My Two Loves
By Jim Rambo
My parents, Sam and Helen, were married at the ages of 18 and 17. They both embraced music, living and often singing, in harmony. Mom sang a great version of Deep Purple and Dad, known as “rubber legs” for his jitterbug moves, loved music. When he returned from World War II, he seemed bent on collecting more records than anyone within range of his booming speakers.
About every three weeks, Mom and Dad magically escaped our cramped walk-up for an evening that would have made Houdini proud. On these party nights my sister Pat and I were pointed off to bunk beds where, wide awake, I would lie on my pillow and memorize the lyrics from the records Dad played in our living room till midnight. I knew them all.
I began trumpet lessons at the age of 12 and eventually my bleeps and blurps turned into quarter, half, and semi-melodic whole notes. I was soon able to play the songs on my parents’ records “and even more,” as they say in the commercials. A memorable aberration in my positive music experience in school was our orchestra leader, Mrs. Cann, pointing her baton at us defiantly and declaring that all real education, music and otherwise, was coming to an end. Why? Because the Supreme Court had just passed Brown vs. The Board, integrating the public schools. That was not music to our ears. We inner city kids were depending on public education to help us find our future niche.
You politically correct types will forgive that we were the Conrad Redskins. I played first trumpet and, if you count prizes, we had the “most bestest band in that land.” Years after high school, in 1985, our alumni band was invited to Dublin, Ireland to play in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We captured first prize, playing a toe tapping rendition of “The St. Louis Blues” march.
Afterward, we visited the local pubs where the preferred music was not Irish but Dixieland jazz. We played “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In” for them and led marches of drunken Irishmen around the bar rooms. They loved it! Music: the universal language.
My Dad, who had been a drummer in a pick-up band in the Army, formed his own band in the early 1960’s and began taking gigs at parties and clubs around town. Getting paid to party was my idea of the good life and I was soon playing trumpet with the five-piece group. Our sax man smoked pot under a large sheet when he practiced at home. Our bass player hung a rubber chicken from the top of his upright bass, and our piano player was seen one Thanksgiving eve running from the officers’ club kitchen with a fresh cooked turkey. Luckily, seen only by me.
I took Dad to New Orleans for his 70th birthday in 1992 and Bourbon Street turned out to be the finest gift I ever gave him. After feasting on Pete Fountain’s clarinet, Al Hirt’s horn and late night meandering through dark alleys, listening to haunting strains of a street clarinetist, we both fell into bed every night near 3 A.M. When Dad died in 2001, we played Dixieland at his funeral and crisp musical notes were engraved on his tombstone. Mom was lowered next to him ten years later, in case they might choose to harmonize again.
My wife Linda and I traveled to San Miguel recently with good friends to hear the trumpet of Doc Severinsen, the band leader from the old Johnny Carson Show. At 86 years of age, he was sensational. That performance compelled me today to revisit my lifelong love affair with good music.
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- March 2023 - February 28, 2023