(This is the fourth of my excerpts from my memoir, My Life In The Sunshine.)
My musical journey began at the tender age of five years old. My mother sent me to learn piano from Mrs. Lambright who lived on Pasadena Avenue. I wasn’t crazy about it because it interfered with my outdoor activities (as limited as they were at that age).
After five years, understanding that I would not be another Duke Ellington, much less as good as my talented neighbor, Brenda Randolph, who sounded like Hazel Scott without an orchestra, my mother allowed me to quit taking lessons. But when I got to junior high school, I decided I did want to play an instrument and chose the trumpet. Regrettably, all the trumpets were in use. So, for one semester, I played string bass. My signature piece was the theme from Dragnet.
Still wanting to play a brass instrument, though, I was able to obtain a French Horn from the school’s inventory. Our band and orchestra were ultimately comprised of four French Horn players: Myself, Maggie Gibbs, James Spears, and Gerald Jackson if my memory serves me right. I became First French Horn beginning in the eighth grade.
Our quartet became good enough that our band director, Mr. Wenzel entered us into the All-City Music Contest. We won first place in the duet and the quartet. I came in second in the solo contest.
The event took place at West Technical High. I don’t remember any other black musicians in the place. Five people were in the room when we started playing. Halfway through, another twenty-five to thirty curious onlookers had gathered.
In high school, I was invited to try out for the All City Band, where I eventually became first French Horn there, too. Later, I was asked to join the prestigious All-Ohio-Boys-Band, where I again played first French Horn.
During that period, I finally got a trumpet as a Christmas gift and jammed with some older friends: Arthur Jones, Kamal Abdul Alim, and Blanco Williams.
Arthur Jones, a great tenor sax player, eventually moved to Paris. I lost track of him but learned from Kamal that he often played in the streets. That can’t be good, I thought. But I later learned that, unlike the United States, musicians made good money playing in public places.
Kamal played in jazz bands around the country and still plays today. He also taught music. Blanco, who is no longer with us, became a jazz historian.
Blanco was a stone thug in school, so when he phoned me one night, I swore he was calling for bail money. But to my surprise, he says, “Prewitt, I got my doctorate degree in music!”
I began wondering what drug he was on.
“I’m going to bring it over because I know you don’t believe me.”
Although I was curious, I responded, “Blanco. It’s 11 PM. Let’s do this in the morning.”
Sure enough, that next day, he presented me with a doctorate degree certificate. My man!
I was the only one of the four who peeled off from the music scene after attending college. What the experience did give me, though, was an appreciation of musical genres from classical to the blues, all of which are now on my playlist.
And although I hardly touch my trumpet, I can still play happy birthday to my family.