Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

illus. by Frank Morrison. 40p. bibliog. Lee & Low. Jul. 2014. RTE $18.95. ISBN 9781600608988. LC 2013033662.
RedReviewStarGr 2–5—Music lovers will enjoy this picture-book biography of Melba Liston (1926–99), child prodigy and virtuoso trombonist who collaborated with most 20th century jazz greats. An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story. Always in tune with music, seven-year-old Melba chose her first instrument from Joe's Music Truck. Self-taught and determined, she survived the gender-based taunts of high school boys while playing in Alma Hightower's after-school music club (using her horn to "turn all those hurt feelings into soulful music") and racial discrimination while touring with Billie Holiday's band. In the end, Liston "[made] her trombone sing" for audiences around the world and was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Russell-Brown's text engages the senses ("[Melba] especially loved Fats Waller, with his growly voice and booming piano"), while Morrison's distinctive illustrations, stretched out like a slide trombone, draw the eye across each spread to the page turn. Back matter includes a detailed afterword with two photographs and a bibliography of books, articles, interviews, radio broadcasts, and websites, including a Jazz Café, where students can view Liston performing with Dizzy Gillespie's band. Pair this book with Jonah Winter's Dizzy (Scholastic, 2006) and Marilyn Nelson's Sweethearts of Rhythm (Dial, 2009) to explore more fully the jazz culture of the time. A celebration of the talent and success of a little-known African American female musician, this title will enrich library collections.—Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL
Seven-year-old Melba Liston chose to play the trombone, an unconventional choice for a girl. By seventeen, she was touring with the greats, including Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, but--as a female African American musician traveling through the South--faced many challenges. This account is as smooth and stimulating as a trombone solo. Elongated, angular oil paintings perfectly convey the jazz scene. Discography. Bib.
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. kathleen t. horning

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing