Trombonist / Conductor  Jay  Friedman

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Jay Friedman joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as assistant principal trombone in 1962 under Fritz Reiner and was appointed principal in 1965 by Jean Martinon. He attended Yale University on a scholarship and later majored in composition at Roosevelt University. Prior to joining the CSO, he spent four years as a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and two years with the Florida Symphony. He has been a soloist with the CSO on several occasions, starting in 1969 with Bloch’s Symphony for Trombone and Orchestra, and Creston’s Fantasy for Trombone and Orchestra in 1976 with Sir Georg Solti conducting (shown in the recording below). In 1991, he performed the world premiere with Solti and the CSO of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Trombone Concerto, written especially for him and commissioned by the Edward Schmidt Family Foundation. In 2018, Friedman, along with his fellow section members, gave world premiere performances of Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto with Riccardo Muti at Orchestra Hall and in tour performances at Carnegie Hall and several other venues.


See my interviews with Claudio Abbado, Ray Still, Gunther Schuller, Dale Clevenger, Morton Gould, Donald Peck, Erich Leinsdorf, and Larry Combs

An active conductor, Friedman was named music director of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest in 1995. In 2002, he was chosen Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras. Friedman’s conducting career has included guest appearances with orchestras around the world, including the Orchestra of the Italian Radio (RAI), Malmö Symphony and Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual donor concerts. In 2010, Friedman conducted Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (Symphony of a Thousand) at Symphony Center, with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, the choirs of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, Chicago Concert Chorale, Concordia University and the Oak Park Children’s Choir. Other guest conducting appearances include those with the Louisiana Philharmonic, Berlin Staatskapelle, Zurich Opera, and National Orchestra of Mexico, among others. At the invitation of Riccardo Muti, he conducted Glière’s monumental Symphony No. 3 (Ilya Murometz) in 2016 with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and in 2017 Mozart’s Haffner Symphony and Bruckner Symphony No. 7. In 2018, he conducted the Civic Orchestra Brass in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and in 2019, led Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite and Wagner’s preludes to Lohengrin, Tristan and Isolde, and Parsifal with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

==  Biography from the CSO website.  
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

In March of 2001, Jay Friedman was organizing a special concert featuring the Chicago Symphony Brass (and a few friends).  I arranged to speak with Friedman on the phone about this performance, and took the opportunity to ask other questions relating to his career.  A few quotes from the conversation appeared in an article which was linked to the website of the Chicago Symphony.  Now, in mid-2022, I am pleased to be able to present a transcript of the entire encounter.
Friedman was forthright about the work he was doing, and the organizations in which he was involved, both as player and conductor.  While shorter than most of my interviews, it was great to speak with this artist whom I had observed for so many years from my balcony seat in Orchestra Hall.

Bruce Duffie:   First, let’s talk specifically about this concert.  Is it all the brass players of the Symphony, or just most of them?

Jay Friedman:   All of them except for our tuba player, Gene Pokorny because he had a conflict.  So everybody, plus some alumni, such as Philip Smith, who used to be fourth trumpet here, and he’s now first trumpet in the New York Philharmonic.  There will also be Joseph Alessi (shown in the ad at left), who is first trombone in New York.  He never played here, but he’s coming because we need extra players besides our own.  This is a very large group, about twenty-eight people.

BD:   This is the first brass concert in twenty years?

Friedman:   Yes, over twenty years.

BD:   Okay, the obvious question.  Why have you waited so long?

Friedman:   Busy schedules, and not being able to get everybody together at one time, or having the right time, or the right event.  I just thought that we had to do this once more before Herseth retires, or else it’s gone.

BD:   You’re playing music specifically for a big brass group?

Friedman:   Yes.

BD:   What is it that makes the CSO brass the CSO brass?

Friedman:   It was started by [Adolph ‘Bud’] Herseth and [Arnold] Jacobs.  They’re the two founding members, and then they were just lucky to get a bunch of players that really fit together.  But Herseth’s the one who set the standard.  He’s the one who invented the style that we play today.

BD:   It’s a style that everybody likes to incorporate?

Friedman:   Yes.  It’s just such an exciting logical way to play a brass instrument, or to play any kind of an instrument.  He could have been a great player on any instrument.  He’s just got this incredible concept of music.

BD:   Is that something that can rub off, or is that something that he just has to bring, and hope that other people will bring as much as they can?

Friedman:   If it doesn’t rub off, there’s something wrong with the person that’s listening, because it’s such a strong and powerful way.  I don’t mean ‘powerful’ as being loud.  It
s just such an intoxicating style that he plays.  If you’re not affected by it, there could be something wrong with you.  [Both laugh]
BD:   Does this also rub off on the woodwinds and string players as well?

Friedman:   It should.  I don’t want to get in trouble here by saying so, but I think it has on the better people in the orchestra who keep their ears open.  If somebody’s a real listener, they’re bound to be affected by somebody that plays like that.

BD:   Does the brass section have to be careful not to over-power the rest of the orchestra?

Friedman:   Yes, and we’ve often been accused of that!  To me, that is one of the fantastic things about Adolph Herseth’s playing.  He never had to play that loud.  He’s just got this gift of his sound, and his incredible discipline.  The discipline in his playing is one of the things that is always the most impressive about him.  The whole orchestra would be blowing their heads off, and he’d be sitting there just playing exactly how loud he needed to play to be heard.  He never let anybody force him to do something he shouldn’t have done.  I don’t ever remember him playing too loud.  
To me, the trumpet is the most difficult orchestral instrument there is.

BD:   Because of the high notes required?  [Vis-à-vis the article shown at right, see my interviews with Charles Vernon, and Daniel Barenboim.]

Friedman:   Yes, just because you have to play higher than any human has a right to.  It’s so physically demanding, and you have to have such a phenomenal embrasure and breath control.  It’s a really difficult instrument.

BD:   Might a slightly larger mouthpiece make it a little easier to play?

Friedman:   No, that’s actually harder.  You have to be physically gifted.  Playing soft on a trumpet is really difficult.  Playing high on a trumpet is really difficult because the instrument is small, but the man is normal size.

BD:   Does it ever surprise guest conductors what the brass section of this orchestra will do?

Friedman:   No, because we’re so famous now that almost everybody is aware of it.  Every once in a while, somebody will come with a big chip on his shoulder, and they feel they’re going to teach us a lesson.  It’s usually because they’re going by what they’ve heard by rumor and not actual experience.  I really resent that kind of stuff.  We’ve had a few people who come into it like they’re going to tame the lion.  Well, they’ve never heard us before.

BD:   I assume, though, that most of the guest conductors will come and revel in the sound.

Friedman:   Oh, sure.  We’ve had many conductors say, “God, I’ve never heard a brass section like this!”

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When did you become a member of the Chicago Symphony?

Friedman:   1962.

BD:   So, you’re coming up on forty years!  Were you always principal trombone?

Friedman:   The first two years I was assistant, and then in 1964 I was appointed the principal.

BD:   Tell me a bit about playing with the Chicago Symphony brass section.

Friedman:   I was a kid when I got in, and it was pretty incredible.  I’d heard them when I was a student.  I used to attend every concert I could possibly go to, so I grew up hearing the Chicago Symphony and its brass section.  But for me to get in was just something I never even dreamed about.  It was an amazing realization.  I never expected to be in this orchestra.

BD:   Let’s talk a bit about your instrument.  You’ve been playing the trombone all your life.  What does it take to play trombone well, and then what does it take to play trombone well in an orchestral situation?

Friedman:   You’ve got to have a good sense of pitch because you can play perfectly in tune on a trombone, or you can play horribly out of tune.  That’s just the way it is.  It’s like a string instrument, so you’ve got to have a good sense of pitch, and that takes a long time to develop.  It takes so long to get where you’re playing reasonably in tune because of the slide.

BD:   Why did the valve trombone not take off?

Friedman:   Because it’s got a really bad sound.  It’s a very impure sound.  The slide trombone has a superior sound because it’s such a pure sound.  It’s just a coiled tube, and the valve trombone never had a nice enough sound.  That’s the problem, especially when you play loud.  It was also very much out of tune.

BD:   You have to play different sized trombones.  Do you enjoy going from the smaller trombone to the larger trombone?

Friedman:   Sure.  I can play alto trombone in the old music, and I really enjoy that.  It really keeps the job interesting.

BD:   Do you ever play the sackbut?

Friedman:   Yes, I have, and I love the sackbut.  I don’t get enough opportunity to do it, but it’s a phenomenal sound.  It’s just a wonderful instrument.  There are some great recordings of sackbuts.

sackbut Many names have been given to the Renaissance trombone, including sackbut (literally "push-pull"), saqueboute, shakbusshes, seykebuds, sakbuds, shakebuttes, shagbutts, and even shagbolts. It is uncertain when the sackbut first appeared, but by 1500 it is illustrated and mentioned regularly. Detailed information about the instrument is given by Praetorius (1571-1621), who also pictures four principal sizes: the alto, tenor, bass, and great bass. The tenor sackbut is the most useful size, and it is this instrument which has evolved into the modern tenor trombone. In the early seventeenth century the sackbut was considered an instrument of the virtuoso performer. Praetorius mentions an Erhardus Borussus of Dresden who had a range of nearly four octaves (low A1 to g2) and was able to execute rapid coloraturas and jumps on his instrument just as is done on the viola bastarda and the cornett. 

For outdoor music, the top part of a sackbut ensemble was usually taken by a shawm, and for church music, by a cornett. The sackbut player should imitate the sound of the cornett, not the trumpet. Thus today's marching band trombone blasts have no place in the performance of early music. In spite of the instrument's wide range of dynamic and chromatic compass, and its ability to be played "in tune" (by slide adjustment), the sackbut did not become a regular member of the orchestra until the early nineteenth century. 

The sackbut differs from today's trombone by its smaller bore, its bell which is less flared, and in the lack of a water key, slide lock, and tuning slide on the bell curve. Sackbuts could adjust tuning at the joint between the bell and slide.

The shallow brass mouthpiece was unplated. Decorated outer slide braces could telescope slightly to follow the imperfections of the inner slide. Leather pieces cushioned the slide when brought up to first position. Since the human arm couldn't reach the longest positions on the bass and great bass sackbuts, they have an articulated handle on the slide to extend the reach.

BD:   After almost forty years in the orchestra, do you still work on your pure sound?

Friedman:   Oh, absolutely.  Sound on a brass instrument is the most important thing.  You’ve got to have a great sound, or you can’t be a good player.  Sound is the number one thing on all instruments, but especially brass, because if you don’t have a good sound, the rest doesn’t matter.  That’s what I teach
a really good sound, a beautiful sound.

BD:   So, it
s sound first and then technique?

Friedman:   Oh, absolutely.

BD:   Is it enjoyable working with youngsters to teach them to play the trombone?

Friedman:   Oh, sure.  I enjoy teaching.

BD:   Do you teach a lot of youngsters, or are they mostly advanced students?

Friedman:   I have some high school kids.  I start with the high school kids, and go all the way into graduate students and professionals.  I like starting with the young kids because I try to get them started off right.  That’s a nice thing to do.

BD:   Is it right that we train a lot of trombone players when there are not a lot of trombone positions around?

Friedman:   That’s a problem because all you’re doing is turning out more teachers, and it’s getting tougher all the time because there are fewer and fewer jobs.  But there are more and more players, so the standard keeps rising.  But yes, that’s a tough thing to do.

BD:   Is it frustrating at all knowing that there’s really only one touring trombone soloist, Christian Lindberg?

Friedman:   Right.

BD:   Should there be more trombone soloists like there are violinists and pianists?

Friedman:   [Thinks a moment]  He’s certainly blazed the trail, and there probably should be more.  Even if you’re good, it
s just so hard to be accepted as a soloist.  A lot of people don’t want to give up that kind of time in their lives to build a career.  It took Lindberg probably fifteen years before he was even recognized as a soloist.  You have to give up that kind of time, and you have to be just so single-minded.  He didn’t want to play in an orchestra.  I always wanted to play in an orchestra because I like to do that.

BD:   What is it about the orchestra that intrigues you?

Friedman:   It just has so many possibilities for color.  It’s like a big kaleidoscope.  It’s fascinating.  That’s why I started studying scores, and that’s how I got into conducting.  Because I studied scores, people started to ask me to conduct.

BD:   You are now music director of the Oak Park-River Forest Symphony.  How long have you been doing that?

Friedman:   Five years.  The name of it is The Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest.  I don’t know why but that’s what they named it.  It used to be the Oak Park-River Forest Symphony, and I have no idea why they changed it.  That was quite a while ago they changed.


Founded in 1931, the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest is one of the nations oldest community orchestras.  The Illinois Council of Orchestras recognized its continued excellence in recent years, achieving the Community Orchestra of the Year Award in 2011 and 2018.  In addition, they named Music Director Jay Friedman Conductor of the Year.

The Mission is: To provide the opportunity for orchestral and vocal musicians to perform symphonic works together at the highest possible level of artistry; to provide the opportunity for all of the members of our diverse local community to experience symphonic music in live performances of high quality; and to foster the appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of symphonic music by present and future generations.

BD:   Who were some of your predecessors on the podium?

Friedman:   Milton Preves [principal violist of the Chicago Symphony 1939-86], and Perry Crafton [violinist with the Chicago Symphony 1948-89].  Crafton was my immediate predecessor, and was the conductor there for twenty-five years.  The orchestra was started in 1931.

BD:   One expects string players and pianists to be conductors.  Does it surprise anybody to realize that the guy waving the stick is the trombone player?

Friedman:   They’re probably thinking it, but as soon as they see me work with an orchestra, they realize that I’m very string-conscious.  In fact, a lot of people are just amazed at the string sound that I get out of an orchestra.

BD:   Is that because you’re used to working with sound on the trombone?

Friedman:   That right, it is the sound concept.  That’s what we strive for.

BD:   Do you teach the string players how to breathe?

Friedman:   [Laughs]  No, I just encourage them to play with a really good sound, and it seems to work.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How do you select repertoire for the orchestra?

Friedman:   That’s a tough one because when I first came to that orchestra, I had a huge wish-list of things that I wanted to play.  There are very few things that we can’t play...  We did the first act of Die Walküre, we did Ein Heldenleben a couple of years ago, we did Der Rosenkavalier... so there’s not a whole lot that we can’t do.  We can’t do The Rite of Spring because we just don’t have the big sound of an orchestra.  But there’s very little that we actually can’t do, so it’s surprising what we do.


BD:   Do you help or intimidate the principal trombone of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest?

Friedman:   They probably expected me to come in and be a terror to the trombone section, but I pretty much leave then alone.  I’m more concerned with the strings because they’re playing all the time, and there are so many notes to take care of.

BD:   Being a conductor yourself, do you then play a little different attention to the conductors in front of the Chicago Symphony?

Friedman:   Oh, yes!  I’ve always been fascinated by conducting styles, and I watch everyone... although, I’ve never tried to copy a conductor style-wise or physically.  I’ve always gotten my inspiration from the score, which is a Toscanini philosophy.  I believe in that.  My philosophy of making music is trying to realize what the composer did.  I know a lot people say that, but how many conductors really do that?  Not that many.

BD:   Do you look forward to doing more conducting when your trombone playing days are over?

Friedman:   I think so, yes.  I enjoy it.  I was the resident conductor of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra this year, Dieter Kober’s group, and I’ll be doing more concerts next year.  He lives in Germany now, and only comes back just to do some concerts.  He wanted to have somebody keep the group going in a transition period.
BD:   For this concert with the brass, are you conducting all of it, or are you also playing?

Friedman:   I’m conducting it.  We’re doing a trombone quartet by Gabrieli, and I will play in that, but I’ll conduct the rest of the concert.  They’re also doing an arrangement of mine of the Alpine Symphony by Strauss.  The first half will be music by Gabrieli, and then the second half will be the Strauss.

BD:   This reminds me of the recording that the brass sections of Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia made.  It is back out now on CD (shown at right), and it still holds up.  [The original LP issue had a chart on the back of the jacket, which showed where each of the players was situated in the stereo perspective.]

Friedman:   Oh yes, it sure does, and some of the music on that record we are doing on the first half.

BD:   [Noting that Herseth was about to retire as principal trumpet]  Is it going to be very strange sitting next to someone besides Bud?

Friedman:   Yes, it’s going to be a traumatic experience.  In fact, it was traumatic for me at that audition where they hired someone to fill the chair.

BD:   How is the new guy?  Is he up to the task?

Friedman:   We’ll find out!  [Both laugh]  That’s all I can say.  I’m sure he’s a good player, but he’s got some big shoes to fill... although he doesn’t have to fill Herseth’s shoes.  Nobody is going to do that, but he has to come in and make a statement.

BD:   I assume that the rest of you will help him to help continue the legacy.

Friedman:   Sure, absolutely.  We want to carry on the tradition, and we want to help him feel comfortable.

BD:   Is he going to be at this all-brass concert?

Friedman:   No, he’s going to be on tour with San Francisco Symphony.  I asked him to play in it, but he can’t.  It’s nice that Phil Smith will be there, and that Charlie Geyer is also playing.  He’s a phenomenal player.  He’s as good as anybody in the world today.

BD:   Are there any other great trombone players of note these days besides Lindberg?

Friedman:   Lindberg is in a class by himself only because nobody else plays like he does.  He’s a soloist.  He’s not an orchestral player, so he’s different from everybody else.  All the other so-called great players are in orchestras.  Joseph Alessi in New York is becoming a very famous player.  He’s one of the big names now, and he does a lot of solo playing.

BD:   I assume that Jay Friedman is also a big name?

Friedman:   [Modestly]  Yes, I guess just because of the job.  I just came out with a CD called The Singing Trombone (shown below).  It’s mostly for trombone players, although people have been telling me that they enjoy listening to it even though they are not trombone players.  It’s got vocalises, and melodic études which were written by a singer in the eighteenth century named Marco Bordogni (1789-1856).  It’s on my own label, Educational Brass Recordings.

BD:   Thank you so much for all the music, and for speaking with me.

Friedman:   Thank you.  [Noting that WNIB, Classical 97 had just been sold and changed format]  I already miss hearing you on the radio.



© 2001 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on March 6, 2001.  Portions were used in an article promoting the concert, which was linked to the website of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.