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IM Cover - Herb Smith

Herb Smith

Music Is an Underrated Path to Social Justice

When trumpet player Herb Smith of Local 66 (Rochester, NY) read the news about a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally being organized in downtown Rochester last summer, he knew he needed to take part in some way. This wasn’t a new feeling for him. Tall and dreadlocked, Smith may look imposing, but he carries a quiet, unshakable conviction. In this case, he was convinced in the power of music to heal.

“Throughout history, music has been tied in with protest and was a motivator for change,” says Smith, a prominent jazz musician, educator, and conductor who has played third trumpet in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) since 1991, following graduation from the Eastman School of Music. “A lot of so-called classical music was originally intended as revolutionary music for the people, by composers like Sibelius and Shostakovich.”

Smith says it has become too easy these days to lose the connection with this concept, especially given the common mischaracterization of classical music as stuffy and elitist. Part of Smith’s aim is to dispel that idea. “As an RPO musician—and the only Black person in the orchestra—I wanted to show my support for the BLM movement. And it seemed to me that the RPO was the perfect way to do that.”

Clearing the Way

There were, however, considerable hurdles to clear. The BLM event was a gathering to raise awareness for the #SayHerName campaign remembering Black women and girls who have been victims of police brutality. It was taking place barely a week after another peaceful rally had devolved into a spate of vandalism and looting, resulting in arrests and damage to more than 80 businesses.  Downtown Rochester was in a state of heightened tension.

Smith nevertheless knew it was vital to bring the healing power of music to the same place where there had recently been violence—and to make the RPO an important part of this healing. “It’s crucial for an orchestra to become more involved in the fabric of its city,” he believes. Big arts organizations like orchestras benefit from connecting more to what’s current and increasing their visibility. As important as it was for Rochester to see music as a healing thing, it was equally crucial for the city to see the RPO as an inseparable part of that,” he says.

But of course, there was also a rapidly spreading pandemic limiting sizable gatherings, including public performances by large groups like symphony orchestras. In the face of these challenges, Smith hit upon the perfect solution: he would conduct an outdoor performance of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” played in downtown Rochester’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park by 14 physically distanced members of the RPO’s brass and percussion section.

“There couldn’t be a more perfect piece,” he says. “Think about where that fanfare originated: Copland was inspired to write it in 1942 after hearing a speech by then Vice President Henry A. Wallace, proclaiming the dawning of the ‘Century of the Common Man’ and talking about the freedoms and duties by which we must live.”

Music and Education Go Together

Such ideas fall neatly in line with Smith’s overarching philosophy of connecting people with music through both performance and education. Smith started playing the trumpet in his native Cincinnati at the age of nine. “Tuba was too big, and flute was too small,” he recalls. “The trumpet was Goldilocks: just right.” Middle school presented him with a choice: a math-oriented school, or a school for creative arts. He chose the latter. Then in high school, he led a school musical, Peter Pan—and that inspired his second passion: conducting, closely tied in with his role as a music educator.

Smith has been a past teaching artist for the Wolf Trap Foundation, Rochester City School District, Young Audiences for Learning, and Aesthetic Science Institute. His teaching forays regularly take him to Rochester’s city schools. “These organizations trained me in how to present music from all over the world in a way that’s accessible to children and young adult nonmusicians,” he explains. “I’ll get in front of an entire K-6 school singing songs, sometimes playing the guitar very badly. With just six chords, you can play 300 tunes!” he laughs. Then he’ll play a recording of the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. “Everyone knows that. But I ask them to count every time they hear that opening theme in the first minute. And sometimes it’s not very obvious. So now we’re into critical thinking and analyzing. It’s amazing to see their eyes light up.”

Last March, right before the pandemic shut everything down, Smith harnessed all these experiences, including his conducting skills, to put together an education program designed specifically for the RPO. “The organization took a chance on me. I was happy with how it turned out, and even the orchestra seemed to enjoy it.”

Smith feels that for many kids, classical music is like a lost language. “To make it come alive again, you have to get them inside of it to learn how it works.” Smith believes these concerts should connect the components of music with universal emotions. For orchestras, this has important implications. “Young people don’t just come to a concert anymore because there’s a Mahler symphony on the program,” he says. “They need to be let in on the secret of why Mahler is so great.”

A side effect to demystifying Mahler is also demystifying the conductor. Says Smith: “Seeing how conductors have often presented themselves and the music in educational concerts left me feeling that it could be done better. My goal is to show that there is no wall between the conductor, orchestra, and audience. We’re all the same. The music is a completely shared experience between all three. Remove one piece, and the tripod falls. “

When Not Waving the Stick

In typical years, trumpet and conducting go in tandem. When not playing in the RPO, Smith is a frequent collaborator with other jazz musicians in Western New York, and plays in the theater pit for touring musicals. Over the past very long year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when none of those things have been happening, he says his biggest musical outlet has been composing and arranging. He also spent quality time singing with his teenage daughter, Joy, napping, and drinking a decent glass of wine.

Among his recent forays is an entire album of original tunes for his jazz trio, the Freedom Trio. The combo is one of the most prominent groups on the local jazz scene, with frequent (before COVID-19) club appearances and annual stints at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Their newest album is composed entirely of Smith’s original charts. He says live gigs are starting back slowly in Rochester, albeit with small audiences due to continued restrictions on gatherings. “And the way our trio is set up, we’re actually already safely distanced from each other,” he reassures.

Another post-pandemic initiative is a new chamber concert series through the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra called Truth Is of No Color, which has as its focus Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) composers. “In my 30-year relationship with this orchestra, there has never been an intentional, extended focus on nonwhite composers,” says Smith. “People have often asked me about Black composers. Till now, my typical response has been, how would I know? Music schools never taught us about them. For centuries, BIPOC classical composers have been hidden from view, swept under the rug, and in some cases, even intentionally erased from history.”

Smith says it’s gratifying to work with the RPO’s staff on the series, and to see how this project is not just something being done to check a diversity box. “Everyone in the RPO believes it’s something that needs to be done, and long overdue.”

Taking on a formative role in the new series gives Smith optimism for the future of diversity in the orchestral field. “It gives these composers a platform for their work to be experienced and enjoyed by all audiences.” Smith adds that acknowledging the diversity that has always existed in classical music, since the 1700s, could play a role in the future of the industry. “When racially diverse kids see that people like themselves are creating great music, it could be just the encouragement they need to explore playing an orchestral instrument.” It’s not that far of a stretch, he adds, that projects like these could even potentially help reverse the trend of declining audiences for orchestras around the country. 

Union at the Heart of It All

Smith says juggling all of his creative outlets—and getting fairly compensated for them—would not be possible without the AFM. “I joined in 1989,” he recalls. “I was at Eastman, and my first union gig was for the circus. A guy actually came around to check for union cards,” he laughs. “Old-school!” Joking aside, Smith acknowledges that historically, musicians were often badly taken advantage of by unscrupulous bar and club owners. The union has largely put a stop to that. “We can thank the collective strength of the union for protecting us and providing safe working environments.”

These days, Smith’s union involvement goes deeper: he currently serves on the Local 66 board of directors, which boasts notable minority representation through Smith and several other board members. He believes the union has an unshakable place in shaping the future of music in the US. Right now, with COVID-19 still a threat, Smith sees an important role for the AFM in helping ensure safety protocols, as well as determining rights for streamed music going forward.

“It’s going to be a long road on the other side of this pandemic,” he says. “Musicians everywhere are just starting to get back to work and figure out how the industry should move forward. And without the union, none of this will be possible.”

Little Augie and His Trumpet

This children’s book by Local 802 (New York City) member Augie Haas is about a young boy who discovers the magic of music, and dedicates his time to learning the trumpet. Little Augie learns that playing the trumpet is not as easy as he thought it would be, but he is determined to get better. After days, weeks, and months of practicing, Little Augie invites the neighborhood over to hear the fruits of his labor. He didn’t anticipate that he would be so nervous and need the help of his friends and family to give him the courage to perform.

Little Augie and his Trumpet

Little Augie and His Trumpet, written and illustrated by Augie Haas, Playtime Music, www.augiehaas.com.

Wynton Marsalis to Receive Ken Burns American Heritage Prize

Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, a member of Local 802 (New York City), has been named the recipient of the 2020 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize. The award will be presented May 6, 2020, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Named in honor of America’s most revered visual historian and filmmaker, the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize recognizes individuals whose achievements have advanced our collective understanding of America’s heritage and the indomitable American spirit of our people. Nominees for the annual Prize consist of visionary artists, authors, educators, filmmakers, historians, and scientists. The candidates are chosen by a national jury of distinguished leaders who represent communities across the country and share a common appreciation of America’s heritage.

American Prairie Reserve, which created the prize, is described as a modern-day embodiment of America’s optimistic and boundless approach to accomplishing the unprecedented—in this case, by creating the largest nature reserve in the continental United States, located on the Great Plains of northeastern Montana.

“The momentum of folly leads us to embrace an intellectual and spiritual corrosion that confuses commerce with cultivation, remuneration with regeneration, and money with meaning. I love the term ‘rewilding’ because it is at once innovation and conservation. American Prairie Reserve’s rewilding of our nation’s landscape reintroduces us to our natural instincts. Ken Burns’s rewilding of our collective memory illuminates the hidden corners of our humanity. Jazz is a music that rewilds the soul with every listen. I am deeply appreciative to receive this prize from an institution I respect, bearing the name of a genius I admire and on behalf of a music that defines us at our best,” said Marsalis upon being notified of his selection as the 2020 Prize recipient.

Marsalis is the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC), which he helped found. Marsalis grew up in a musical household in New Orleans and studied classical trumpet at The Julliard School in New York City, and pursued his love of jazz by joining Art Blakey’s band. Aside from overseeing Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis continues to perform, compose, and participate in educational workshops. Marsalis created the companion soundtrack recording to Ken Burns’s documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson and appeared in Burns’s Jazz and Country Music documentaries. In addition to his musical talent, Marsalis has written six books.

“It’s a privilege to lend my name to a prize honoring individuals whose accomplishments reinforce the nation’s understanding of all that is possible,” Burns said. “The prize we will present together to Wynton acknowledges the historic role that the Great Plains played in helping to shape America’s character. It’s that same character, courage, and fortitude that Wynton’s tremendous work elucidates.”

Ryan Anthony: CancerBlows

With His Foundation, Trumpeter Starts a Movement for Cancer Research

A world-class trumpeter and soloist, former Canadian Brass member, and principal trumpet for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Ryan Anthony is used to the rigor of performance. But for the last few years, his perspective on and off the stage has been severely tested.

In 2012, at 43 years old, Anthony of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth) was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that typically appears in patients 65 and older. Following a stem cell transplant, while in recovery, he received a deluge of support from the music community.

Doc Severinsen of Local 802 (New York City) and Local 47 (Los Angeles) called to ask how he could help. Anthony replied, “When I’m healthy again, I’d like to share the stage with you one more time.” During his long recovery, Anthony heard from trumpet players across the country offering support. He would joke, “When I’m well, we’ll all play a concert and call it ‘Cancer Blows.’” 

The concert not only happened three years later, it brought together a veritable who’s who of the brass-playing world. Anthony and his wife Niki thought that if a single concert could draw this much support—raising more than $1 million for cancer research—they could do more. They officially established The Ryan Anthony Foundation, specifically for cancer research, with proceeds going to the Baylor Health Care Research Foundation, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and other similar organizations.

CancerBlows concerts have taken off and have become the foundation’s premier event, featuring notables like Severinsen, who has been one of the organization’s most vocal supporters. Anthony says, “What’s amazing is the list of artists who surrounded me, who wanted to donate their time to make a difference.”

Key players who regularly participate are Local 47 members Arturo Sandoval, Wayne Bergeron, Wycliffe Gordon, Rashawn Ross (of the Dave Matthews Band), Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) member Lee Loughnane, and former Canadian Brass players Joe Burgstaller, Jens Lindemann, and Ronald Romm. Others include Allen Vizzutti, Vince DiMartino of Local 554-635 (Lexington, KY), Michael Sachs, David Bilger, Tom Rolfs of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), and Chris Martin and Randy Brecker of Local 802.

Known as a charismatic performer with a range of virtuosity, Anthony became principal trumpet of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2006. He had already embarked on an illustrious career as a 16-year-old prodigy, winning several national awards, including Seventeen Magazine/General Motors Concerto Competition’s grand prize. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), followed by a trumpet professorship at Oberlin Conservatory.

For three years, he was a member of the esteemed Canadian Brass. From there, he began a wide-ranging career, encompassing coast-to-coast performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Colorado Symphony, and the brass sections of the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Israel Philharmonic.

Brass legends line up for a CancerBlows concert to support the Ryan Anthony Foundation. Photo: Ryan Anthony Foundation

Anthony is heartened by the sheer number of musicians who have participated in his foundation’s concert. “Ironically, that’s what seems to be making the biggest difference in patients,” he says. “They’re seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of other musicians affected; they’re not alone.”

He has heard from cancer patients who say they are pressing on because of him, citing a piece that’s become the foundation’s anthem, “Song of Hope,” written for Anthony by his friend, British composer Peter Meechan. “[Patients] would begin and end their days with it,” he says. “It just changed their mental outlook, and therefore physical outlook. It started changing their numbers. And, remarkably, they started doing better.”

Another young patient, a musician, who had been hospitalized twice following suicide attempts, heard about the foundation and picked up the violin again. During a particularly grueling week for Anthony—after a change in medication—he was discouraged and thought it might be time to quit. But after a concert, he heard from the children of a patient who was in the audience that night. Their dad was resigned to living out his last years with no treatment. After hearing Anthony play, he had a change of heart.

In addition to funding medical research, the foundation serves the fine arts. Master classes are incorporated into each concert where students, some of whom have never been to the symphony, are introduced to the arts. Anthony says, “Other groups around the country are now doing concerts, raising funds and donating to CancerBlows.” This past year, he says “We’ve been getting requests and donations from groups and events in Europe and Australia. Some have called it a CancerBlows movement.”

Last month, a Dallas-based trumpet player and other musicians and volunteers biked across Nebraska for CancerBlows, kicking off the event with a pops concert in Lincoln, with another at the finish line. For five years, Lone Tree Brewing Company in Denver has hosted a fundraiser, crafting a special brew for the occasion.

For his work with patients—helping them manage their illness through music—Anthony received the Spirit of Hope award in 2016. In 2017, he received the Courage and Commitment award from the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). In July, he was awarded the prestigious International Trumpet Guild’s Honorary Award.

An extended hospital stay prevented him from attending the guild convention, so his children accepted the award on his behalf. “Doc made a big speech and we FaceTimed so I could be there as the whole audience yelled out and congratulated me,” Anthony says. “There was this feeling of support and love.”

The AFM Dallas local has been essential in working toward important long-term disability options. “They’ve looked into the case, connecting us with people. They’ve been right by our side and behind us, and ready to go to bat when we need to,” Anthony says. “They even brought in outsiders more familiar with long-term disability issues. We’ve been able to lean heavily on the union, in these past few months, especially.”

During his recent 40-day hospitalization, the nurses heard a lot about Anthony and his work. They started sharing CancerBlows concerts with patients and were treated to private performances as Anthony tried to keep his chops. He now serves as principal trumpet emeritus and is visiting professor of trumpet practice and chair of the Winds and Brass Division at Southern Methodist University. He will also be a visiting professor of trumpet at the University of Texas this coming school year.

“If I can help others have a more positive attitude, get them to the next place and using music to make that change—if there is a good scenario— we’ve created one,” he says. “What’s so incredible is the whole idea of using music as a vehicle. I’m witnessing, even beyond the musicians, but truly with the general public—we’re seeing the power of [music] and the number of other people getting behind us.”

For more information on the Ryan Anthony Foundation, visit cancerblows.com.

34 Orchestral Etudes for Trumpet

Vassily Brandt: 34 Orchestral Etudes for Trumpet

34 Orchestral Etudes for TrumpetFor more than a century, Vassily Brandt’s etudes have prepared trumpet players to play orchestral standards. This new edition was created to foster renewed awareness of note groupings, sequences, stylistic emphasis, and syncopation. Mark Clodfelter has also proposed transpositions for many of the etudes, utilizing Bb, C, and Eb trumpets. His fresh perspective makes this an indispensable edition for serious students.

Vassily Brandt: 34 Orchestral Etudes for Trumpet, edited by
Mark Clodfelter, Carl Fischer, www.carlfischer.com

Yamaha YTR 5330MRC Trumpet

Yamaha YTR 5330MRC Trumpet

Yamaha YTR 5330MRC TrumpetIn developing the YTR 5330MRC mariachi trumpet, Yamaha sought input from mariachi musicians in Mexico. In the end, they created an instrument with a sound and stunning visual impact perfect for the genre. It features reversed main tuning slide without bracing or water key for open feel and maximum airflow; double-plated bell and valve casing for crisp sound; and lacquered brass main tuning slide with extra long inner tube for a broad range of pitch adjustment.


Modern Etudes for Solo Trumpet

This collection of inventive and challenging etudes for trumpet players combines a variety of stylistic elements from early jazz to newer harmonic and intervallic concepts. Written for both aspiring and accomplished trumpet players, the book includes new compositions and melodies over popular standards like “But Not for Me,” “All the Things You Are,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” The accompanying CD features some of today’s greatest jazz trumpeters—Terell Stafford, Scott Wendholt, and Nick Marchione of Local 802 (New York City), plus Ingrid Jensen of Local 247 (Victoria, BC).

Modern Etudes for Solo Trumpet, by Cameron Pearce, Sher Music Co.,

Cincinnati Symphony Returns to Pre-Recession Orchestra Size

With the hiring of five new orchestra members, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) has fulfilled its promise to return the orchestra to 90 members. The newly hired positions include principal trumpet, principal clarinet, assistant principal French horn, assistant concertmaster, and a section cello position. CSO musicians are represented by Local 1 (Cincinnati, OH).

Filling these positions increases the orchestra’s complement by 18%. An aggressive endowment campaign announced two years ago supports the restored positions. CSO musician salaries currently rank 10th among US orchestras.

Paul Nowell

Paul Nowell: From Jazz to Hip-Hop, L.A.’s Trombone Evangelist

Paul NowellOne of the first gigs Paul Nowell landed just out of Berklee College in 2007 was a world tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The repertory was straight out of the swing era and he remembers that some of the sheet music was in Miller’s own handwriting. He says, “I thought, ‘Wow, this should be in a museum. Why am I on the bandstand reading this on a gig?’”

Nowell discovered the trombone in the fourth grade when his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. “The band director told my parents my arms weren’t going to reach it. I didn’t care. When I found out the trombone could do the plunger sounds from Peanuts—the adult character voices—I thought, oh, that’s cool.”

By 17, he was making forays into the jazz scene, leading ensembles around downtown Cleveland. It was at one of those gigs that he met Ron Ellington Shy, the nephew of Duke Ellington—an unexpected opportunity that fortified his decision to make music a career. Two days later, Nowell was at Shy’s house working on music. He says, “I saw a lot of gold records! As a kid that was quite something to experience. He told me about playing with one of  my trombone idols, J. J. Johnson.” J. J. used to tell him that when you improvise, be aware of creating little melodies in your solo, rhythm first, then melody. If people can’t sing along you will lose them.

In the summer of 2008, right before he played the pit in the Broadway hit Memphis—which at the time was in a pre-Broadway run at the La Jolla Playhouse—he joined the union. He says he knew it was the right thing to do and it’s served him well. It’s about establishing lifelong relationships, Nowell says. “A lot of the people I went to school with are union members and we get the opportunity to work together now in the real world. It’s cool to see those relationships continue to develop.”

Now living in Los Angeles, 34-year-old Nowell of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), bills himself as “Paul the Trombonist” and is a much sought-out session player for big bands. He leads a three-piece horn section, directs his own jazz combo, and does solo gigs as a DJ trombonist. For the latter, he explains, “It’s me, keyboards, looping devices, and my trombone. I’ll cover pop tunes, some of the old standards. An older audience is exposed to new stuff and a younger audience gets to hear the classics for the first time. It’s like cross-pollinating so everyone can learn something new.”

Nowell has played with 10-time Grammy winning trumpeter and Local 47 member Arturo Sandoval (with whom he created a series of online videos) and considers his Berklee professor, the virtuosic Phil Wilson, a member of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), his mentor. He says, “Phil saw what I was doing after I graduated and he came to LA to work with me to do a video series. It was an important moment; it opened a lot of doors because he’s so respected.”

Nowell promotes his instrument with rhapsodic fervor. “I’m like the Johnny Appleseed of the trombone,” he laughs, “I want people to know about this instrument, its history, and what it’s capable of.” Now his career is four-fold: educator, producer, freelancer, and Internet personality.

“If I’m playing in a great ensemble and everyone is in the zone—reading and blending, it’s fun. There’s another feeling when you’re playing in a small jazz group and you’re letting improvisation take over and it’s going great places and you’re free,” he says. “Then when I go and play in nightclubs and I’ve got all these people dancing, who might have never heard the trombone. They’re surprised by the music, that the trombone can have that affect. It’s very satisfying.”

Whether it’s presenting an Internet program, teaching a master class, or playing a music festival, Nowell immerses himself in knowledge of his instrument. For his video series on the history of jazz trombone, he transcribed 12-bar blues from 56 of the most influential trombonists up to the bebop era, breaking down each musician’s performance so the audience could hear the different styles.

“What I’ve noticed about the people I look up to is that they’re still students. They have that drive, that thirst to learn; they constantly want to get better. In the case of Arturo Sandoval, he’s like a kid when it comes to his excitement about music. It’s infectious. He gets excited about playing, learning new techniques, and studying. He’s still inspired, has that energy. It’s an important trait if you want to do this in your life.”

On his YouTube program, Bone Masters, Nowell plays host to famous trombonists he grew up listening to. You get a lesson in articulation from Local 47 member Dick Nash, different slide techniques with Alan Kaplan of Locals 7 and 47, and a languid duet with Bill Watrous. “I have an entire wall of every trombone player I ever heard,” Nowell says. “I’d study the earliest trombone players, the contemporary trombonists, and transcribe all of them, hundreds of players, from swing to bebop. I think it’s important to know where we came from in order to gain a new perspective and find your own voice.”

Nowell likes a full-bodied trombone sound, influenced by the tones of J. J. Johnson and Clifford Brown. He says, “I don’t like to overplay. I like to use space that people can latch onto so they can sing along to the melodies.”

Good lines are a priority for him. He says, “Chet Baker used to say, ‘If you have a good sound, everything you play will always sound good.’ So, for me, sound has been key in terms of what I want to convey on my instrument. And it supersedes any technical facility or trying to impress people. Phil Wilson, my mentor, always told me, ‘Paul, good lines impress. A good sound and good lines will resonate with the audience—none of that trickery. I remember I was in a lesson with him and I had learned a technique—doota lot dooo—and Phil said, ‘Knock that off.’”

He says, “It’s your trombone and the audience—just the trombone to get their attention. If you can do that with a single-line instrument, then when you get together with an ensemble, you’re going to be way stronger as a musician.”

Journey to the World is Nowell’s first record, a mix of electro soul, hip-hop, jazz, and melodic pop. He imagined it as an exploration of different galaxies. He says, “I wanted to keep the natural acoustic quality of the instrument without manipulation.” Having grown up in the electronic world, with hip-hop, dance music, and techno, he chose to fuse the sounds.

Earlier this summer, Nowell participated in the International Trombone Festival in Redlands, California, where he conducted clinics on improvisation, home recording studio setup, making videos, how music is organized, and solo playing.

bobby baird

Bobby Baird: The Man with a Horn

by Edward J. Zebrowski, Secretary of Local 140 (Wilkes-Barre, PA)

bobby baird

Still an active performer, trumpet player Bobby Baird has been a member of Local 140 (Wilkes-Barre, PA) for more than 73 years.

It was my pleasure recently to spend some time talking with Bobby Baird about his musical career—a career that has spanned most of eight decades. Baird began playing trumpet at a very early age. He played his first solo at the age of five for his grandfather and never stopped. 

Baird joined Local 140 (Wilkes-Barre, PA) September 30, 1944. He had to be granted a special exemption from the minimum age requirement in effect at the time, since he was only 14 years old!

On September 30, 2017, Baird will achieve the enviable record of having been a member of Local 140 for 73 consecutive years. To the best of my knowledge, no other member has ever achieved that milestone. We at Local 140 are honored to have had Baird as a member all these years.

When he was 18, Baird achieved another milestone: he became the youngest member of the United States Navy Band to be chosen as concert trumpet soloist. It was a position he went on to hold with many bands, including several local bands, such as the Stegmaier Gold Medal Band, during its heyday.

During his stint with the Navy Band, they toured all 48 contiguous states and Canada. It is worth mentioning that Baird, who led his own Dixieland Jazz Band for many years, can still blow the doors off trumpeters who are half his age. Baird still performs actively, and says he will continue to do so as long as he has the breath to blow through that piece of brass.

On a more personal note, Bobby Baird and his wife, Pat, recently celebrated their 63rd anniversary. Congratulations to them both! 

When you talk with Baird, you quickly become aware that he is a very humble and modest man. He provided a number of newspaper articles to use as background information, but he also made it very clear that he was more interested in having people know that he has been a trumpeter for eight decades and a union member for 73 years. He wasn’t interested in having me write about all his accomplishments—performing for several presidents, being honored recently with a special tribute by the Back Mountain Chamber, playing in a Grammy-winning band, or the many other well-deserved accolades and awards he has received.

Baird has a great sense of humor. During a recent conversation, he asked me how old I was and I told him. He says, “Heck, you’re just a kid!” For that, Bobby, you have my profound thanks. It’s been a long, long time since anybody said that to me! 

All of us at Local 140 hope Bobby Baird will be around sharing his wonderful music with us for many more years.