Twenty-five years ago this month I made the trek from El Paso to Houston. It have now been living in Houston for over half of my life. In some ways it has been the best half of my life, in others the worst. But for the rest of August we will be celebrating this anniversary by offering 25% off of everything at our music store at http://tigermusicstore.com. Use coupon code Houston25 at checkout.
My First Day in Houston
I moved to Houston in the late 80’s with hopes of eventually becoming an orchestral trumpet player. My first trip into town was with my brother, Gerald. I didn’t have a vehicle at the time and he volunteered to bring me to Houston to meet Jim Austin, get registered and start looking for a place to live.
What I remember most about that first day is getting this crazy idea to sleep at the beach in Galveston that night. My family was used to sleeping in the car. We grew up that way so it was no biggie. But since we were so closed to the beach, we decided to drive a little further and sleep on the beach.
We got there, spent a little time walking around, then went back to my brother’s truck to sleep. Of course, it was hot. Being from El Paso, we were used to hot, but not like this. It was sauna hot. But hey, no problem, right? We’ll just roll down the windows.
Not a good idea. Within minutes were were covered with mosquito bites. After about two hours of trying to tough it out, we started the truck back up and went back to the city to find a place to sleep.
Coincidentally, the place we ended up parking was in the neighborhood Gerald now lives in. We parked out front of a public pool with the idea that we could swim when the pool opened in the morning.
Ha! Looking back at it now, I don’t think we ever even considered the possibility of getting a hotel. That just wasn’t done.
Bath Water Swimming
I took care of business and Gerald took me back to El Paso. I would be returning in a week with my stuff.
For the first few weeks, I lived in a hotel with a weekly rental. I got a job right away delivering pizzas for Dominos (no one can tell me I didn’t pay my dues!). And I remember one night getting back to the hotel and thinking that I really needed a swim. When I jumped into the hotel pool, I couldn’t believe how hot the water was. It was hotter than my typical bath water!
And to be completely honest with you, if it weren’t for the music scene here in Houston, I don’t think I would have stayed for quarter of a century. Between the miserable seven month summers and the traffic, there was not much to entice me to stay.
That said, the musicians in Houston are, for the most part, wonderful, kind and loving people. I was accepted as a friend almost immediately. I think I became established as a jazz musician far sooner than a classical player, and that tipped the balance enough that today I am certain most Houstonians do not think of me as a classical player. Which is fine. It used to bother me a lot, but I have learned to be less covetous and see things from more of an outside the box perspective.
But yeah, I had a lot of struggles musically because of the way I divided my career across that stylistic line. If it weren’t for Darryl Bayer, I probably never would have been recognized as a classical player in Houston.
Thanks to Darryl, I did have a wonderful opportunity to work with the Texas Brass Ensemble and at the peak of those times, had the honor of recording a CD with Darryl, Thomas Hulten, Ben Jaber and Dave Kirk. That was certainly one of the highlights of these past 25 years. And the icing on the cake was that about half of the songs on our Sound of the South CD are my original compositions.
Jazz Growth and Maturity
On the jazz side of my career, I had a lot of growing to do. My first jazz recording in town was with Phil Blackmon. Phil took me under his wing for a while and I got to play with his band for about a year I think. From those humble beginnings, I worked with a variety of different bands. One of the most significant was the Tom Borling Be Bop Band. On the jazz side of my career, the Tom Borling Be Bop Band CD was much like the Texas Brass recording. I wrote all but one of the compositions on that CD and it was my work with Tom’s band that sort of “put me on the map” as a jazz player here.
I said earlier that I was accepted as a friend very soon after I arrived here. But I was not as well excepted as a player until that recording with Tom Borling.
It was Tom’s band that introduced me to David Caceres, which was another very big step for me in my career. David later hired me to play in his wedding band and I have been working with him ever since….learning so much along the way.
It’s kind of funny, because I consider myself a classical and jazz trumpet player. But throughout the 90’s, the majority of my income came from playing salsa gigs. I got into that scene at first by joining a Mexican band called Promessa Band. We worked a lot but the band eventually folded. Then from there I started doing more work with the salsa bands.
I played salsa so much that I got to where I could read the music correctly, even if it was written wrong. I knew the style so well that I could sort of fill in the gaps on the part when I knew it wasn’t right.
There was once a salsa band leader who didn’t like me at all. But he hired me for a few gigs. One time he insulted me and complimented me at the same time. He said, “well, at least when you get lost, you stay ‘en clave’.” That was a wonderful compliment that I think summarizes my experience as a salsa trumpet player.
I have also done a lot of teaching in the past 25 years. I have taught literally hundreds of private students. I stopped counting after 500. I have always had a passion for teaching and in fact, the main reason I ever perform is to give credibility to my teaching.
It’s kind of funny. A friend of me heard me saying how much I love to teach and he said, “That’s a lie. You hate teaching, Eddie.” I was shocked to hear him say that. But then I thought about it. We worked together as private teachers at the same schools for most of the 90’s. The pay was so bad that I was forced to teach seventy students or more per week. What I didn’t like (I don’t use the word “hate”) was the degrading pay and the lack of respect the schools have for their private teachers.
Yes, I did quit teaching in 1997. I was burned out. But it was not because I hated teaching. I was burned out because I was putting in full time hours for part time kiddie pay.
Here’s the thing that most people do not know about me. Of the 25 years that I’ve been living in Houston, for 18 of those years I lived “beneath the poverty line.” Teaching $7 lessons and playing $150 salsa gigs (with three rehearsals) was pushing me to work 16 to 18 hour days. I was working long hard days trying to scrape out a living and I thought it wasn’t paying off.
And yes, there was a time when I was actually bitter about that. What I didn’t know back then was that the reason I was working for such low pay was because I was working for low pay! So there you have it. It was all my fault. No one held a gun to my head and said I had to teach $7 lessons.
It wasn’t until I understood what was happening and changed my mindset that I began to earn enough income to pull myself up from beneath that infamous poverty line. But love is a wonderful motivator.
Pearl and Her Influence
I won’t go into the details, but it was Pearl coming into my life that motivated me to see things differently. I began to see how working for peanuts was actually hurting my performances, my teaching and my writing. It was also creating a business environment that was making it more difficult for others to make more money. Doing real work for hobo pay is not a loving way to live. It is actually a very selfish and hateful way to live. The whole starving artist facade is an evil lie that musicians tend to perpetuate because of their “love for music.” But if they had so much love in them, then they would take a step back and look at how their attitudes are hurting so many people.
And that’s what Pearl helped me to see. She took this “dues payin’ musical maniac” and helped transform me into a man, a real man, who is better equipped to support a family. And really, what changed? Just my attitude. That’s all.
You know, there is a wonderful trumpet teacher in Houston who recently announced that he is no longer teaching lessons. After years of struggling the same way I did, he has come to the conclusion that it is no longer worth it. He has a excellent reputation as a teacher with students who are really going places. But as good as he is, he just cannot make ends meet. This is just wrong! It shouldn’t be this way.
And the only reason I’m mentioning it here is because I want people to know how much “cheap lessons” hurt people. It hurts the teachers, the students, the band programs and so on.
Anyway, enough of that. I don’t want anyone to think that I am bitter about this. I just feel it’s important that people know that the money side of being a musician is not nice.
Another important part of my work over the past 25 years has been on the publishing side of my career. I have written almost twenty trumpet books now and there are dozens more just waiting to be finished. All twenty of those books were written and published here in Houston.
- The Physical Trumpet Pyramid
- Daily Routines
- Go With the Flow
- Creative Inflection
- The Jazz Style of Gerald Hunter
- The Jazz-O-Witz Scrolls
- The Eddie Lewis Jazz Sampler
- 20 Studies
- Celebrations: 101 Original Trumpet Duets
- All-State Prep for Trumpet
- Twelve Tunes for Linear Diatonic Improvisation
- Total Tonalization: Trumpet Player Level
- Groups 8 & 9
- Trane for Trumpet
- 21 Brass Quintets
- Chops Express
- Switchback: Comprehensive Melodic Lip Slurs for Trumpet
- Trumpet Apprentice Tonalization Studies
- The Beginners Jazz Motif Dictionary
- Trumpet Pro Pentatonic Tonalization Studies
Also on the publishing front, Houston is where I composed literally hundreds of original compositions for jazz and brass ensembles. As a composer I have progressed through three different style periods in the past 25 years ranging from free jazz/avant-garde style compositions, to post-romantic work, to something of a synthetic blend of all the styles I’ve had the privileged of performing during the course of my career.
The people who know of me from outside of Houston know me for my published work. My compositions have been performed by musicians all over the world, and even though my work is rarely performed here in Houston (a prophet in my home town?), Houston is where it all comes from.
25 Years In a Nutshell
So there you have it. A brief summary of my 25 year career as a musician in Houston, Texas. It’s not exactly a rags to riches story…not yet anyway. But the trend is most certainly leaning in that direction. Every year is better than the previous years.
The mosquitoes are still biting, the pools are still hotter than bath water and the traffic still plods along. But I have had the honor and privileged of making so much beautiful music with so many wonderful people. Since I am approaching my fiftieth birthday, I have now been living in Houston for over half of my life time.
Is this something worth celebrating?
Sure it is. And the way I want to celebrate it today is to offer everyone 25% off of everything we sell at http://tigermusicstore.com. Remember to use the code Houston25 when you check out.
If you have memories you’d like to share from the past twenty-five years, please feel free to leave them here. This anniversary is more about YOU than it is about me. I wouldn’t have stayed in Houston so long if it weren’t for the people and the music we’ve made together. So thank you, all of you, for putting up with me all these years. 🙂