Rick Simerly - Trombone
Eric Alexander - Tenor Sax
Scott Wendholt - Trumpet
David Hazeltine - Piano
Lynn Seaton - Bass
Steve Davis - Drums
Location, location, location. The three most important words for establishing a career as a jazz musician…or are they? A reviewer once made a reference to the surrounding music scene in Rick Simerly's home base of Elizabethton, Tennessee, saying that Rick is "laboring in a sea of obscurity." True, East Tennessee may be an obscure setting for a jazz trombonist, but Rick's "labors" have set him apart, exhibiting his mastery at taming those dark waves of adversity that a "sea of obscurity" brings. And he hasn't just settled for staying afloat by merely treading water. He has confidently sailed through the turbulence with not only his cargo intact, but with the value of it significantly increasing. Even though he doesn't live in the likes of a New York City, this crafty "mariner" is still able to work with the finest the Big Apple has to offer.
The fact that his area of the country is not necessarily known for its jazz only makes it more remarkable that Rick has been able to find a way to keep busy in a scene with room for only the elite few. Now director of jazz at Milligan College in Milligan College, Tennessee, Rick taught middle school band for over 20 years while at the same time working gigs and honing his skills as a soloist. "There were nights where I'd come home from teaching completely drained, but I'd always make a point of putting in time on my horn," recalls Rick. It's this dedication that has made him a premier player sought after by any and all within reach. His first solo CD, SIMPLE/COMPLEXITY has received rave reviews from critics and performers throughout the United States, and has been described as a "chop busting display" by Cadence Magazine, and "a virtual dissertation of the trombone" by trombonist Buddy Morrow. The late J.J. Johnson declared to Rick, "It is quite impressive. You should be proud."
I first heard Rick in 1992, when I began teaching at Jamey Aebersold's Summer Jazz Workshops. His talents were apparent then, which prompted me to recommend him to the Woody Herman Orchestra, where we have since worked together on occasion as section mates. Rick's talents didn't go unnoticed by Jamey either. Now, ten years later, Rick is a regular member of the Aebersold Workshops' faculty alongside some of the most noted jazz players in the country. This CD session was recorded during the week of the 2002 Workshops, and Rick carefully handpicked his sidemen from the illustrious talent on hand. "I feel fortunate to have had these world-class musicians on this recording," Rick acknowledges. Indeed, all of Rick's sidemen on this release have experienced a healthy dose of New York's exclusive jazz scene, each with thriving careers as recording artists in their own right. Rick continues, "The outstanding professionalism and personal chemistry of these players made this a very special session. Most of the tunes were done in one take."
Rick's title cut, “Obscurity,” alluding to the aforementioned "sea," bears a resemblance to a Wayne Shorter composition with another dark aquatic reference, “Black Nile.” Along with Rick's trombone, it features the tenor saxophone of Eric Alexander. "Eric is the consummate improviser," explains Rick. "His solos are a combination of creative ideas, impeccable time and a massive tone that consumes the room!" Rick follows with a solo that not only displays his dynamic control of the instrument at a brisk tempo, but also his command of the upper register and ease at negotiating wide intervallic passages.
The program takes a lighter turn with Horace Silver's graceful composition, “Summer In Central Park.” Rick's full sound and sweet vibrato are put to good use here. Most notable is the contribution of pianist, David Hazeltine. "David is the complete pianist," Rick remarks. "He is not only a great soloist, but also a brilliant accompanist. He has the uncanny ability of knowing when and where to insert a musical thought."
Atop Rick's three-horn voicings, Freddie Hubbard's “Little Sunflower” introduces the sound of Scott Wendholt's trumpet. "I've always been a fan of Scott's," Rick comments. "To me, his playing is a combination of Miles Davis and Woody Shaw." After Wendholt's captivating solo, Rick utilizes a harmon mute to create a unique mood, and once again explores interesting angular approaches in his improvisation.
Inspired by his daughter, “Cecile's Freckles” is an original of Rick's with a challenging melody that moves quickly amongst occasional rhythmic twists. Alexander's commanding tenor sets the pace with 18 brilliant choruses, and Rick has no trouble keeping up, firing off flurries of notes "freckled" with subtle harmonic references.
Rick evokes the early sounds of the trombone, utilizing a pixie mute with plunger on his entertaining original, “Tequila Mockingbird.” Joining him on the melody is Lynn Seaton, whose bowed-bass/vocal stylings are reminiscent of the great Major Holly. "Lynn is certainly in the top echelon of bass players," Rick points out. "When you've played with Woody Herman, Count Basie, George Shearing, and Tony Bennett, what else is there to say? His scat vocals/bass solos were an inspiration for this tune."
Placing the trombone in a higher register within the two-horn octave voicing on Bennie Golson's “Stablemates” evokes the energetic sound of Frank Rosolino's classic quintet dates of the '50s, and Rick proves he too can generate excitement with a fearless solo culminating in the upper reaches of the instrument. Supplying the relentless driving pulse is drummer, Steve Davis. "Steve is a drummer of great flexibility and fantastic ability," exclaims Rick. "Time is never an issue with him on drums."
Having toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, performing all the classic 1940's signature trombone solos, it's only fitting that Rick now give his own rendition of Dorsey's renowned theme song, “I'm Getting Sentimental Over You.” A brief introduction in the "T.D." style leaves Rick suspended on an impressive double high A, cueing the Latin rhythm that propels this modern-day update.
Rick has also found comfortable settings to display his finesse as a ballad player. The popular standard, “My One And Only Love” provides a perfect vehicle for Rick's expressive legato and Hazeltine's exquisite touch, and Billy Strayhorn's gorgeous composition, “Chelsea Bridge,” considered by many a work of perfection, lives up to its billing with a heartfelt reading.
Closing out the set is “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Following Rick's monstrous “Bone Free” trombone cadenza, the groove aptly begins with a line borrowed from Edgar Winter's Frankenstein. After the horns state the staccato head, grounded by Seaton's electric bass, Alexander brings on some Eddie Harris funk, Rick paints an inventive abstract, and Wendholt lays out some bluesy licks laced with hip postbop vocabulary, leaving Hazeltine to round out the soloing with a fist-full of soulful piano.
This recording can only give you a glimpse of the accomplishments Rick has amassed. In addition to his freelance career and university teaching schedule, Rick is also a clinician and travels throughout the United States conducting clinics, workshops and performing concerts.
So, as you can see, Rick Simerly is doing just fine in his "sea of obscurity." Not only has he traversed the rough waters, but he's also found a way to swim with some of the biggest fish in jazz's largest pond. Rick is riding the wave of good fortune, and this CD deserves a stream of superlatives.
- John Fedchock 2002
A New York based trombonist, arranger and Reservoir recording artist, John Fedchock has performed with the Woody Herman Orchestra, Gerry Mulligan, T.S. Monk, Louie Bellson, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and leads the John Fedchock New York Big Band.
Contact Rick at 423-542-2973 or visit his website at
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