Bob “Ajax” (Giles) Gilewski (1969) Tenor Sax Autobiography
For starters, I have played, and still play, sax and clarinet well enough not to scare small children, but not well enough to have ever quit my day job. Music was not my professional career, but it has been a side career passion, nonetheless.
Using bullet points in chronological order:
— My love of jazz, and especially jazz ensembles/big bands began at Locust Junior High in Wilmette. Mr. Ken Kistner was a jazz (I think) alto sax player who started a stage band/jazz ensemble at Locust in 1963 or 1964. I played lead alto on my first purchased sax, at the time a thirty- or forty-year-old Buescher that I still have. “Sunday Morning” was one of the first charts I remember playing. I do not play keyboards, but to this day, on piano, I can play the five-part sax background chords that begin that tune.
— At NTW I was blessed, as a sophomore, to be in Roger’s (Mills) first jazz ensemble. I
remember choosing the after-school jazz ensemble rather than trying out for the basketball team. Yeah, I was already nicknamed Ajax because of the way I swept the boards clean on the Freshman B Team, but I was not going anywhere as an under 6 ft. center. Good choice! I bought a $300 Conn 16M tenor sax that I also still play. I sat in the first tenor chair despite not being a good soloist. I was fortunate to be named a student director my senior year and to be awarded the American Music Award with our dear departed brother Bob Lucas. A lifetime musical high was our final concert in June 1969, with Phil Wilson as guest soloist. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!
— After graduation from NTW in 1969 I went to Purdue and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, which became my professional career for 47 years until I was laid off/retired in April 2020 because of the virus’s effect on business. While at Purdue I played alto and tenor in various concert bands and jazz ensembles. Purdue does not have a music school but does have a large music program. Jazz was not emphasized during my time there. Two memories – 1) I brought a Lennie Niehaus jazz duet book to a concert band rehearsal and a fellow sax player, and I started to play a few tunes well before the concert band rehearsal began. The band director came in and told us to stop, and he never wanted to hear “that crap” again. 2) Jamey Aebersold was the guest soloist at one of our jazz band concerts, similar to his New Trier West appearance in 1968. As with many big band charts, the solo sections were an open eight or twelve bars with a repeat. The director initially took that literally and had Jamey play two short choruses … until I and others adamantly said let him play until he is finished! Whew! A lot has changed jazz wise at Purdue since those days, as they now have several decent ensembles.
— After graduating from Purdue in 1973 I did not have any music outlets and rarely played for six years or so. Living in the Louisville area (where I have been since 1975 except for two years in Baton Rouge), in 1979 I was pretty much a charter member when joining the River Cities Concert Band, a community concert band. Played tenor with them until the late 1980s.
— Through a colleague in the concert band, in 1984 or 1985 I was invited to join the reformed Don Phillips Orchestra, a Louisville area big band that had its roots in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Don was old fashioned and modeled his band after Kai Kaiser, I think. In his usual three row setup, the trumpets sat behind the saxes, with bones in the back. He used a tuba instead of string bass! I played some baritone sax and a lot of lead alto. in this group. for six or seven years. Sitting directly in front of the lead trumpet, I am surprised my hearing is still intact! We had at least a dozen dance and concert gigs/year for fifteen years or so. We played for several World War II military organizations who often held reunions in Louisville because of its central location and proximity to Fort Knox. We were the “house band” for a local radio station that played big band music and sponsored five or six dances/year, including New Year’s Eve, in hotel ballrooms. I bought the band from Don in 1991 (he died in
~1995) and the group remains together as The Moonlight Big Band. Trumpets are now in the back row, we have a string bass, and the Tuba player covers the fourth Bass Bone part. There is not much call for big band dances, yet we still play a few outdoor concerts each year.
— Around 1989 the growing University of Louisville Jazz program took a giant leap forward when John LaBarbera joined the faculty. He directed a community jazz ensemble for a few years, and I was fortunate to play in that group. It was very cool to play his compositions and arrangements, and just to hear his stories from being on the road with Buddy Rich and others.
— Back to concert bands, I joined the Indiana University Southeast (IUS) Concert Band in 1998, again almost a charter member, and still play tenor in this band. IUS is a regional campus of IU Bloomington, located in New Albany IN across the Ohio River from Louisville. Yes, Jamey Aebersold hails from New Albany, and the jazz program at U of L bears his name. IUS has a small but growing music dept., so the concert band is a mix of students, band directors, and seasoned community musicians like yours truly.
— Jamey is still active on the local jazz scene. I occasionally talk to him at U of L concerts, and he remembers his time with us at New Trier West.
— Back to big bands, I have been playing alto and tenor for at least fifteen years in the Swing Street Big Band, a group that has a standing monthly dinner/dance gig at a local restaurant.
— Ten years ago, my wife Nancy and I joined our church is that they had a sax player in their Praise Band. That sax player has been yours truly for the past six years or so.
— This musical bio would not be complete if I did not mention my twenty-plus years with The Hot Brats German Band. Covid put a damper on this group’s gigs, but we used to play two or three times/year in concert or for Oktoberfest celebrations. Got to love the lederhosen!
— I have been taking guitar lessons since December 2020. Probably to stop my sax honking, dear Nancy gave me a guitar as a 65th birthday present five years ago and our kids chipped in for lessons. I finally started playing and practicing after retiring from the engineering world last year. If I were to play in public at this point, I would indeed scare small children…
— On the personal side, between us, Nancy and I have three children, their spouses, and four grandkids ranging in age from three to ten as I write this on August 1, 2021. One son in-law, Matt, was a jazz trumpet major at Indiana. When my daughter Sara was dating him, I told her that if she did not want him, I did! A match made in musical heaven for this dad. We finally get to play our first gig together on August 6, a Moonlight Big Band concert.
In summary, music has been, is, and will continue to be an important part of my life. In addition to guitar picking, I am rehearsing or gigging on sax or clarinet an average of twice/week, which is perfect for me. Musical life is good!
Bob “Ajax” (Giles) Gilewski, New Trier West High School 1969, Tenor Sax
PS – Yeah, I am one of the few males with a maiden name. My father was born Gilewski, shortened it to Giles in the 1940s, and I changed it back to Gilewski in 1980 in anticipation of kids carrying on the true family name.