Alan Morris (1970) Trombone – Autobiography

Ed. Note: Alan was a member of the 1969 and 1970 Jazz Ensembles. He can be heard on The New Trier West High School Jazz Ensemble albums, In Concert and Casa de Cultura Americana, located on this website. Alan toured with the Jazz Ensemble throughout Mexico in 1970. Alan graduated in1971.

I joined the New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensemble in 1969. I remember spending many hours practicing as Mr. Mills (Roger Mills), our director, always reminded us to do. I remember very well when we were selected as one of five jazz ensembles, in the state of Illinois, to perform at Illinois State University with jazz great Clark Terry. It was there that I really recognized how practice paid off.

I am also so appreciative that we were able to bring high-caliber musicians like Jamey Aebersold and Phil Wilson to work with us. Mr. Mills organized an all-trombone ensemble and got Phil Wilson to perform with us. It was like a jazz ensemble of all trombones. I remember the jazz arrangement of Henry Filmore’s Lassus trombone. That was a dazzling display of slide work! I worked my teacher, Ernest Passoja (high note Ernie, from Chicago), way too hard as he had to get me to play about ten levels higher than where I was. I think I finally got to about eight levels higher.

When I came back to school for my junior year (1969- 1970), I felt that I really belonged in the Jazz Ensemble.

And just when I was beginning to relax, it was announced that the Republic of Mexico had invited our group to tour throughout Mexico. Mr. Mills never left us without a project. This was a big one! Now, not only did I have to increase my practice time, but I had to learn how to sell tickets and raise money for the trip. One memorable fund raiser was when DownBeat Magazine hired us to count the ballots for the Magazine’s Annual Music Awards.
We flew to Mexico in March of 1970. There was a major snowstorm the night before we left, and our flight was delayed many hours.

When we arrived in Mexico City eight hours late, we learned that the hotel had sold our rooms. So, the hunt was on as the ‘authorities’ worked to get us into three different hotels. I remember the horrible hotel we checked into the first night. When Roger saw the big holes in the plaster walls of the rooms we were in, he somehow managed to find us another hotel and we all shuttled over there sometime after midnight. I don’t know how you did it, Roger, but you were our hero!

I remember two days later we played to over 15,000 people in Alameda Park, in the heart of Mexico City. Toward the end I remember the entire audience shouting, ‘viva la New Trier.’ And at the end everyone was asking for our autographs. Can you imagine that anyone would want my autograph? I always wonder if it is still in someone’s scrapbook. We were also presented the city of Mexico’s Cultural Award.

While in Mexico, I took a half dozen black and white pictures, but just of the scenery! No people if you can believe that.

We appeared on Mexico TV on a program that we were told was the ‘Johnny Carson show of Mexico.’ We performed and afterwards it was kind of humorous when ‘Johnny’ called Mr. Mills over to be interviewed. Not speaking Spanish, our drummer Isidro Perez, accompanied Mr. Mills. What happened is that Mr. Mills stood there for the entire interview as Isidro took over for 10 minutes.

We toured throughout Mexico, ending in Acapulco, where we performed three performances, all sold out. On the way I remember Mr. Mills getting really sick. They got a doctor to give him medication. The story goes that they were going to give him a shot of penicillin and seeing the rather large needle Roger reacted by observing that it had rust on it. The doctor told him not to worry because ‘penicillin kills everything.’ Never doubting that Mr. Mills would get well, he was directing again in two days.

Playing at venues in Mexico City and Acapulco was thrilling but I also fondly remember our side trips to Taxco, Cuernavaca, and the Hacienda Villa Hermosa in Tequesquitengo.

After we returned from our tour of Mexico, and Roger not letting us relax, about three weeks later we appeared in the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival where our band received a first place.

After graduating high school, I did not formally pursue playing the trombone but, thanks to Roger Mills and the NTW Jazz Ensemble, I continued to have a great appreciation of jazz. While in high school, and college, I purchased, and still listen to, most of the big band albums including those of Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Don Ellis, Woody Herman (Concerto for Herd), Maynard Ferguson, and North Texas State to name a few. On a more sobering note, I still have Leon Breeden’s August 14th, 2010, very moving NY Times obituary.

While attending college at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, I remember riding my bike to a nightclub in Champaign to see Buddy Rich and his Big Band perform. I majored in biology but actually minored in music and took a few graduate level courses in the department.

After college, I went to medical school and am currently a Tufts Pediatric Endocrinologist practicing in Portland, Maine. I am married and we have two adult children. Our son took up the trombone in high school and we were lucky enough, in 1999, to see Maynard Ferguson perform in South Portland, Maine.

Thanks again to the Jazz Ensemble TEAM, for your herculean effort to launch this website. I look forward to visiting it and being able to hear The Professor; that is the one NTW jazz album I don’t have!


Alan Morris