A few 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 and calm and rare (hey, that's me), so I allowed it. At the time I was playing trombone in various groups - Maui Symphony Jazz Orchestra, 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.
I was interested in this project because of two trombone groups that I had listened to as a teenager. I listen to alot of 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. Unusual in more than one respect. Musically, they were two of the very best trombonists around. The group was just the two trombones backed by piano bass and drums. Their trombonists were J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. The other unique thing that made its own statement was that J.J. was a black man, and Kai was white. Ebony and Ivory. This was long before the civil rights movement of the 60's. Sure, lots of blacks and whites played jazz, but for a small group to be integrated and play white venues was rare. The most important thing was that their music was pure magic. Several albums are still available - now on CD. For a taste of just how good they were, do a search on Amazon.com for "Jay and Kai." and listen to the samples, I like "Yesterdays".
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.
An artist friend of mine, Andrew Shkolnik, was working with me at a Borders 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 e-pen name.
And now you know the rest of the story.