The story of Rock
The recording of Alan Raph’s unaccompanied piece “Rock” went through a couple of concepts. First, I decided to perform it on a concert which included Jack Gale’s “Three Pieces.” This was in the early 1980’s at Bargemusic in Brooklyn. Since I already had Ray Marchica playing on Jack’s piece, I asked him to sit in and play a beat to accompany me. Ray is a wonderful musician and I thought it was a nice addition to a piece that gets played by quite a few bass trombonists. Knowing Alan Raph, I thought I ought to ask permission to alter his piece that way. When asked if he minded if I added drums, he replied, “Not at all, why don’t you add guitar, too?”
At that point, my plan was to record “Rock” with drums in a studio. But that changed with a long story involving my friend Frank Todaro.
Frank is an Aspen resident via Milwaukee who has led a colorful life, particularly from the time he moved to the tiny mountain town of Lenado in 1970. Anyone who lived in Lenado worked at the lumber mill, lived in cabins without electricity or running water, hiked, skied, fished, hunted, and participated in other recreations popular in the ‘70’s, especially playing music with each other. After the lumber business slowed down, Frank wound up in Aspen in the restaurant world, working as a waiter and sommelier, all the while maintaining a life in music playing piano and mandolin.
I met Frank during my second summer in Aspen in one of the local wine stores, where he was the manager. We bonded immediately over a disdain for over-oaked California Chardonnays and began a friendship that revolved around music, bike rides, cooking, and exploring wine. We would always pause on a bike ride or hike and sit by a river. Frank would look around at the magnificent view and say, “We’re in the 99.9 percentile!” He would tell me about “his” canyon in Moab, Utah where there was a natural amphitheater. “We really need to take a trip and play in there—the acoustics are amazing,” he’d tell me. Well, the music festival kept me a little too busy and we had to keep postponing that trip.
Then one September, I was invited to play at the Moab Music Festival. Their venues are in various settings, all of which are spectacular. One of the concerts involved the musicians and the audience hiking half a mile into Hunter Canyon, several miles out of town down some steep dirt roads. Everything seemed familiar about the place, although Frank had never mentioned a name for his canyon. I called him as soon as we got back into cell service. “Frank, I think I just played a concert in your canyon!” I said. When I described the route, he told that it sure sounded like it and we started plotting for a revised concept of the recording of “Rock.” No drums, use the sound of the notes caroming around the canyon.
At the end of the following summer, Frank, Kait and I drove to Moab and scouted the “studio” in the early evening. I played in a few different spots, each place sounding even better than the previous, with different echoes. We decided on the general location to record the next morning. Starting early, we wanted to be in the shade for as long as possible. Once the August sun entered the canyon walls, my mouthpiece could sear my lips!
Using a spot that was exactly where Frank had described years before, I started playing and recorded the first take. Not bad, but Frank said, “I wonder what it would sound like from up there?” and pointed about 30 vertical feet higher. I started to climb up the boulder field, but needed to pause as Kait the producer warned me to put the trombone in the case before risking not only my neck, but my new instrument. This happened a few times until Frank spied the ultimate stage—a flat boulder about 150 feet above the canyon floor. We placed the recorder where we thought it would capture my sound with the best echo and went to work. A great moment came when Frank finally looked at the title of the music he was holding to keep it from blowing off my stand and guffawed when he noticed the title. Now it made sense!
The final word on this CD is from Frank, giving an enthusiastic “yeah.” Maybe even more than for my performance, I’d like to think it’s in appreciation of a beautiful setting, a special 2 day trip, and a deep friendship.
Jump-starting a career
Not until this CD was final did I realize that two of the most important musicians in getting my career off the ground are major parts of this album. When I was in school, Gerry Schwarz was my brass quintet coach. I was in 2 quintets that were both quite good so I got to see Gerry a couple of hours a week. He was an enormous influence musically and I learned much about the subtleties of music. When I was asked to attend his Waterloo Music Festival one summer, I resisted at first (a gig at Great Adventures was beckoning!) but ultimately I attended and had an incredible experience. After that, Gerry asked me to play on a recording session and introduced me to his contractor, Loren Glickman. Loren, who was one of the busiest contractors in New York at the time, started hiring me and I became his first call bass trombonist for the rest of his contracting career.
The other musician who helped is Alan Raph. While I was still in school, I was called to play a jingle session. There were 2 trombone parts and I was hired for bass trombone. The other trombonist walked into the studio and it was the famous bass trombonist Alan Raph. I thought he would be annoyed that some unknown student was sitting in his chair, but he was totally fine and happy to be on the session. In between takes, Alan mentioned that he was playing a Broadway show, Sugar Babies. He had a double playing tuba and asked me if I was interested in subbing. Having never played a tuba before, I thanked him very much, but thought it would be unwise for me to play an instrument that I couldn’t. Might as well have been sax or violin!
Alan talked me into coming to the pit and watching the book before I decided for sure. When I watched, I knew as soon as he started playing tuba that it would take me months to be able to sub. Before I could tell him, though, he told the contractor that he would be off the next night and I would be the sub. I tried to learn how to play the tuba the next night at 6:30 before the 8:00 show and it didn’t go so well! Alan was sympathetic, appreciated that I told him I didn’t want to play tuba again, and began to call me to sub for him on jingles.
A few months went by and I got a phone call from Alan. “Today is Monday. I’m going to be off the show on Saturday for both shows. Do you want to sub, or not?” I thought I’d give it another try, especially with nearly a week to learn a new instrument. It must have gone well because several months later, Alan left the show and I took over the chair. Just out of school and into a show that ran nearly 2 more years, I was suddenly an established Broadway musician by association with some legendary musicians in that pit. My section mates were Harry DiVito, who as a teenager had played with Benny Goodman and Harry James, and Kenny Rupp, who had played with the incredible Maynard Ferguson Band of the early 1960’s. I felt like my real education had begun!
A night of Sacco
After the premier performance of Steven Sacco’s Sonata, we grabbed the opportunity to record it in beautiful Harris Hall in Aspen in the same venue and with the same piano. Harris Hall is very busy in the summer with rehearsals and concerts from morning through the night pretty much every day. The only time available that worked with everyone’s schedule was one night beginning at 10:30pm. The head of the audio department, Riccardo Schultz, led the entire class of students in running the session, although I also had Kait Mahony in the booth to make sure the piece was recorded well. She knows what a bass trombone should sound like, having been subjected to hearing one at home for many years!
The session went well, but recording 3 movements does take some time, so it was after 1:30 in the morning when we were sure every passage was covered. Happy to get that done, Kait had some good news—she had brought a delicious jam tart and some chocolate cake for a post-recording celebration! Don’t tell the stage crew, but we indulged in our late night sweet feast right on the edge of the Harris Hall stage. The desserts were so good, though, that no crumbs were spilled.