When I was in the third grade, I learned to play trumpet under the watchful eye of Mrs. Frankel; I clearly remember being in the music room with the others learning trumpet and because we were standing up, I, um, passed out because I had locked my knees instead of being relaxed. Not an auspicious moment but kinda funny.
The church around the corner – and what’s ironic/funny is that today, it’s my cousin Aretha’s church – had a beautiful five manual organ and that instrument just fascinated me so much that the church organist, a really nice lady, started teaching me how to play it, even though I was way too short for my feet to reach the pedals and my arms too short to reach the upper three manuals. Music just came naturally to me; learning how to read music (and, later, write it) was just too much fun. Being a trumpeter, wow, there were so many great trumpeters, from Louis Armstrong to Al Hirt, who got my attention for playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for the TV show, “The Green Hornet,” which also introduced America to Bruce Lee as “Kato.” And I wanted to learn how to play it just like Al Hirt did!
My music teacher, Mr. Bowie, himself an amazing trumpeter, didn’t think I could do it – you should see the sheet music; it made my eyes hurt the first time I saw it! But I was determined and I spent many hours in the practice room just totally messing it up and being more than envious when Mr. Bowie would take my trumpet and play the piece with stupid ease. I finally got it, even played it for the school talent show… and then I got interested in playing the drums.
To shorten this just a bit, there were a lot of drummers who inspired me; I had gotten my hands on a kit and spent hours driving my mom nuts teaching myself how to play it, which just came easily to me and, eventually at the ripe old age of 15, I was in a band with four of my friends and playing gigs all over the place, including the world-famous Apollo Theater in New York. In high school, I played trumpet for marching band and orchestra and drums for jazz band – but only after becoming a member of the National Association of Rudimentary Drummers; passing that test wasn’t easy, nor was learning how to execute all those rudiments.
A lot of years later, my favorite group, Spyro Gyra, changed drummers, a guy named Joel Rosenblatt… and his drumming style was mesmerizing. When I went to my first SG concert, wow, Joel’s Tama drum kit and setup was insane for a drummer in a “jazz” band; that and how easy and smoothly he handled that kit just blew me away and inspired me to put together a new kit of my own while challenging me to duplicate his style which even today makes me nuts but, yeah, I got to the point where I could play along with Spyro Gyro’s music without having to work so hard.
At another SG concert, I got to meet Joel and the rest of Spyro Gyra, including keyboardist Tom Schuman – playing his parts on their music was equally challenging but so much fun. They quickly learned I was a fellow musician and I was able to spend a few precious moments talking drumming with Joel and keyboards with Tom and I think both were genuinely flattered that I was all into their styles of playing. Hell, I’ll even admit to daydreaming about sitting in with SG and playing Joel’s kit, pictured (hopefully) in my featured image. And, yes, I can play that kit…
Joel left Spyro Gyro to pursue other interests after over a decade with the group and while they’ve tried several drummers to replace Joel, well, those guys are good… but they ain’t Joel…