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Stellar trombonist and Benicia grad at Sardine Can gig

Jeanne Geiger, a Benicia High School graduate, is a guest trombonist with the Dalt Williams Quartet this Sunday at the Sardine Can in Vallejo.
Jeanne Geiger, a Benicia High School graduate, is a guest trombonist with the Dalt Williams Quartet this Sunday at the Sardine Can in Vallejo. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Go ahead and YouTube the hip hop group Deltron 3030, and check out the “Late Show with David Letterman” from October, 2013.

That quite-animated woman on trombone? None other than Benicia High School graduate Jeanne Geiger.

Yes, women do play trombone. And, at least in this case, quite well, with Geiger counting on continued studio work and live performance as she shuffles between the Bay Area and now-home in Southern California.

The more jobs the better, said Geiger, with a rare local gig this Sunday at the Sardine Can as a favor to Dalt Williams, her high school instructor and front man for the Dalt Williams Quartet.

“Every day, I feel I need to play more,” Geiger said by cell earlier this week. “Usually, if I go more than one day of not playing, I feel empty. Two days and I’m angry, like ‘What’s wrong with me? Oh, I need to play.’ I’m just trying to increase my time with the horn.”

Geiger may not feel naked without her trusty trombone, but at least a bit under-dressed.

“It’s always with me,” she said. “So I’m always ready.”

Geiger has a handful of summer gigs coming up in the Bay Area, including an Oakland Yoshi’s appearance with the Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy on June 1, and Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton with Tony! Toni! Tone! on June 16.

It’s this Sunday’s free 5 to 8 p.m. appearance with Williams that carries a lot of nostalgia for the Geiger. She was a freshman at Benicia High when Williams was directing the school’s music program for the last time before his retirement.

“I had a blast being his student,” Geiger said. “I really got into jazz that year a lot. It was sad to see him go.”

Geiger said she “kept in touch” with Williams after she went to Los Medanos College and then Cal-State Hayward “and would randomly see him around.”

Geiger did play a private party with Williams and remembered it fondly.

“It was really fun to be able to play with him again after so many years,” she said.

Williams contacted Geiger about this weekend’s Sardine Can gig “and it happened that I was going to be back in the area again,” she said.

As a kid, Geiger taught herself “a little bit of piano by ear” and did a lot of singing. It was in middle school that she was introduced to the trombone after becoming a teacher’s aide in band class.

“I spent the rest of the year listening to the concert band every day,” said Geiger, eventually yearning to join the band herself.

“My friend said that if I played trombone, we could sit next to each other,” Geiger recalled. “I took this nasty trombone home every day and learned how to play.”

Fortunately, she was given a new horn the following year.

“I learned quickly and had a blast,” Geiger said. “By the end of the year, I was totally hooked.”

Securing a spot in the Benicia High jazz band as a freshman “was a changing moment for me,” Geiger said.

As for “women don’t play trombone,” it never occurred to Geiger. At least at the start.

“It’s funny,” she said. “When I was a freshman, there were six of us who played trombone and five were girls.”

When she got older, she saw the void of female trombonists and realized that if she succeeded, she could be a role model for other females.

“I think it’s just the nature of the instrument,” Geiger said. “A lot of times, young girls, for whatever reasons, play the flute which is traditionally more of a ‘girls instrument.’ Or they sing or play piano or violin. Maybe it’s because the trombone is heavier and you have to play a little more aggressively.”

Geiger called the aforementioned “Letterman” appearance a career highlight and “awesome experience.” Not only did she play, she hired the other musicians to back the rapper and DJ.

During the taping, Letterman leaned over to music director Paul Shaffer and said, “Hey Paul, get a load of the horn section.”

“That was cool,” said Geiger, adding an appearance with the late Dave Brubeck and his big band at Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco as another memorable moment.

Brubeck gave Geiger props after the performance “and everyone went crazy,” Geiger said. “I had a friend in the audience who started crying. It was a nice moment.”

Though Geiger wouldn’t mind hooking up with a touring band, it has to be a short tour, she said.

“If you’re gone too long, people think you’re gone and don’t call you,” she said.

The Dalt Williams Quartet is at the Sardine Can, “1” Harbor Way, Vallejo, Sunday, May 15, 5 to 8 p.m. No cover charge. For information, call (707) 553-9492.

Reach the author at [email protected] or follow Richard on Twitter: @richfreedmanvth.