Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

By The Horn Book Magazine

From the time she was a little girl, Melba Liston loved music, especially the jazz music that surrounded her while she was growing up, first in Kansas City and then in Los Angeles. Given the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument at age seven, she chose the trombone. It was not a traditional choice for a girl, especially a small girl whose arms weren’t even long enough yet to push out the slide. But Melba wasn’t a traditional girl. She persisted, and with the support of her family and her teachers, she excelled. By age seventeen, she was ready to tour as a member of jazz trumpeter Gerald Wilson’s new band. She played with the greats, including Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, and was almost always the only woman in the band (except on her tour with Billie Holiday). As a woman, she faced as many barriers and challenges as she did as an African American musician traveling through the mid-twentieth-century South. But Melba was highly sought out, as a band member, session musician, composer, and arranger. Russell-Brown’s account of her subject’s early life is as smooth and stimulating as a Liston trombone solo, and will leave readers wanting to know more about the woman and her music. Morrison’s oil paintings, in his trademark elongated, angular style, perfectly convey the jazz scene and, of course, Melba’s amazing horn.