I am a graduate of Andress High School in North East El Paso. 2011 is Andress’ fiftieth anniversary and I was one of a few musicians invited to perform with a jazz ensemble during the cocktail hour of the event.
This ensemble was comprised mostly of other graduates from Andress HS from different graduating classes. This first picture shows me performing with Ricky Malichi on drums, Jawn Glass on Fluglehorn and Todd Baldwin on trombone. Jawn and I graduated from Andress the same year and Todd graduated a year before us.
Ricky Malichi was the leader of the Malichi 5, back in the 1980’s. His gigs at Señor Blues were the first jazz jam sessions I ever attended, beginning a long tradition in my life of sitting in with similar bands across the country. In that respect, I owe Ricky so much for giving me the opportunity to grow in public before I even left El Paso.
A lot of people dismiss the importance of sitting in a jam sessions as part of their development as jazz players. That’s not a good thing. Jazz is not a solo sport. I don’t think you can even call it jazz if your concept is one of just playing by yourself over a live Aebersold track. Ricky and his band gave me an opportunity to take what I was learning at home, apply it, and test it with a real living band and a listening audience.
Jawn Glass was a huge influence in my early development. We became friends soon after we met and stuck together throughout most of high school and some of our college days. It was Jawn who first taught me the very same things I teach my students today: “how to practice.” Jawn helped me with the All-State music our Sophomore year and it was because of those thing he showed me that I was able to make it. After that, there was a friendly rivalry between us throughout our school years. This, too, is a big reason why I have been so successful in my career. There is nothing better to motivate a person to succeed than having a friend at your side lifting you up when you slip and fall. I can only hope I did as much for him as he did for me.
The next picture to the right shows Marco Valdez on drums. Marco was a year or two ahead of Jawn and I. What I remember most about Marco was that he played great marimba. If I’m not mistaken, he played with a marimba band that was very popular in El Paso in the 80’s.
As I said earlier, Todd was a year behind Jawn and I. I always looked up to Todd as a player, even after we graduated from high school. Todd was our top bone player and did a wonderful job on the classical and the jazz stuff. I remember a clinician who was working with the band when Todd was playing a euphonium solo. The clinician made a comment about how most euphonium players were either bad trumpet players or bad trombone players who got reassigned to the euphonium. This was his way of distinguishing Todd from the others and to compliment him…..even though he was really a trombone player after all.
I also remember that Todd was featured on a tune in the jazz band called Portrait of a Lady, a wonderful ballad if I remember right, composed originally for horn? Not sure if my memory is getting foggy but that’s how I remember it.
Today, Todd is a member of the Army band called “Pershing’s Own”. You can read more about him at his profile page for American University HERE.
There were two players in the band who were not from Andress, both of them named Curt. Curt warren, our guitar player, was the teacher for a jazz improv class I took at UTEP and an all-around mentor on things like playing changes and learning how to study a player’s style. Many years after I left El Paso, Curt gave me a copy of his CD and I transcribed his solo over Wave. I’ll try to post that here some day.
It was a great honor to play with Curt again after all these years. I tell people that the most you will ever learn from someone is when you play a gig with them. Curt Warren was on the only steady jazz gig I ever had in El Paso. Being on the gig with him like that, after having learned from him in a classroom environment, made a great impact on my playing.
The one person I didn’t get a picture of was Alan Chavez. Alan was not only an Andress graduate but also played in the UTEP jazz band while we were there. It was Alan who contacted me to perform with this group and it was a pleasure to see him and have a chance to hear him play again.
The one person who was not able to attend that we all missed was our band director, Al Mendez. Al had family business out of town and couldn’t make it.
I am not the type of person who goes to reunions. I was a nobody at school and there’s really no point in attending any of those things. But given the opportunity to play music with some old friends, I just couldn’t pass it up! The room was noisy and I think the music would have sounded better if we weren’t competing against people chatting, but it was still a precious moment.
And last but not least, I should also thank my wife, Pearl, for taking the photos from the event. She’s wonderful that way!