2012
04.06

On Easter Sunday, my sophomore year in college, we went over to my old high school friend – Mike Pekowski’s house to pick out a new kitten. I had just played my annual trumpet gig in the Episcopal church. Spring was in the air and life was new and fresh. It was Easter and seemed the right time to bring a new cat home.  A new life.  An Easter cat.  We picked out a little yellow, baby fur covered, fuzz ball and brought him home. He was so little he fit in one hand. We put this yellow powder puff down next to the family dog to see how this new pairing would work. We noticed a little sound of air escaping in the room coming from somewhere. We heard it twice more before we realized it was the teeny thing attempting to assert itself by hissing at the dog. We all laughed and fell in love with him immediately. Jack, as he would eventually be called, became a beloved family pet. We even had a chair for him at the table. He saw me through many a time. Good and bad. He was a good friend. Or maybe I just projected these traits on him.  Maybe that’s what a friend is in any form. Who knows.

At any rate, Jack lived to 15 years. Somewhere around this time he developed a lesion in his eye that looked like a cracked marble at the bottom of grandma’s jar. I was not living at home by this point but when I’d come back I remember telling my mother we needed to take him to the vet and get this checked out. My mother always said this was the way things were and there was nothing you could do about it. “Nature.”  Being a little more pro-active, I didn’t then, and don’t usually prescribe to that philosophy, but that’s more my mother’s outlook on life.  Jack died soon after this. I wonder what would have happened had we acted sooner.

My youngest, Nicholas, has trouble functioning and relating in his preschool classroom setting. Despite a very advanced verbal skill set for a child his age, his teachers have given us a long laundry list of things he does, and doesn’t do, that we’ve noticed at home but have learned to live with. Or just wait for him to grow out of. We have an appointment to take him to a behavioral and sensory specialist. My mother says “he’s three years old and there’s nothing wrong with him” ….” he’ll grow out of it.”  I don’t know if this is another example of Jack or not. We’ll find out next Wednesday when he has his first assessment with the specialist.

2012
03.02

Davy Jones

Davy

Davy, my favorite Monkee

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my childhood influences died on leap day. Davy Jones.

I’ve often said I learned how to sing harmony from Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz. In our house growing up, pop music was more or less verboden and the Monkees were my introduction to music other than classical.  And to me, just a lot of fun.  Much like Star Trek, I was part of that second wave that discovered the Monkees when they were re-run on Saturday morning at 11:00.

I saw the Monkees at the old ball park in Arlington back in ’86 on their reunion tour.  Everyone stayed after the game for this concert.  Best feeling concert I’ve ever been to.  We sang our heads off all night to every song.   We danced with slinky barefoot chicks in front of us on this hot summer night.  Most fun I’ve ever had at a concert.  What a great show. And I’ve been to a million concerts.  Evidently was to Davy and the Monkees too.   It’s one he mentions in his autobiography too.  And yes, I have Davy’s autobiography.

My first year of teaching I used to go sing in a Karaoke bar just about every Tuesday and Thursday night.   I was a regular and was known as a pretty fearless competitor there.  I had a fairly eclectic and wide repertoire.  A pyrotechnique-y Earth Wind and Fire, a throaty and bluesy David Clayton Thomas- Blood Sweat & Tears number.  A Willie Nelson medley.  A Tom Jones.  A David Lee Roth.  But in particular  I always did a Davy Jones “Day Dream Believer” as my warm up.  I’d won with that actually.  As I recall it was the Ann Murray version and I’d ask the host to put it up in Davy’s key for me every time.   Her’s was actually a 5th lower.

There was an old biker couple who’d come to the place, whom I learned after a while, were coming to see me.  (Nice to have a fan(s))  I remember it was January after Christmas break and I was there to break in the New Year again.  That night Entertainment Tonight was on in the bar and they reported it was Davy Jones birthday.  Happy Birthday Davy.  I dedicated the night to Davy.

The next week, the very next Tuesday, I was at the place again and Davy’s picture came on the screen again during Entertainment Tonight.  Seems he’d been arrested for DWI this time.  I dedicated the night again to him.  I looked across the room and found my biker fans.   The three of us had a knowing but reverential chuckle between ourselves.

I loved Davy.   I don’t care what people say about him or the Monkees.   As I’m finding out from all the responses on his death he was to them what he was to me.  A great, natural performer.  Somebody who was fun.   Somebody who made me happy.

Here’s to Davy.

RIP

Davyhttp://www.cnn.com/2012/03/01/opinion/browne-davy-jones/index.html

RIP Davy

Thanks for being Davy

2012
02.20

Presidents Day

Sword and Shield

President’s Day.  It was a blessed holiday and respit from school and work.  I didn’t look at this holiday as I did most of the holidays we get.   Which are usually state or national holidays and therefore keep me from doing any of the mundane duties I have no time for during the work/school week like going to the bank or whatever.  Even on a day off like this, such as it is, I tend to look at it with a shade of negativity and lack of gratitude.  For whatever reason, maybe consious, I wouldn’t approach it that way today.

As I was readying for my morning walk I heard my 5 year old creating and instructing my 3 year old in a new game. This game was called “Sword and Shield.” I noted proudly to myself that “Shield” was a patriotice comic book character along the lines of Jack Kirby’s Captain America, created back in the ’40’s even if he didn’t know that.

My five year old was “Sword”. My 3 year old, he instructed, was “Shield”. They each had a plastic toy that represented their namesake. My oldest told the little brother he was to hold his plastic shield and “throw it at bad guys” when they found them. Big brother would “fight them with his sword”. Little brother’s other duties were to find bad guys and point them out when they were spotted. A scout as it were. It was implied he was to do it loudly and with great gusto. Traits he was very good at when the spirit so moved. He was a contributor in building excitement and energy to the make believe adventure. That makes sense in any relationship/venture.

In his defense it takes time to internalize the made up rules of the game and the youngest was not as quick at mustering up the necessary false enthusiasm or adrenaline to get the game going. A true actor/performer learns to harness this and is able to call on this when needed. He’ll learn. “Shield” wasn’t quite as quick at doing his part so “Sword” renamed him Fred. That somehow got the proper motivation for the scene and they ran down the hall looking for bad guys. Fred yelled out, (to the creator of this game’s immense satisfaction), “There’s the bad guys!!” I could almost see the comic book writing and speech ballons above their heads. ‘Fred/Shield’ was doing his part and ‘Sword’ was coming up with new minutae and permutations to the game as they went along. He was working on the fly and even surprising himself.

What a leader my big boy was being…and trying to be. What a big brother. How creative. How bossy. How protective and inventive. How full of –‘it’. How so….like me.

I remembered the desperate creativity and spontaneity of coming up with rules and structure, in a mostly unstructured day and environment, on the spur of the moment as a kid,…..as the rest of the neighborhood impatientently, and skeptically waited on you. I was getting a self taught crash course on extemperaneous delivery, and developing into a pretty good one, as a kid. I was very pleased to see my boy had the same qualities and had apparently, I think instinctively, recognized them as a discipline to practice.

He, if he hadn’t already, would recognize it as a great commodity later also.

2011
07.09

Piano Lessons

Piano lessons

Piano Lessons

When I was 4 until about the age of 6 1/2 I took piano lessons. I must admit I never learned to read music during this period and I just watched the teacher’s hands or mostly played by ear. My instructor was a good woman and a good teacher but the structure wasn’t quite right for me. I remember a few times being dragged away from Scooby Doo on a Saturday morning to practice. When you’re 5 you don’t quite understand this. Consequently piano lessons were not a good experience for me and ultimately I quit. I’ve regretted that ever since. I think I have the ear that could have helped me go far. Could have made a lot of things easier. When it was time for my child to take piano lessons I always said I’d do things differently with them.

My 4 yr old (soon to be 5 next month) and I visited a potential piano teacher this Saturday summer morning. One of her stipulations for teaching a new student is that we come to her house and observe her teaching another student.  We were to come and observe to see if, in her words,  “this was suited for him”.

I don’t know exactly what it is a 4 yr. old is going to ‘observe’.   Seems to me you either teach the child or you don’t.   Also seems to me you observe the student.  Not the other way around.  Both my boy’s parent’s are music teachers.   His Grandfather was a musician and music teacher.  This fall will be my 19th year teaching public school music myself and I’ve never asked somebody to come observe me. At least not when they’re pursuing instruction as a student.  I often quote my father who coined the phrase, years before Nike, “Just Do It”.   Seems again, that’s all that need be done.

Observe.   Sheesh.

We arrived at the piano teacher’s house as she was teaching a very small, very well mannered Viatnamese girl.   She was 6 but pretty advanced and was the kind of example that makes you feel like a dumb, lazy American.  Her mother and her brother both occupied the same plush chair in the corner of the studio and quietly served as an audience as she took her lesson.

The instructor was a well ordered and organized woman with a neat house that lent itself to a nice learning environment.  By the entrance of the house she had a little room which opened up through two French doors where two pianos sat side by side.  This was her studio with lots of teaching aids, books, charts and posters.  She and her house reminded me of people and places I’d known a million times before.  A musician, and more specifically, a piano teacher’s house.

There were two little chairs set up for spectators framed by each French door and we took our places during this ‘observation’ lesson.  I had instructed my son to be quiet during the lesson.  He was.  Again, being 4, and his mind being a lot like mine (and I become acutely aware of that fact at times like this), he observed other things.  He practiced winking to me.  He practiced his best Popeye face. He quietly whispered to me wondering what and why the French doors were.  He noticed the vaulted ceiling in her living room.   He noticed her ceiling fan (a big priority in our house hold).  I also believe, no doubt, that he soaked up every note of music that was being played.   But he didn’t want to observe.   He learns from doing like I do.  “Observe” I thought.  I very maturely and politely sat there the whole time but it made me madder the longer I sat there as I observed my son observing.

When she was done with this lesson she said nothing to us, other than dismissing us before her next lesson came in.  She never evaluated my boy.   Never seized him up.   Didn’t even act like there’d be future meetings.  As we left he was a bit confused and asked when his piano lesson was to begin.   I still didn’t know the answer to this.

But what I did know as I left is I’ve always known I was a little different.   Knew that I did things differently.   Learned differently.  Always heard the refrain in my head from “West Side Story’s” There’s A Place For Us.   I heard it again as I was leaving her house but realized I was hearing it now for me and my son.

2011
01.10

Snow Days

A boy and his brother

A boy and his brother

Ah, snow days. My boys admiring the snow on a day I’d have liked to stay home.

I get a kick out of, when the first mention of perceived inclement weather is announced on the news, the private schools are always the first ones to call into the news stations.  They love to throw in the towel early and easily.  As I watch the crawl at the bottom of the screen for our school I see……. Our sister of Holy Sacrament….delayed 2 hrs.  Mother Mary Full of Grace Private School…..classes canceled. It dawned on me that’s one of those things I’m going to feature in my screen play when I get it written some day.

They didn’t mention ours.   That’s okay.   I don’t want to have to go to a state mandated, waste of time, make up day late in May or June, on a Saturday, when no learning will be taking place and no one really wants to be there.  There’s a lack of common sense in the school biz.   Which is another thing I plan on mentioning in my screen play.

I got a good picture out of it.   That’s better than going in late for work.

2010
12.25
Santa Boys

The wonder of Christmas

This is the one year Anniversary of me starting a blog. (Actually last night, Christmas Eve, was) At any rate what originally started out as the cheapest, easiest way for my brother to give me a Christmas present last year has served it’s purpose. This is my Christmas entry this year.

Want to keep the wonder and merriment of youth as long as possible. We all need that a bit.

Merry Christmas!

2010
11.28
Thanksgiving -  passing a kidney stone

Thanksgiving - passing a kidney stone

This is how I spent my Thanksgiving, 11/25/10, in an Emergency Room passing a kidney stone. This is my third stone to pass. The first time was four years ago, about three weeks before my first son was born.

When a kidney stone hits you you know it at first by having a dull throbbing pain in the small of your back. You have a bloated feeling in your stomache that progresses to nausea.  Cold chills.   Uncontrollable shaking.  Teeth chattering.  And it eventually all breaks down to a clammy, cold sweat.    It’s really beyond your control and I believe it’d put the strongest man down on the ground.

When you’re in the ambulance being driven to the hospital the EMTs love to ask you lots of questions. I pat myself on the back both time’s I’ve done this for being able to think clearly enough to give them my date of birth and social security through a frothing mouth and blurred vision. They ask you all the, “are you allergic to any medications?” questions, and again, it’s mind numbing  just to think of your own name during this process.   But when that first cold strain of nausea medicine kicks into your arm from an IV drip life is a little better.

Once you’re in the hospital, laying on the stretcher, convulsing after your first batch of pain medicine has worn off, you have lots more people come and ask more intelligent questions. “So, what’s the problem buddy?”, “you feeling some pain?” It’s almost as if kidney stones were never covered in medical school or nursing classes.  I know it was Thanskgiving and everyone working that day had drawn the short straw. While  I may not have had the “B” team working for me that day, because I like to think everyone is a professional, I definitely had “B” team mentality working for me that day.  Some more of the great questions I got were, “you seem to be asking some of the same questions, sir”   We’re concerned about your brain right now”.  I didn’t feel any of my questions were repeated for no reason or were insignificant requests.  I had asked for water more than an hour ago and still hadn’t gotten any.   And I very vocally asked for pain meds the third or fourth episode of pain that hit me.   I wasn’t nice about it that time.   Pain is a wonderful motivator and observes very few social niceties.

I mentioned I’d had my first stone 4 years ago.   It hit me the very first day of teacher inservice.   I broke out into a cold sweat as we all sat assembled in the library of the school.  These are meetings they make teachers go to a few days before school starts, before the students have to show up.   They’re basically mental bootcamp and ra ra meetings to get teachers back into the mind set to do what we have to do.   They have always felt like the most torturous, invasive, waste of time procedures in the world.  Of these preschool meetings, it seems to be an unwritten rule not to give you any time in your room to prepare or get your self ready for the school year.  I believe they teach this in administrator school.  It seems to be looked at as a weakness that anyone would require preparation time when that really is all that’s on your mind the whole time.  Asking for it also is completely frowned upon.  I look at them as if I’m being violated and just wait for them to be over.  I look at them like a I do a plane flight…I just keep my head down and count down the minutes till it’s up.

As this particular meeting progressed the pain grew more and more.   I was barely able to drive my self home with each wave of pain and nausea causing uncontrollable convulsions.   Once I got home  I tried to sweat it out another two hours before I called my wife for help.   I finally got a ride from an ambulance and spent the rest of the night in the ER.

As much pain as is involved in passing a kidney stone I mentioned to my wife at the time that I’d rather go through this than sit in those teacher’s meetings.  I’m still fighting and passing this third one but I still stand by that assertion.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

2010
10.12

Stacy Blair

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.
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

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?

Stacy Blair

Stacy Blair

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

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 a show

Stacy and Guthrie before the show

Some Stacy links, including his website

http://stacyblair.org/Stacy_Blair/Home.html

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-blairob_30met.ART.Central.Edition1.33294aa.html

http://www.trumpetguild.org/news/10/1067sb.html

2010
10.06

Stacy Blair

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.

Sep. 22, was Stacy’s service in his hometown of Eastland Tx.   There were about 70 people in attendance including about a dozen of his former college band mates.   I have to admit the message delivered wasn’t exactly what I would have liked (or done myself).  Anyone of the band members there that day could have related humorous and personal anecdotes.  I understand the service was arranged per Stacy’s wishes but it just wasn’t as personal as I would have liked.  I missed that.

There was a recording of Stacy’s music played 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 too.o

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.  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.” Stacy really introduced me to a fine steak dinner.   Ah, the bourbon street strip.   Good times.

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 doing 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.

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 to Abilene from Eastland 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 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.

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.  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 a dismissive comment once about Stacy, saying that he had made a career 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 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).

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 sayingHello, 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.

Some Stacy links, including his website

http://stacyblair.org/Stacy_Blair/Home.html

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-blairob_30met.ART.Central.Edition1.33294aa.html

http://www.trumpetguild.org/news/10/1067sb.html

2010
08.01

Texas Twang

Nicholas, the runaway

Nicholas, the runaway

I believe I’m going to have to hire the vocal coach who worked with Larry Hagman when he went out to Hollywood to start “I Dream of Jeannie”. Perhaps an elocution or diction expert. My youngest boy, now 2, is talking at an accelerated rate every day.   And to my horror, is talking more and more like my mother (whom he stays with during the work day).   While I’m grateful she looks after him I think I need to give her a gag order not to speak to, or around, either of my children.   He’s picked up more and more of her West Texas twang then I would like.    He’s started to say phrases like “I cain’t do it, Dad.    I wont to get out of my high chair, Dad.     I don’t wont to, Dad. I cain’t and I wont. When he asks to stay in the bathtub a little longer the word STAY has 14 syllables in it.

My mother’s a good woman, a sweet woman, but she’s from Snyder Texas.   Powers Booth is from Snyder.   Lee Horsely is from Snyder.   That weepy eyed Brad Maul from General Hospital, or One Life Live, or some annoying ABC soap is from Snyder.  Tommy Lee Jones grew up close to there.  Dan Blocker grew up close to there.   Those people are allowed to speak that way but not my son.   It’s really not fair.   He doesn’t know he’s doing it and has no defenses yet.

I’m getting on it.   And I guess I should have said, yes, Larry Hagman is from Texas.   Weatherford, I believe, near Dallas.   I’ve heard Hagman lately.   He seems to have not had a relapse after all these years.   I’ll find his coach.