George Chisholm might have been considered one of the greatest trombonists in jazz had he not happened to be born in Scotland, according to at least one of the major critics in the genre. The esteemed Leonard Feather even goes so far as to describe Chisholm's first moments of existence — the setting is Glasgow, late in the winter of 1915 — as "accidents of birth." The trombonist must have liked the scent of haggis because he stayed put in Glasgow for most of his career, certainly denying him the type of access to mainstream jazz business contacts that a New Yorker might have. Nonetheless, he played with many greats, some of whom came to his neck of the loch or the European continent in general because the scene was more appealing than in the United States, often for racial rather than economic reasons.
Such a tragic cultural circumstance set the stage for Chisholm to work with both the brilliant Benny Carter and the combustible Coleman Hawkins in 1937. In the same period, he also gigged on the British dance band scene with bandleader Ambrose, among others. Chisholm was motivated enough to begin leading a band under his own name, a unit he brought into recording studios several times in the last several years of the '30s. The British jazz scene was indeed a tight little island during the subsequent decades, but Chisholm at least had no problem rising to the top of the heap in terms of popularity and cultural recognition; perhaps "munro" would be a more appropriate metaphor than heap considering the previously mentioned accident of birth.
By the late '50s, Chisholm had proved himself ready, willing, and able to become a part of the modern jazz scene that was developing in the shadow of the country's curry parlors and chip shops. This was apparent from his playing style, which began to involve harmonic concepts thoroughly up to date with the era's modernist leanings, presented in both the setting of his own groups and in the bands of other leaders, including trumpeter Kenny Baker and drummer Jack Parnell. He also expanded his instrumental expression to include the squeakier flügelhorn and trumpet, the obscure euphonium, and even the tinkling celeste. Chisholm's involvement with British culture went well beyond jazz; he was one of the musical underlings making merry mayhem on the brilliant Goon Show, and indeed was so identified with this activity that he is sometimes referred to as a comedian. While much of his discography has gone out of print, Chisholm tracks do pop up on compilations of British jazz. A tribute band called George Chisholm's Gentlemen of Jazz has been active since the trombonist's death. ~ Eugene Chadbourne