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Lesson Learned

Lesson+Learned

I was 18 years old majoring in music and minoring in literature. My main interest in life was reading the classics and playing the trumpet. I was fortunate to be playing in a terrific big band at Orange Coast College run by former members of Stan Kenton’s band. My best friend, Terry Baylor, was probably the best lead trumpet in any school in Southern California and would leave school early to turn pro. On Wednesday evenings, Terry and I would drive up to musician’s union hall in Santa Ana and sit in with a rehearsal band run by a fellow named Jerry Platfoot who was an arranger and used our practice band to try out his work.

Amazingly, of the four trumpets in that band, one was a top-rated professional,  Don Rader, who had been one of the few white guys to have ever played with Count Basie. I wound up sitting next to one of the top trumpeters, not just in Southern California, but in the entire country. Needless to say, it was a bit intimidating. He didn’t say much on the stand, just played the charts in front of us. One night he handed me the lead on “The Peanut Vendor,” and after we ran the tune he patted me on the leg and said, “nice job, kid.” One of the all-time greatest compliments I’ve ever received. Finally, during a cigarette break one session (this was the sixties, everyone still smoked), I built up the courage to speak with him.

“Mr. Rader,” I said haltingly, “you played with Basie.” My amazement was obvious.

“Yep,” he replied. “Best band in the world.”

I wholeheartedly agreed. “How could you have ever left that band?”

“Well, kid, let me tell you. I loved every note I ever played with that band, loved every session we ever did. But here’s the thing, when you play with Basie you basically live on a bus, you’re on the road pretty much every week, sleeping in hotels, working nights, eating on the run. All of which is fine if you’re single, like most of the guys were. But I have a wife and kids and my wife made it clear she wasn’t happy with the arrangement, nor did I like being away from my family so much. So I came home, have a music store up in the valley, do studio work in Hollywood, and keep the chops sharp with sessions like ours.”

I’d never thought of it that way. To me, the glamour of playing with such a fabulous band outweighed any domestic concerns, but then I was 18, I had no wife or child. I never really thought it through; the buses, the hotels, working nights and weekends, often in smoke filled bars. That part didn’t sound glamorous at all. I think I realized that night that even if I were good enough to make a gig like Basie, (and I wasn’t and would never be), I wouldn’t like the life. I loved playing the horn, I loved studying music, but I knew in that instant it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life.

A few years later, Uncle Sam asked me to wear a uniform for a while. While stationed overseas, I ran the Public Information Office for what was the largest artillery group in what was then West Germany, did reporting for AFN radio, and wrote for a couple of newspapers utilizing my lit minor. We had a small jazz group on the side and played in a local bar on weekends. We were asked to do a USO tour one Christmas season and toured all over Southern Germany for six weeks, playing every night at different posts and then sitting in at every jazz bar we could find in the late hours. I loved every minute of it, but I also knew I could do things with typewriter keys I could do with  trumpet valves. Don Rader’s story stuck with me. When I got out of the army, per Mr. Rader’s advice, I put the horn on the shelf and spent the next forty years in broadcast journalism. And never looked back.

Now, in retirement, I play with several amateur groups, but on my terms. There are no buses, no hotels, just the music. And for me, that’s the way it was supposed to be. I deeply grateful for having the basic skill to be able to return to that 18 year old’s passion, and for having been given a lesson from a top pro that helped guide my life.

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About the Contributor
Paul Paolicelli
Paul Paolicelli, Contributing Writer
Paul Paolicelli is a featured writer for Cape Fear Voices. He writes the regular column, "Folks I've met along the way"

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  • G

    Gary CassadyJul 16, 2024 at 4:11 pm

    Again Paul, you capture the irony of a life well lived and intelligent choices made. When the dust settles you’ve done well by the years.

    Reply
  • K

    KenJul 15, 2024 at 7:45 pm

    My sentimenta exactly Well said. Hope to see you soon and blessings on your health issues

    Reply