Tag Archives: sense of rhythm

World’s Oldest Flugelhornist

14 Jan


Eat Your Hearts out Chuck, Chet, and Terry


A few summers ago my wife Diane and I  discovered another great thing about living in Kentuckiana–  the performances that marked the conclusion of the annual Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops. One of the performances   was at the old Masterson’s Restaurant before it was demonished and featured some great jazz talents  including one of my   favorites, the  world renowned jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, Bobby Shew. Seeing him play triggered a flood of memories and envious feelings.

When I was 11 years old I began playing the cornet in the school band.  The cornet is a trumpet-like instrument, that has a beautiful mellow tone,  except when I play it. Being essentially tone deaf and having no sense of rhythm, I reluctantly admit that I was always a lousy cornetist.

Fortunately my school band was not very competitive, so I was banished to the third chair, playing the same two notes over and over again, along with other musically challenged dilettantes. There we stayed for six years playing, as Jane Austen would put it, “very ill indeed”.

All of the  half-way serious musicians  passed me up to second, first, and solo chairs. But because of my seniority, I became the acknowledged third chair leader. I took some pleasure in tormenting my chair-mates who were, of course, the only musicians in the world worse than me.  Poor players, such as us, are always lost. In particular we are unable to accurately count rests, so we never know exactly when to start playing. As the leader, my colleagues would look to me for guidance. As often as not, I would be lost myself, but I would pretend to start playing. The others would then, in a panic,  make a loud and inappropriate entrance.  I would immediately  put down my horn  and get ready to shrug my shoulders and slowly shake my head when the director glared at us.

In  high school  my highly sensitive football coach did not appreciate me missing a practice to go on the annual band trip. I believe he said something like, “Waddaya  want us to do next Stawar, stop the blankety blank football game, so you can prance out on the field and toot your little horn.”

And so my music career went. Once in a while, the band director would give us flugel horn music to play.  A flugelhorn is like an oversized cornet (or half of a baratone) and since our band did not have one, the third chairs played this music. The flugelhorn parts were nice, easy-to-play melodies for the most  part, so I decided that I was really meant to be a flugelhorn player instead of a cornetist. That lousy cornet was the real problem. I imagined  that one day I would get a flugelhorn and become “The World’s Greatest Flugelhorn Player”—  just like Clark Terry,  Chet Baker,  or even Bobby Shew.  

A few years pass. Well,  actually 38 years pass and here I am,  inSouthern Indiana. On a whim I bought a $25 trumpet at a Goodwill Store and start playing again and decide now is the time to make my move.   On e-Bay I found I could buy a flugelhorn fromIndiana  for only  $1.71 and about $900 in postage and handling.  After a lot of  research I finally bought one.   It is basically a Booby Shew Flugelhorn knock  off  and looks great,  but somehow it is not as easy or wonderful as I imagined.  In fact it sounds a lot like my old crummy cornet.

Our former church music director, who was  a profession musician, heard that I had bought a flugelhorn and asked me if I want to play with the church brass group.  Excited, I agreed and went to the first practice. All of the other players were  high school students. I automatically slid  into the last chair position and regressed to age 16 and almost broke out in acne. Besides me,  there were four boys who all seemed to have approximately the same name.  I could never tell them apart.

Also I soon learned the flugelhorn parts were not as easy as I remembered,  so the director dumbed them down enough so I could play them. Soon I was basically playing the same two notes over and over again—just like high school. The rehearsals at the director’s house were also quite embarrassing as I constantly  humiliated myself,  committing one faux pas after another. I forgot to bring the proper pencil. I opened my spit key on the director’s carpet. I didn’t  know where the tuning slide was on a flugel horn, and I ignored the sharps and flats on the first  piece we played. The director explained that sharps and  flats  were like road signs on the highway. If we do not obey these signs there will likely be a horrendous accident. I think I was then cited for reckless fingering.

At the  performance the director humorously introduced me as one of the “new kids”  and  told everyone I bought my horn on e-Bay. Within a few months  I found myself casually replaced by a teenage flugelhorn player with a lot of hair. Another one of those Ians or Jason I suspect. In all fairness I was out of town a lot and  missed several performances. Can I help it if none of the other musicians had to visit their grandchildren?

As we chanegd churches  another phase of my  dubious musical career closes, I have to admit   I obviously wasn’t the world’s greatest flugelhorn player. But Idid feel like I was possibly the world’s oldest flugelhorn player