoint to the scatted vocals, and he’s really feeling it in his bluesy solo.
A life-hacks kind of guy, Raphael’s YouTube tutorials include a segment on improving breath control, crushing your bad habits (his was smoking) and the best chapstick to keep the music flowing, a topic of dire importance for trombonists everywhere.
The combination of doling out free, practical advice alongside his excellent observations on technique make Raphael a stand-up guy. But his poetic facility with the trombone make him a stand-out musician.
When did you start playing trombone?
About 10 years ago. Before that I was playing euphonium and cello since I was two.
Why did you choose the trombone?
Sounds awesome. And it’s awkward. Makes it very human.
Different trombones that you play and which is your favorite?
I play mostly bass trombone and valve trombone. I love the bass trombone, but I feel more free in my valve trombone.
What other instruments do you play?
Cello, euphonium and tuba.
How many instruments do you own?
My wife would say too many…
What is the most-misunderstood aspect of trombone?
It’s not so loud. Not as loud as high-pitched instruments such as the flute, anyway. Or a piano! And it doesn’t only make cow sounds. It can make buffalo sounds too.
Why did you study in England?
I wanted to experience brass bands. Manchester is the world’s capital for them. I had a lot of fun and built lifelong friendships there.
What is your day job?
I develop iPhone apps. That’s very recent and I actually just started!
Are there similarities between writing computer code and playing music (especially trombone)?
They require a lot of patience, protocols and creativity. When you learn to write code, you are constantly testing, crashing, re-writing, etc. This is how practicing should also be. Constant search. As we say in France, it should never become simple “papier mâché.”
Top musical influences on trombone, and in jazz in general?
On trombone Glenn Ferris, but I don’t listen to so much trombone. In general, I love so many, but I do have my sweet spot for early Duke.
How do you take care of your lungs?
Breathing exercises. Sports.
How are the techniques different between playing classical vs. jazz?
Classical needs to sound a certain way. Improvised music can just sound more like me. It’s a different approach. I can just let it go and my life of practice just makes it happen. Or so I hope.
What is “lip bending” used for?
Intonation and flexibility. Freedom in your mouthpiece, in your embouchure technique.
What inspires you when you compose?
Love and hate. Melancholy too.
There are no valves/buttons on the trombone, so how long did this take to master?
I still can’t find the fifth position.
Do you prefer the upwards glissando or downwards?
I practice hours and hours to avoid any of the above.
Which etudes are the most useful for trombone?
What are some of the different items you’ve placed inside the bell for effects?
Nothing so extraordinary. I’ve had some pretty cool sounds with plastic water bottles in there. I have filled my trombone with water once. Didn’t work as well as I had hoped.
What is the jazz scene like in Berlin, especially for trombonists?
The jazz scene is quite poor in Berlin. There are a lot of classical music and alternative genres. It is still the capital of electronic music.
Have you played in the US?
Yes. In NYC, Boston, Tanglewood, and Red Rocks, Colorado.
How would you compare the affection for jazz in the different countries you’ve visited?
The small communities that love jazz in different countries all really love it. I think culturally France has always put jazz and American music as its favorites. That’s why everyone came to play in France, why we had the first jazz festivals. French people always had an enormous respect for jazz musicians, American musicians especially.
What is it like to play with the Berliners Orchestra?
The level is always quite high. So it’s nice to play here. Unfortunately, even in the biggest and most prestigious institutions, it is very underpaid.
What venue (worldwide) have you not played yet that you would like to?
Where do you go in your head when you play?
It really depends with whom and what I’m playing. The most amazing thing about playing free forms of improvised music is that it gets you really rooted in the Now.
I recorded an album on piano especially for that reason: I’m not a pianist and I don’t have technical reflexes like I have on my instruments. Therefore, it brings me to new places, where I can just listen and create musical shapes.
How would you characterize your particular sound?
Natural. Natural in the sense that I just let it go. Whatever happens, happens. I adapt to myself every time.
What do you still want to develop?
I want to learn more about electronic music and sampling.
As a sideman, many. Solo I have two – one duo and one trio.
I find myself in a situation where I have total freedom musically for the first time because of my new day job. That was what I wanted really. Make money making apps so that I would never have to play what I don’t want to play ever again.
I want to make a solo album, multi tracking, but also completely alone. Quite a challenge for a single voiced instrument, and I have not yet found what I want yet.
Thanks for the questions!
For more information, visit www.raphaelreiter.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Raphael Reiter.
© Debbie Burke 2018