Friday, September 18, on his 56th birthday, trumpet player, Stacy Blair died in his sleep.
Stacy was blind since birth. Stacy Blair, “blind since birth”. Those words were always present before or after his name in the many programs and newspaper articles he was featured in for the many, many performances he did all over the world. “Stacy Blair,… BSB”, as some of the Cowboy Band guys called him. Of course they substituted different words in those initials. In fact, no one really said anything other than ‘BSB’. It was implied and that’s what made it funny. Subtlety. And Stacy, who warriored through life with his sense of humor, laughed harder than anyone at the good natured joke. In fact, Stacy’s sense of humor and his self styled persona of not taking himself too seriously was one of his great traits and one of the things I think people will remember about him. Stacy was always ready with a corny joke or self-effacing jibe at himself. I was hoping to relive and experience some of that at his service.
Stacy – undergrad days at
Hardin Simmons Univ.
Sep. 22, was Stacy’s service in his hometown of Eastland Tx. There were about 70 people in attendance including a dozen or so of his former college band mates. There was a recording of Stacy’s during the service. A loop played of some of Stacy’s religous recordings during the service – an album he’d done of hymns. Even he would have agreed – not the best example of his work. Nor do I believe the very thing he’d want to be remembered for. I longed to hear some of his classical works. The things that made him famous; that made him unique in the trumpet world. I missed that. On a personal note I had offered to speak at the service and even play. I also offered to get together players from the Metroplex for his service. I think half a dozen would have shown even on the short notice. I longed to hear a more personal message by people who knew him and could honor him.
So, I’ll give my own little eulogy. Some things I might have said…or would liked to have heard.
Stacy loved Mexican food. He loved cheap Mexican food. And Stacy found the crummiest, grungiest places. And he was loyal to his haunts. I don’t know how many times I’d say “Stacy, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go. My treat.” ” Oh no, no. This place has great enchiladas. It’s all you can eat on Wednesday for 2.99 …. and you get three of them.” “Oh, ok, Stacy.” Also, Stacy’s table manners left something to be desired, but that was part of his charm. He’d commandeer the only bowl of salsa at the table, eat out of it with a spoon, and ask where yours was. He’d blow his nose in the cloth napkins if it happened to be a place that fancy. I remember him licking the butter off, all up and down his forearm, from a freshly buttered piece of hot bread once. He offered great conversation and was fun to be around so you went with it. Again, that was part of his charm.
A story I like about Stacy is one where he was playing a fellow band member’s wedding at the Episcopal church in Midland Texas. At the rehearsal Stacy had played what he was asked to play- as a trumpet player should, but the preacher informed Stacy he was playing too loud and that “we didn’t play that loud in the Episcopal church”. ( I don’t know what he thought a trumpet did or what they were usually known for. I’ve been known to play loudly in a church or two, especially the Episcopal ones.) At any rate, Stacy humbly said he would comply. And the next day during the wedding Stacy opened up both barrels and proceeded to blow the doors off the church. A good trumpet story. A good Stacy Blair story. Draw your own conclusions.
Stacy loved a corny joke and he had a million of them. When he found out my wife was a viola player he rolled out the many viola jokes. “How do you know when a group of viola players is at your front door? They don’t know when to come in.” ” A viola player and an oboe player in the symphony were just sitting in rehearsal once….not playing. The conductor asked them why they weren’t playing. The oboe player said, she broke my reed. And the violist said, he turned a tuning peg and won’t tell me which one.” He briefly tried his hand at stand up comedy at a place up in Addison, north of Dallas. One of his jokes was something about being offered to take the controls on a flight once but he declined, citing the fact that he didn’t have a 35,000 foot leash for his seeing eye dog. His assistant band director from high school shared that Stacy had a habit as a youth of going down to the center of town and selling pencils just for the effect on a Saturday afternoon. He would also joke about this when I knew him too. “What are you going to do right now Stacy?” ” Oh, I think I’ll just go over here and sell pencils.”
I first met Stacy around the time he’d won the Andre competition in ’79. That was a couple of years after I’d started playing the horn. He had been a student of my father’s at Hardin Simmons. My Dad instructed him in music theory classes and made him write out his assignments on huge pieces of poster board with a staff a foot high and note heads as big as baseballs. He had limited vision then and was able to complete the assignments. He later told me that was good for him to know. When I was old enough to drive in high school I’d pick him up at the air port or bus station when he was coming back through town and he’d always give me a lesson. I remember feeling like I was wheeling around a local celebrity that no one knew but me. We’d usually go back to Hardin Simmons campus for our lesson. Once in his hotel room even. Afterwards he’d always suggest we go to Steak and Ale. I noticed as time went on our lessons got shorter and shorter, and our departure time for the restaurant got earlier and earlier. I remember being aware of this after only maybe a 15 minute lesson once. I let this bother me for a moment and then I thought, “what am I fighting? Let’s go eat.” Now, let me take this moment to say Stacy was extraordinarily generous. He gave me a lesson but he always paid. He always told me “if you’ve got it to spend, spend it on friends”. And he did. Stacy really introduced me to a fine steak dinner. Ah, the bourbon street strip. Good times.
As a teacher, my experience with Stacy was that he really didn’t interject a lot and was a man of few words. Whether there was a meal to be had afterwards or not. He quoted Andre’s teaching a lot even though he knew what he liked and had a sound in his head.
Stacy Blair ITG solo competition winner 1979
Stacy was really the stuff in the trumpet world after winning the Andre competition and was making the rounds all over for a while. He’d tell me stories of staying at Doc Sevrinson’s house for weeks at a stretch. He told me of attending a recording session of the re-recording of the latest iteration of the cornet solo theme song of The Walton’s during it’s last season. He told me of the rigueurs of the Andre competition itself and his year in France studying with the man as part of the contest winnings. (He always said Andre would say “a little French wine and a little piccolo trumpet playing as a daily regimen keep you in shape”). Stacy spoke about a world of performing and people I wanted to be a part of. This was all cool stuff to a boy who’d grown up in West Texas and didn’t always exactly fit into the environment he’d been placed in. He also helped me understand developing a daily routine and approach to the instrument which I draw on to this day. I had many good teachers who helped me understand the fundamentals and literature, but it really was Stacy who helped me formulate my own warm up. Long tones, lip slurs with lots of rest in between. Followed by some rest before you have to really play. Basic stuff, but when you’re 12 or 13, who knew?
Oh, and I can’t forget,…Stacy had as part of his daily routine an exercise he said he picked up from Maurice Andre called the three C’s. It was the last part of his warm up. He’d play middle C. High C. And Double C that was ear splitting enough to do battle with Maynard or Bill Chase.
Stacy had been advised by Adolph Herseth in the lesson or two he took with him to have a mold of his teeth made. Herseth, having had his own dental issues earlier in his career, had warned Stacy that his dental structure was his bread and butter and Stacy took this advice to heart. Stacy urged me to do the same. I may just be a humble public school teacher and pedestrian player myself in this world but I concur with these gentleman on the subject (this is a topic I could write a whole article on myself). Stacy had a safe where he stored his prize possessions, consisting really of just his teeth impressions and letters and post cards from friends around the world. Stacy had a V shaped wedge that his teeth formed that he played on. And of this wedge one tooth stuck out a little further than the other. Stacy called this his “Brandenburg tooth”. His money tooth.
Regarding his time competing in the Maurice Andre competition: he would tell me often of something that happened, I believe in the second round. He really brought it all to life for me and helped me know the behind the scenes workings, praising very highly, the accompanying orchestra players; having to play the same piece over and over, all day for each contestant. He had just finished playing the Haydn and went out in the lobby afterward. Pierre Thibaud, whom I believe had some students competing, walked past him and said, “Monsieur Blair, your Hadyn sounds like s—.” Stacy stood there, I guess understanding that this was the part of the psychology(or spirit of competition), and just seconds later Andre came by saying “wonderful, wonderful Sta-cee“. As he walked past Stacy he could hear the smile in his voice and on his face, telling Stacy how well he’d done. As Stacy put it, “well, I figured the contest had Andre’s name on it and he liked what I did so that was good enough for me.” That’s the version Stacy told. Now, exaggerated on Stacy’s part or not, you have to admit it’s a good story. That’s his story and I’m sticking to it.
He told me of a time shortly after he’d won the Andre that George Yeager, former conductor of the Abilene Philharmonic, called him very last minute to fill in for another soloist who’d canceled. I believe Mr. Yeager asked him to play the Arutunian trumpet concerto with the symphony. This was the very piece that Stacy played in the final round of the Andre competition that won him top prize. Yeager apologized up front by saying they could only pay him 3,000 for his appearance. This was still very early in Stacy’s career and being used to 50 dollars a performance, modest love offerings in churches, and things of that nature, this was a lot of money to him. He told me he took in the amount for a moment, knew that the bus ride from Eastland to Abilene would cost very little, and would take him right to the Civic Center doors practically. He used to laugh when telling me this story….his response to Yeager’s apologetic request was, “that’s fine”.
The classical division of CBS records was considering signing Stacy as a classical trumpet artist around this time. From what I understand it almost happened until a young, then unknown, trumpet player named Wynton Marsalis came on the scene. Stacy’s career and his playing seemed to taper off as time went on and I think health issues and personal problems caused him to never get back to where he was. Through the years he played less and less, doing the occasional Star Spangled Banner at a ball game,and seemed to be doing more speaking engagements on behalf of the blind and other organizations. He also had been broken into several times and most of his horns were stolen including his Bb Bach. When I saw Stacy last spring he had a First Act trumpet someone had gotten him from Walmart.
Through his association with the seeing eye dog program he had two dogs through the years which he loved dearly – Kellog and Guthrie. Because of Stacy’s epilepsy in his last years he was no longer eligible for a seeing eye dog. As you can imagine they provided Stacy with companionship as well as helping with his day and he was saddened greatly not to have them around anymore.
Stacy and Guthrie
I had stayed in touch with Stacy off and on through out the years and had recently gotten back in touch with him because of his many personal matters. Not the least of which was his health. After helping him get help he eventually ended up at an assisted living center about a half a mile from me. We took Stacy out for dinner once and we spoke on the phone often. I didn’t find the time to see him again. I kept telling him, and myself, that I just needed to get the first 4 or 5 weeks of school under my belt and then we’d have him over for a home cooked meal. Ironically, as I started to feel like I could breath a little, he died on the Friday of the fourth week, his birthday. It’s one of those things that puts everything in perspective and makes many things seem inconsequential.
After many health issues he seemed up beat and very positive about the future. I spoke to him two days before he died. He was making plans to get together a group of trumpet players for his birthday, the Sunday after. In between classes I called him and played Happy Birthday on his answering machine, that Friday, the morning of his birthday. I stuck a little personalized quote at the end as I like to do for people I know (a little bit of the Vivaldi oboe concerto adapted for piccolo trumpet from his first album). I waited to hear back from him that day. I played for him about 9:30 that morning. The nurses think he was gone at 8:30.
I had another trumpet teacher, whose opinion I respected, make the comment that Stacy had made a career of being a Maurice Andre impersonator. I like to think Stacy made a career out of furthering baroque trumpet music in the world. At the time I remember thinking that was maybe a bit harsh and unfair. After all, isn’t every trumpet player trying to copy Maurice Andre to an extent? Everyone should be so lucky to get close to that (I’ve taken note of the fact that Wynton has styled his piccolo playing very close Andre’s, in my opinion).
We’d made plans even further down the road of attending a baroque trumpet concert at TCU on October 17, a Sunday night. I told him we would and I plan on making it there and thinking of him that night.
As I said, Stacy had a stylized persona that I kind of kidded about. I always got a kick out of his out going message. He introduced himself by saying “Hello, I’m Stacy Blair”. I would kid him about this and told him it sounded like he was introducing himself on a ’70’s variety show. I always waited for, and expected, applause and a theme song to kick in. I’m going to write that song (UPDATE- I wrote that song) and plan on paying homage to Stacy with a Youtube video some day.
Stacy was a teacher and friend to me, problems and all. I can’t help but think I could have done more for him near the end. You lay in bed at night thinking about those types of things. I hope I was something of a friend to him.
Rest in peace Stacy Blair, BSB.
Stacy and Guthrie before the show
Some Stacy links, including his website