There are at least two of my favorite stories to tell about growing up in the mid-west and being a sax player. One is when the Urbandale, IA middle school teacher picked a jazzy song for the eighth graders. The song was Henry Mancini’s "Mr Lucky". There were two of us sitting in the first chair saxophone position. So without preparation, Mr. Phil Hartman had us play the solo all alone.
I couldn’t read very well and still struggle with sight-reading to this day. But fortunately the girl got to play first. She, like Barb who I play with now-a-days, (hey, I mean play sax with) was a pretty good sight reader. So she played the solo straight and did an… okay job. I was so nervous that when I played the same solo, I started shaking uncontrollably. I was mortified but I had been taught to always, always, play on. "If you quit, you lose." Such a wavering, non linear performance. I was sure that the kids would laugh me out of there.
When I completed the solo, Mr. Hartman selected me to do the solo with a dismissive, "Nice vibrato." At the time, I never had heard of vibrato. But shortly thereafter, the band teacher turned us on to Count Basie. And I was hooked with the jazz ensemble sound.
Then there is the story of Mr. Robert A. Lake, or Bob Lake of the Edina High Schools. When I moved to Edina Minnesota from Urbandale, I was very unhappy because it was in my senior year of high school. I was starting all over again. But that was to change very quickly and on a lot of different levels. Firstly, we moved just before band camp and as mom drove me to the buses I saw many high school girls wearing mid-riff shirts and short shorts. They were yelling at mom to drop me off there. I think they were part of the cheerleader squad. I was both exhilarated and embarrassed. Mom drove on. And I thought, boy, they don’t dress like that in Iowa. :o)
I was auditioned for the Senior band. I didn’t bring any prepared music, so I was required to … wait for it… sight read. Man, I was so bad. So I was sent the next day to see the Varsity Band director, Mr. Lake. Mr. Lake put it something like this. Jim, you can play in the senior band. You are a senior and you have that right. But you will be playing last chair. Or, you could play in the varsity band, and lead a group of younger kids, play first chair, and maybe solo more. I chose varsity band and never looked back.
Mr. Lake and I developed a close friendship. Here was a teacher who listened. When I suggested two charts for marching band that were the most popular charts in my old school he bought them both. I think they were "Hey look me over" and "Soulful Strut", the latter of which Grover Washington does so well.
Well, after many years of trying to find Bob Lake online, I’ve found him here giving tribute to Karl King. I wanted to tell Mr. Lake thanks. Thanks for spending so much time with a student who would obviously never be a pro musician. Thanks for lending me a Selmer Mark VII for the final big concert with my three solos. Thanks for making my first real position as a leader so successful. Thanks for being there. If you are ever in Seattle, stop by and you can sit in with one of the four bands Suzy (Roberts when you knew her and the red head playing sax in this picture) and I play with now. :o)