An Instrumentalist, Leader of the Band, Singer, Songwriter, Choir Director – Part 1

When I was about to go into the 6th grade in the summer of 1968, I was sitting by the church parking lot, after Boy Scouts one night, with my friend Chan. Chan was popular and lived 3 doors down from me and we had been good friends since my family moved into the neighborhood after my second grade finished.

Mr. Litwin, the High School band director who also taught 6th grade band happened to walk by and asked Chan if he was still going to play trombone in the band in the 6th grade when school started. Chan said yes, then Mr. Litwin turned to me and asked if I wanted to be in the band and I said sure. He said what do you want to play? Just like Chan, trombone was my answer.

And so it began

The first thing I learned about band was there would be challenges and someone would sit in the first seat for an instrument, the second seat, the third seat, and so on, based on the challenges. I did not like losing. My days in anything other than 1stchair lasted just a few weeks and from the beginning I would practice hours a day and the better I got the better I wanted to be.

The clearest memory I have of band in the 6th grade was Mr. Litwin telling me to be at the High School concert one Spring night because there was a senior trombonist who was very good and he was playing Rimsky Korsakovs Concerto for Trombone accompanied by the High School Band. I do not remember his name that night but that fellow also won the John Philiip Sousa Award given to the best instrumentalist in the band, voted upon by the band members.

I decided that night, I would do the very same thing 6 years later Somehow I could visualize that event 6 years into the future. I could see it happening as if it were that day.

And It did, indeed happen exactly the way I saw it.

Music became my life. Prior to playing the trombone, I wanted to be an architect as my father was a civil engineer. I wanted to build things. I built things later on in life, by the way.

I got all kinds of awards for solo auditions for all state band when I was in high school and was a regular there and also was in all state orchestra. Our high school had a very, excellent trombone player ahead of me and he was also a scholastic attendee at the North Carolina Governors School that summer. I took over first chair in the high school band a few months into my first year in the band, my sophomore year. During my junior year I auditioned for the Governors School orchestra and won the audition. I spent my summer at in Winston-Salem, NC for 7 weeks at Salem College as part of the Governors School Orchestra and there 300 of the best and brightest in North Carolina, the gifted and/or talented they called us, took all kinds of classes during the day, practiced, studied, and socialized with the brightest young minds in North Carolina. To give you an idea of just how bright some of these young people were, I met my first girlfriend there and she taught me how to kiss my first kiss. She also had scored about 1590 on her SAT, had a full 4 year scholarship to Duke University, and I found out many years later she got a PhD from Duke in Mathematics. I loved math and my favorite lecture series that summer was on quantum mechanics. Of course, Karen was there and I would have chosen something else perhaps but I did enjoy the mind opening experience of math on a level far beyond the algebra and geometry and the next year I enjoy trigonometry and pre-calculus but my mind was on music.

I have always been able to excel in anything I decide to do. Its always a matter of me buying in but once I buy in there is nothing I know as a roadblock that cannot be overcome.

Along the way, my mother sent me to a few piano lessons in high school but money was very tight and I could not afford it on my own with paper route money and the other things I did with my money. I delivered paper from 10 years old to just before leaving for college, from bike routes to car routes, getting up and 3AM to deliver papers and afternoon routes as well. Driven was an understatement. I continued to practice piano on my own and started moving into pop tunes and a little jazz harmony, but since the 6th grade I was aware there was something called Swing music. Big Band, Frank Sinatra style, and it had my name.

Also, I auditioned for drum major to lead the high school marching band on the football field my junior and senior years. Something in me always wanted to direct, I suppose. It just came naturally.

I went to college in the Fall of 1974, 17 years old, the youngest in my class, and was suddenly introduced to the other best musicians from many surrounding states at the best music school in a multi state area. There were trombone players there better than me! That translated to me 6 hours of practice a day, then 8 hours, the more. Early on, I became aware there was such a thing as a bass trombone and I loved the sounds of it and Tom a great bass trombone player was graduating that year so my instructor asked me if I would be interested in moving to bass trombone. Moving to bass trombone meant instantly being in all the top bands and small groups and I loved the sound and quickly fell in love with playing Back Chelo Suites on a bass trombone.

I was there to get a performance degree and determined to be the best. My teacher sent me to a college in the mountains of Western North Carolina one weekend where the very best soloist in all instruments from many states would be competing in a solo competition. I played my best, considering the 5-6 hour drive to get there, little sleep the night before, and the long drive back. To the best of my memory, I very slightly missed an attack on a note and that was my only mistake. Several days after I returned to school, I was informed I took second place. A trombone player had never done that. I lost to a flute player.

I was good, very good, but in no way did it go to my head. I had listened to records and I knew what professionals were capable of and I decided to be as good as them. And I did just that. There is an unbelievable trombone player named Bill Watrous

4th Floor Walk Up –
Sho –
Tiger of San Pedro –
Spain –

was considered the greatest trombone virtuoso in the world, came to our school, East Carolina University, my junior year, to do a trombone clinic. His arrangements had some very hard bass trombone parts and a short solo in one of them. I practiced that solo on Sho until I could play it with my eyes closed, determined to play it better than the bass trombonist who had recorded with Watrous on his album.

So the tune quickly came to the short solo and I closed my eyes and played it through flawlessly. It was a few hours later several friends told me what happened. Watrous was not used to going to second tier music schools outside of North Texas State, Eastman, etc and finding a bass trombone player who could handle that part so he started playing it at the mic and I started playing it in my seat with no mic. I could not hear him as I had a huge sound and it did not matter if he had a mic. Everyone told me later Watrous turned about, bowed, rolled his hand in resignation, and stepped aside. That made a young guy’s night later but it was not as good as getting a job offer with him.

Not having much money in school hours away from home is a problem. There was lots of spaghetti dinners and Mac n Cheese whether in a box or homemade, things I never eat now. My mother had taught me how to make spaghetti and I had a big crock pot. One day at school, my friend James, a fine keyboard player asked me if I knew bass guitar and told me the Rock n Roll band he was in with a couple of older musicians just lost their bass guitar player and they had jobs/gigs 3 nights a week in Washington, NC. That was a Friday morning, and we went to the music store and I got a bass guitar on loan and an amp, practiced all that day and night, Saturday, and Sunday, some of Monday and auditioned Monday evening and got the job playing in their band. I had about 80 tunes to learn and the first job was that Friday night! Most pop tunes are easy and I followed James left hand all night for several nights until I memorized the tunes.

Playing in the Rock n Roll band whetted my appetite for pop and jazz, singing with the piano cause I wanted to do a solo once in a while with the Rock n Roll band but that never happened, mostly because I was very shy about singing and not being at the keyboard.

My senior year, I played bass guitar for the top jazz band and the faculty orchestra invited me to play bass guitar for the musical pit bands they did for surrounding communities musicals in Eastern North Carolina because I could read scores on bass guitar stone cold with no mistakes.

But going to the music hall on late Friday thru Sunday nights in remote practice rooms was my secret passion to play piano and sing pop and jazz tunes where no one could hear me. The one I was best at was Carol King’s I Feel The Earth Move and recorded it one night on an old cassette recorder and it was the first time I had recorded myself and I liked the way I sounded as all the other times I cringed when I heard my voice bit a few voice lessons over the previous summer cleared up some inconsistencies in my voice and air support. So, I was hooked on playing piano and crafting words to a song to speak directly to an audience!

In Seattle, on August 7, 2015, we recorded I Feel The Earth Move with some of the best musicians in the world playing the absolute best chart ever written on that tune. It will come out in release before the great earth quake in California, I predict that

Stay tuned for Part 2!


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