Feb 07, 2013
In Memoriam: Paul Tanner, big band trombonist, helped bring jazz education to UCLA
Paul Tanner, a trombonist who was the last surviving member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, died of pneumonia in Carlsbad, Calif., on Feb. 5. He was 95.
Tanner created and was the first to teach, in 1958, a department of music class on jazz history, following two decades spent performing with big bands around the world. The course contributed to the eventual establishment of jazz studies as a program area in what is now the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.
Also in 1958, Tanner earned a UCLA bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude. He went on to earn a master’s degree in 1961 and a doctorate in 1975. He had a 23-year teaching career at UCLA. When he retired as a senior lecturer in 1981, he told the Daily Bruin, "It's been a gas."
Tanner (far left) teaching a class in the 1960s.
Tanner's jazz history courses were wildly popular, attracting hundreds of students from all parts of campus. Music department students worked with him on trombone, chamber orchestra, instrumental techniques in brass, and orchestration.
While at UCLA, Tanner continued to play trombone professionally for record albums, television and film scores. He also developed a musical instrument called the electro-theremin, which was later known as the Tannerin and was adopted by many professional musicians. Tanner played the instrument himself in the Beach Boys’ classic song “Good Vibrations.”
Tanner authored several books, including the highly regarded textbook “A Study of Jazz” and two memoirs about his years with the Miller Orchestra: “Sideman: Stories About the Band” and “Every Night was New Year’s Eve.” In the 1970s, he served as chair of higher education curriculum for the National Association of Jazz Educators.
In a 1970 Daily Bruin story, Tanner was quoted:“I owe all my success to being in the right place at the right time. How can anybody be luckier than to have them pay me to do things I’d do for nothing?”
Tanner is survived by his wife, Jan Tanner, and his stepson, Douglas Darnell.