Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pandabonium Revisited

I am sometimes asked where the name Pandabonium comes from. Sometimes people see Pandabonium without the logo - such as in an email - and think it's "x-rated" (which is why I spell it out for people on the sidebar). If you see my logo, obviously I'm supposed to be the panda bear and I play the trombone. But now you're going to read the rest of the story.

Some years back, someone said that I reminded them of a Panda bear. Not a flattering comment on my physique perhaps, but I like the animals and they are cute, calm and rare (hey, that's me!), so I allowed it. At the time I was playing trombone in various groups - Maui Symphony Big Band, Maui Brass Ensemble (at the time a quartet) and the newly founded Maui Community Band. I wanted to start a trombone group with two, three or four trombones to play some older popular and jazz tunes.

Pandabonium playing with the Maui Community Band in 2003.

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Maui Brass Ensemble

I was interested in this project because of two trombone groups that I had listened to as a teenager. I listened to many trombonists of course, but there were two groups which exclusively used a small number of 'bones for their work. In the fifties (no I was not yet a teen in the 50's!), two of the greatest trombonists of the day formed an unusual team from 1952 to 1954. Musically, they were two of the very best trombonists around. The group was just the two trombones backed by piano bass and drums. The trombonists were J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. Though the two have very different styles, their music was pure magic. Several albums are still available - now on CD. Here they are, reunited in 1982 for a Japanese television gig:

Another group called themselves "Trombones Ulimited" and they played arrangements of pop tunes of the 1960's. They used various musicians and even emphasized the difference between "West coast" and "East coast" musicians on one album. I had a good friend in high school, Ellen, who had perfect pitch. It was, perhaps, genetic as her dad played oboe for the LA Philharmonic and her mom arranged television show music written by the likes of Lalo Shiffrin and Henry Mancini. Another friend, Larry, and I wanted to play trombone duets and Ellen sat down, listened to the record (music was on vinyl in those days), and wrote us arrangements of our favorite tunes off the album. Ellen was awesome. Our performance was less so, but we had a great time rehearsing.

A new group would require some fresh arrangements, but I certainly would not hesitate to borrow from the past to start. I had some interest from fellow trombonists on Maui, so I was encouraged at the prospects. We would need a name. It just came to me out of nowhere. A duet, trio or quartet of trombones playing some fast piece might get kind of crazy - a bit of chaos, of pandemonium. Panda, trombones, pandemonium. Of course: Pandabonium.

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An artist friend of mine, Andrew Shkolnik, was working with me at a bookstore at the time and created the logo for me. I liked it. The panda has claws, slightly learing eyes, and smile that give the character a kind of "edge" - not mean, but not your basic cuddly bear look either.

Well, my group never got off the ground and I left Maui for Japan, Fiji, and the vast Pacific. It was a fellow musician here in Japan, the Moody Minstrel, who's blog gave me the impetus to start my Pacific Islander blog, so I decided to use Pandabonium as my pen name.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Until next, sweet sailing.

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