Cleveland High Jazz 1977

Cleveland Jazz 1977I’ve had the good fortune to today to reconnect with a long-lost friend through Facebook. It’s hard to describe my feelings; he and I were so close and shared so many memories. I’m sure I’ll write more as time goes on after we get a chance to meet up and talk. But, today, he was kind enough to send me this photo. It was 1977 and the Cleveland High Jazz Band had won first place in a jazz competition up in Kirksville MO at the University. (present day Truman Univ.) This photo is back in St. Louis, I think at SLU high. Honestly, that year, our senior year, we were like rock stars. We played out countless times the spring of that year; I’ve lost track of all the places we performed.

So, that’s the two of us in the bottom-right of the photo, both playing French Horns. French Horns you ask? What are two horns doing in a jazz band? Well, it was because my dear friend Don simply wanted to be in the Jazz band. I drooled with envy over the thought, but would have never had the nerve to do anything about it. Don simply asked the band director and then announced to me that he was in. “He” was in, not “we” were in. He was in because he asked. Well, back in those days I was painfully shy and rarely willing to ask for anything. But, now…well, there was no way my best friend was going without me. We were a team. I walked into the director’s office and…asked. The answer was yes.

For any of you band-score aficionados wondering where we got our charts for two horns in a jazz band, our brilliant band leader wrote them all out by hand. He loved the idea of being different. No other high-school jazz band at that competition had a horn, much less two of them.

It was, quite simply, the best times of my life. The camaraderie that we experienced as we traveled around St. Louis, setting up, performing, tearing down, getting out of class…it was indescribable.

You got to time to breath; you got time for music

I was talking to an old friend from church the other day about Allison Krauss and bluegrass music. I asked her if she remembered The Darlings from the Andy Griffith Show. I was explaining to her how Bluegrass bands are always so serious or expressionless while they play. The Darlings (The Dillards in real life) made a joke of it in the show. I don’t claim to understand it; but I could listen to Bluegrass all day.

First the Darling Family:

And then a very young Allison singing Heaven’s Bright Shore:

Check your pulse

If this doesn’t take your breath away, check your pulse. (Hint if your connection isn’t the fastest: Hit play, and after a second or two hit pause.Then let the video load for minute or two and hit play again.)

Petula Clark and me

Jones, Dolenz, Boyce & HartThe MonkeesMy earliest memory of wanting to be performing in front of people was listening to Downtown on the phonograph (my sister’s 45). I grabbed the king from the chess board to use as a microphone and sang my heart out. I still get chills when the key-change hits heading into the trumpet break. For a while I think I wanted to acutally be Petula Clark.

Only a few acts came close to Petula in gaining my admiration. Those would be the Monkees and a duo that wrote for them: Boyce & Hart. I could have settled for being one them. When the Cowsills hit I thought there was a chance that my family might go on the road. I would be the star of course.

I’m not your stepping stone
I’m not your stepping stone 

You’re trying to make your mark in society
Using all the tricks that you used on me.
You’re reading all those high fashion magazines
The clothes you’re wearin’ girl are causing public scenes.

I said
I’m not your stepping stone
I’m not your stepping stone

When I first met you girl you didn’t have no shoes
Now you’re walking ’round like you’re front page news.
You’ve been awful careful ’bout the friends you choose
But you won’t find my name in your book of Who’s Who.

I said
I’m not your stepping stone
I’m not your stepping stone

Or how ’bout this one:

If I had told her that I loved her
She would have stayed till who knows when
But I guess she couldn’t understand it
When I said I want to be your friend
Cause a friend would never doubt you
Or ever put you uptight
And now I wonder what she’s doing tonight

Oh yes I wonder
What she’s doing tonight
Ohoh I wonder what she’s doing tonight

We were so close we shouldn’t get closer
And it’s making me feel so sad
But I tell myself I didn’t loose her
Cause you can’t loose a friend you never had (come on now)
Cause a friend won’t say it’s over
And go out just for spite
And now I wonder what she’s doing tonight

(all right Bobby)
Because a friend will always be there
If you’re wrong or if you’re right
And now I wonder what she’s doing tonight



Those were very different days weren’t they?

Say Goodby to Mr. Rhythm


Sometimes called Mr. Rhythm, sometimes called Old Man Jazz; undisputedly “America’s Number One Song Stylist,” Frankie Laine passed away today at the age of 94. He had more than 70 charted records, 21 gold records, and worldwide sales of over 250 million disks. His list of records/songs/hits is simply unbelievable. To sum up his relevance, he was the bridge between the crooners and the early white Rock N Rollers like Elvis. It’s an era that gets largely neglected, but just talk to someone who was coming of age during late ’40′s and early 50′s and they’ll tell you about Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford and Patti Page. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these types of performers. How I long for just a glimpse in today’s performers of the professionalism and versatility that these guys had.

One Cool Cat Checks Out

MF Horn1MF Horn2Maynard Ferguson died Thursday night at the age of 78 (Aug. 23, 2006). I’ve read several good obituaries tonight and I encourage anyone to read them. (Here’s a list.) I’m just going to tell you my story of Maynard and me.

The year was 1972; I was in 8th grade at Woodward Elementary and I had been playing trumpet for about one year. In those days it was predetermined that I would go off to Cleveland High School which was a mile up the road. That’s what my dad did, that’s what I would do. Well, during this era up at Cleveland there was a band director named Ed Levinski and he had developed a group of young trumpet players that were simply fantastic. (Many of them went on to become pros. Jim Manley, Frank Goessler, Steve Heitmann) Well, our family was friends with the Goessler’s and one night my dad said we’re going up to see a show at Cleveland. A trumpet player named Maynard Ferguson. Of course I’d never heard of him, but I was thrilled to be getting a look at the high school and I was planning on joining the band when I got there.

What a thrill that night was. The excitement on stage was overwhelming. I’d been open to many musical forms, but this kind of energy I assumed was the sole property of the rock bands. It was convincing. At the end of the show he invited all the boy wonder trumpet players up on stage with him. (Later I’d learn that they’d spent the whole day with him.) The song was Hey Jude and at the end of the song, both Maynard’s and the young trumpet players came out into the audience to improvise a very energetic, rock-style ending.

A year passed. I’m now in high school and sure enough Maynard is coming back. Let me tell you, I was excited. It turns out that he did this a lot. He traveled the country going to high schools, holding classes during the day and performing at night. It turns out that my story from the previous year could be told by countless others. Anyway, the day finally came as I sat waiting in the band room for the band’s arrival.

Then, he walked in.

Strutting and smiling and wearing a full-length multi-colored mink coat. That is one cool cat. This little south-sider had just met Hollywood and I thought it was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Right behind Maynard was his first trumpet player, likewise wearing a full-length mink coat. I thought to myself, “sure…I would too.”

There would be a total of four times I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting Maynard Ferguson thanks to his commitment to young musicians’ education. I would get to spend the day with him and his trumpet section three of those years. I would have the honor to perform for him while he sat and listened to our little band carefully and give us helpful criticism.

As one of the obits I read tonight said, people will talk about how he should be remembered for his high notes or his energy on stage or covering of the pop-rock hits…but what he really should be remembered for is how many thousands of young lives he touched. How many young musicians he was nice to up to the point where we actually felt as if we knew him personally. I know I’m not alone tonight in feeling like I’ve lost an old friend.

Paraphrasing his manager: “Move over Gabriel, the first trumpet player’s here.”

The pictures at the top are of two of my most cherished memories: two record albums I listened to over and over again.

Good show Mr. Pitney

genepitney.jpgI was introduced to Gene Pitney when Annette’s brother Joe was getting married in Denver many years ago. I forget exactly how the multi-talented Pingel family figured I was the best one for the job, but nonetheless, I was asked to sing and play at Joe’s wedding. So, the song Joe and his lovely wife-to-be picked out? True Love Never Runs Smooth by Gene Pitney. Gene who? I asked. I’d never heard of him. I know, I know, you’re aghast at the thought. Just remember, I was raised on Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. Anyway, I still remember Annette telling me to stop trying to sing like Gene Pitney; it wasn’t working for me. I didn’t care though, I had to try in order to get the feel of the song. She still gets me on that. Whenever I go to learn a song I sing like the artist that I’m copying. She tells me to cut it out ‘cuz I cant’ do it, I say I know, leave me alone, and usually by the time I have to sing it, I’ve figured a way to sing it normal-like. With the Gene Pitney song, I remember initially thinking, “no way can I do this song.”

So, the tape that Joe made for me to listen to for the wedding had some of his greatest hits on it, and over the years, I learned to absolutely love him. His vocal performance was second to none. Some of the songs that really stand out in my mind are: Half Heaven – Half Heartache, I’m Gonna be Strong and Only Love Can Break Your Heart. What starts off as a queer little sound ends up being powerful and confident. (Esp. I’m Gonna Be Strong.) Then, what you’re left with is this strength…wow, what a voice. His obituary from the BBC describes his voice as “at once plaintive and melodramatic.”

Well, still no word on the cause of death. He loved performing and did it ’till the last night of his life. That’s the way to go.

It’s time you gave a listen

Alison Krauss + Union Station land 3 (more) Grammys!
- Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal
- Best Country Instrumental Performance
- Best Country Album

If you’re saying to yourself, “I gotta get me some of that,” allow me to help. Start with one of her older tunes I’ve Got That Old Feeling from the CD of the same name. Then, also from that disc, It’s Over. Then jump to Ghost in This House from Forget About It. If that one doesn’t get you, then just stop, there’s no need to go any further, you must be dead. But, if you’re still alive go ahead listen to The Lucky One from New Favorite. She singing this song to me, though I’ve told her repeatedly that I’m a happily married man, but I thanked her nonetheless.

Reuters called her “Queen of the Grammys,” because of her record 20 awards at the young age of 34.

Giant steps are what you take

OK, you guessed it; I’m listening to the Police. I finally figured out a way to import all of Emily’s itune folders into my itunes. Now, mind you, I let most of them be, but she had some good ones. Music she learned to like from her old man. Beatles, Dylan, etc.

News today from Apple about another new IPod Nano. I just might have to get me one of those. Right after I get my laptop, that is.

We watched Saturday Night Live the other night. Musical guest was Prince. I have to admit, he was awesome. Really, really good. Speaking of his first song: just a good old fashion rock song. He was playing the part of classic rock guitar hero which he’s quite adept at. Derivative? Sure, but honestly, the simple construction and execution of the song was refreshing if only because I’m tired of seeing the angst-ridden falsetto-singing faces of the twenty-somethings that usually take up space on SNL. His second song he acted as back-up to a girl named Tamara. I don’t know what her story is yet; I couldn’t find much about her on the web. It was a Christian song from what I could tell.

We also started watching Love Monkey on CBS. It’s a great show. Tom Cavanagh of Ed fame stars as a Music Producer. Well, just watch it, you’ll like it.

The Beatles reunite for my birthday

I don’t know how she did it, but Annette got all 4 Beatles together at the Pageant last Saturday night to perform for my birthday. And, just so you know, apparently the Paul is Dead rumor is true. I overheard the T-shirt lady say that Paul (she called him Gary to try to cover it up) went home sick. She then said that they had to call in another Paul and he would be playing tonight. However, I saw a mini-van parked outside with the license plate MCRTNY so I’m quite sure he was there. Or was he?

Seriously though, we went to see 1964 – The Tribute down at the Pageant in the Loop last Saturday. Emily went with us and she just had a blast. I was thinking about it: I could do without the costumes etc.; the music as it was played by the Beatles, i.e. on the original instruments stands on its own. I was very impressed with “George” and his Carl Perkins guitar. It was turned up loud and it carried the songs. The power of the pop-song came through; guitar, bass and drums – that’s it. Great melody, great beat, great vocal harmonies; do you need anything else? I think not.