Originally from Oakland, California, I started playing alto in the sixth grade. I was moved to tenor in middle school and discovered that, as a musician, I could be accepted in different cliques without being hazed. Surfers, greasers, eggheads, it was all good. My mom brought home this bootleg record from the store called "Groovin Hi" with cats like Phil Woods, Richie Kamuca, Art Pepper and Pepper Adams doing this stuff that scared the crap out of me. I was enthralled. We had a pep band for basketball games and while rehearsing with them one Saturday at the trumpet player's home he started playing this crazy squiggly stuff from a book during a break. Jon, what's Bbm7? It tells you what notes to play. Click! That's what Groovin Hi was all about. Jon was playing Dizzy solos in the 8th grade. I was hooked.
Fast forward to hi school in Maryland. My dad was an SES in HUD so we moved. I studied with Montgomery Co. legend Joe Moser who gave me so much good stuff! Some people have such a positive vibe that you can't help but want to do what they do. I played 2nd tenor in the Churchill stage band and tried to write arrangements for the band. People still remember our rendition of Pink Panther. I went to University of Maryland to major in Music Ed. and study classical music. Classical saxophone with George Etheridge. There will be a blog on that. I got into grad school as a performance major (MM) but after 2 semesters real life interfered and I dropped out. I was doing fine but we got married and moved to NYC. I looked into transferring to Manhattan School of Music but decided I couldn't afford it.
I seemed to have forgotten something. I used to go to Harold's Rogue and Jar in DC to hear jazz. I met Richie Cole and Turk Mauro there. Turk agreed to give me some lessons. He was holed up on Kalorama Ave (poor guy!) and after a few lessons he told me to go see Phil Woods in Delaware Water Gap. I arranged that and hooked up with Mr. Woods for several months of a severe ass-kicking. I couldn't sit down until 1982! Phil is a really uncompromising guy. That's a lesson that a musician needs to get! I learned many improvisational devices but the most important lesson was the emotional/spiritual commitment a musician must make to do anything. I am honored to have had the opportunity to study with him.
Life in NYC was incredible. We lived with my brother in Carroll Gardens for a few months before getting into Manhattan Plaza which had been turned into Section 8 housing for the performing arts. Being a musician in New York should be a book. Chapter one would be the Manhattan Plaza Jazz Composers' Orchestra. I played alto a lot because Chico Freeman and Ricky Ford were always on tenor. Roger Rosenberg, Walter Bishop Jr., Jack Walrath, Forgive me if I can't remember some of the other cats. The conductor was Muhal Richard Abrams. Later it was Slide Hampton. We used to get union trust fund gigs. Proud to say I played in Port Authority Bus Terminal under the baton of Slide Hampton and soloed on Giant Steps. "Now leaving for Perth Amboy, Long Branch, and Asbury Park..." "...Ab B7 E G7 C......".
Chapter 2 would be Mike Brecker. I had met him at Harold's Rogue and Jar in DC in 76. When I got to New York I basically stalked him trying to get an audience. He finally invited me over to his apartment on Grand Street where we had a 90 minute thing. Long story short - we covered Slonimski's polytonal interpolation and the Coltrane change, playing everything in all 12 keys, and putting the metronome on 2 & 4. He was an unassuming down to earth guy - completely normal. Very humbling for me. In retrospect I am humbled for the chance.
So you could say I was in line but I wasn't working very much. I took advantage of an opportunity to play full time on the road doing commercial stuff. 5 sets a night, 6 nights a week, 40 + weeks a year doing hotel lounges. I spent the better part of a year in Vegas checking out the underbelly of the "music business" and, well, it's a good thing I don't gamble. I should say that in order to do this kind of work I had to double on guitar and, after a while, I became an acceptable singer. I got up one morning at dawn (or was I just going to bed?) and I looked at Frenchmans Peak in the east. That was my decision to leave Vegas and get into a job with good benefits. So I managed to hook up with a band in the Stardust that was going to Atlantic City. Atlantis with Rita Singer was my last full time gig. At Ceasar's Regency I was the male singer on guitar. There were 3 horn players and I was able to play some alto about 20 minutes a night. This old buzzard from Phili sat there for a few sets and, after I played, he bought me a drink and said "you sound like Art Pepper." This was, perhaps, the greatest compliment I've ever received.
So I went back to NYC, got a cert. from NYU and a job at American U., moved back to Maryland, and children started to arrive. So I put the horn down for several years, got a MS in Info. Sys., and have been employed since 1989.
to be continued...