Bob Enevoldsen

Valve trombonist at the heart of West Coast jazz
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The Independent Online

Robert Martin Enevoldsen, valve trombonist, tenor saxophonist and orchestrator: born Billings, Montana 11 September 1920; married (two sons, two daughters); died Los Angeles 19 November 2005.

The valve trombone is a quirky and often overlooked jazz instrument. Its major exponents usually developed highly individual styles. The giants of the instrument are Bob Brookmeyer and Juan Tizol, both of whom have had an inordinate effect on jazz in general. Bob Enevoldsen was a distant third in the hierarchy, but an icon none the less.

From the early Fifties on, his was a distinguished voice in West Coast jazz. He was typical of the men who played the music - thoroughly skilled, modest and with a comprehensive grounding in the music from the Thirties of Count Basie and Lester Young (unusually, Duke Ellington had little palpable influence). Enevoldsen could swing with the best of them.

The first time that I heard his potent, serpentine improvisations was on a 14-minute studio version (that length unheard-of on the records of the day) of "Somebody Loves Me", where "Eno" was the last in the string of soloists who had included the tenorist Bob Cooper, pianist Russ Freeman and the leader Maynard Ferguson on trumpet. As his long improvisation took flight, the other horns riffed behind him and the whole affair gave the lie to the contemporary calumny that West Coast jazz was effete and unswinging.

In 1908, Enevoldsen's father and uncle, both musicians, had sailed from Denmark with their violin and flute, to settle in the United States. When they arrived, they had to play their instruments for suspicious customs officials who thought that they were smuggling musical instruments into the country. The family settled in Montana where Bob Enevoldsen was born in 1920. He took up the violin when he was five, his father earning a living conducting the music at a silent movie theatre.

The boy switched to the trumpet a few years later, with lessons from the uncle. Lip trouble, which was to recur from time to time, made him switch to clarinet and tenor saxophone whilst he was studying music at the University of Montana. He also became an accomplished double-bass player at this time.

Drafted in 1942, Enevoldsen joined the US Air Force band in Utah. When he was discharged in 1946, he joined a big band in Salt Lake City as a tenor saxophonist. "A trombonist in the band lent me a valve trombone and this is when I started on the instrument," he said.

Being a former trumpeter, it came easy, because the fingering is the same. For two years, from 1949, I played clarinet with the Utah Symphony and, thanks to the GI Bill, I studied music at the university there.

By 1951 I had run out of work, but luckily I met the arranger Gene Roland who told me to try my luck in Los Angeles, where more was happening. I moved there in May 1951, with my wife and two young daughters, and started sitting in on the Monday evening jam sessions at some of the local clubs.

Enevoldsen's abilities on several instruments came in useful and he soon had a regular job as bassist in the pianist Marty Paich's trio. From here he worked with Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Gerry Mulligan and the other leading West Coast figures. He played mainly valve trombone, but became a close friend of Bobby Troup and for some years played bass in Troup's trio. Throughout the Fifties, he worked with Shelly Manne at the Lighthouse, Los Angeles's most famous jazz club, where he played both valve trombone and tenor.

The association with the over- sensitive Mulligan (Enevoldsen was on some of the baritone sax player's early recordings) was truncated in the Seventies. Enevoldsen had deputised for Bob Brookmeyer in Mulligan's band. " Gerry's mother was in the audience. I jokingly said 'What's your mother doing after the show, Gerry?' but he didn't seem to see the funny side of it. "

Enevoldsen rode the wave of the fashion for West Coast jazz and made innumerable recordings with a variety of small groups, including some fine ones under his own name where he was able to show his abilities as a tasteful and accomplished arranger.

The trombonist appeared in a couple of films, The Form of Jazz (1958) and The Subterraneans (1960). In 1959 he moved to Las Vegas for two years to work in shows there. He returned to Los Angeles in 1962 to work as staff arranger and studio musician for Steve Allen's television show and for the next decade immersed himself in studio work, mainly television, with little opportunity to play jazz.

Working again with Paich, he accompanied and became friends with the singer Mel Tormé and the three toured Japan and recorded together during the late Eighties. Whenever he could, Enevoldsen played in the big jazz bands of Los Angeles, working regularly in his spare time with those led by Bill Holman, Roger Neumann and the trumpeter-comedian Jack Sheldon.

Until last month Enevoldsen continued to play every Monday night in the small band that played in the garage of its tenor saxophonist Dick Hafer.

Steve Voce