My original plan had been to head directly to NYC where I would make music for a living. But Hartford High wouldn’t give me a diploma, even though I’d accumulated the required 16 credits. And I couldn’t stand the idea of spending another year there, and I didn’t have the nerve to begin my career as a high school dropout. So I applied to the only college that was still accepting applications in March, and wound up living at home and attending classes at the Hartford branch of UConn my freshman year. Which was a blessing in disguise, as I was about as ready to live by myself in Greenwich Village at age 16 as I was to fly to the moon.
Long before UConn became a basketball powerhouse, it was an agricultural school https://uconn.edu/about-us/history/ – and when I attended, virtually all music majors studied to become teachers. Serious students with professional aspirations opted for conservatories like Oberlin, Eastman & Juilliard, though there were a few exceptions; Marco & Ernie Calouri were gifted French horn players at UConn during my tenure, and they both joined the US military bands upon graduation. There were probably a few others who pursued something other than a Music Ed. degree at that time, but I don’t recall who, or where they ended up.
My first winter in NYC, the Calouri brothers asked me to help them get tickets to the NY Brass Conference for Scholarships, a weekend hosted by music publisher Charles Colin. The following year Dr. Colin hired me to extract parts to some compositions that had been commissioned for several large brass ensembles, and I got a real idea of the calibre of musicianship in the NYC freelance scene. Of course, there were legendary performers, teachers & honorees like Clark Terry, William Vacchiano, Manny Klein, Don Butterfield and Art Farmer – as well as headlining celebrities like Bill Watrous, Doc Severinson and Marvin Stamm – but there were also so many incredible rank & file players whose skills were astonishing! To hear a group of 20 to 30 of these guys all sightreading a new piece was mindblowing to me – I’d sure never seen anything like that at UConn!
After the conference was over, I got to attend some “rehearsal” bands that got together to play for the love of it, and to keep their chops up. Wayne Andre along with Alan Raph led an octet of trombonists whose sound was pure heaven! Much like the Los Angeles counterpart, Hoyt’s Garage https://alankaplan.hearnow.com/secrets-of-hoyts-garage – which shaped and encouraged musical excellence among Hollywood session players.
It can be difficult to find such ensemble perfection these days – and not just because of these past two years of the pandemic. I think my generation was spoiled by our culture; by a public education system that valued music enough to make it a required part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school. By commercial radio stations that programmed all types of music simultaneously, to appeal to listeners of all ages, so that Louis Armstrong’s HELLO DOLLY was on the top of the Billboard popular charts the same week as folk, rock, surfer songs, Motown and The Beatles! By TV variety shows that featured all genres of music, from classical to dance to pop and beyond. And by respect for the amount of individual effort that went into continually refining and raising the standards of professional musicianship.
I remember when I finally got to live my heart’s desire and work in the recording studios. And how older musicians would tell me how I’d “missed it”, because for them it had been SO good in the 1950s and 1960s; everyone had been working all the time, everybody was busy with records and jingles and film scores, and I’d just been born too late! I’d MISSED the heyday of the music business!
But I hadn’t. I’d seen and heard and been there when it was glorious; when music was rapturous and took my breath away; when superbly skilled musicians worked miracles, outdoing one another with inventive ideas and exquisite performances. To me, that was as good as it gets.