Don Robin (1975) Piano
Ed. Note: Don was a member of the 1975 New Trier High School Recording Jazz Ensemble. He received the coveted Louis Armstrong Award, for jazz performance, and the American Music Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Performance of Modern Music.
It is getting hard to remember but I think the first time that I heard the New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensemble was when I was in 6th or 7th grade at Sunset Ridge, where I went to school. Actually, I transferred from Avoca West in fifth grade, so I had grown up with a lot of the kids in Wilmette and Glenview, Illinois who went to New Trier West High School.
The first time I heard the New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensemble, was on one of our breaks at school and it literally sent goose pimples up my spine. And I said to myself “WOW.” At that time I don’t think I really knew who Mr. Mills (the Director) was. But in the back of my mind I was thinking maybe I could be part of this someday. And from that point on I started to get very serious about Jazz and was very lucky to have had some great teachers starting out at when I was 6 or 7 years old. Bob Ravenscroft was my first jazz teacher at the Alan Swain Jazz Studios in Evanston. And could this guy play!!! And what a thrill to have a teacher that could write out an arrangement in 15 minutes to any tune you could think of and bring it home to practice. Well Bob left for Phoenix and my next teacher was Skip Green. Skip turned me on to Chick Corea, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. I listened to Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, and I thought someone would have to be crazy to like this music!!! But gradually it began to sink in, and I started falling in love with hardcore jazz.
Well, when I was a freshman at New Trier I found out who Roger Mills was and found out what the New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensemble was. And talk about Inspiration! And then to be able to listen to great musicians like Ross Trout, Steve Kujala, and many others, and a band that won most of the soloist awards at the Montreux Jazz Festival, was beyond inspiration. And the early seventies was a time where jazz really made its mark and was on the cutting edge of innovation. And living in Chicago with the ability to go to Jazz Showcase on Rush Street or the Amazing Grace in Evanston and see all the Jazz Greats was truly an awesome experience!!!
Along the way I decided to study classical piano in Santa Barbara, Ca with Herman Shapiro (a professor at De Paul University) and a student of the renowned Rudolph Ganz (The director of the Chicago Musical College). While in Santa Barbara I played in various clubs in the area and performed with the Santa Barbara City College Jazz Band featuring bassist Randy Tico who went on to tour with Airto.
At 24, I moved to New York City and studied with Carl Mosbacher, a professor at New York University and the Mannes School of Music. In 1987, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and began studying piano with Julian White and also studied jazz piano with Mark Levine. I performed in various groups in the Bay Area and worked with bassist Ezra Gale, and drummer Jack Castillo (the original drummer of Tower of Power). I then attended San Francisco State University and studied piano with William Corbett Jones. I graduated with a music degree from California State University, Hayward, and am currently teaching piano in the San Diego area with California Music Studios, Golden West Music Studios, and performing in Southern California with guitarist James Abbuhl.
It is funny but when I play with younger musicians today who are planning on going to New York and studying at the New School or Manhattan School of Music, they are practicing the same stuff we practiced in high school. Mr. Mills was a true inspiration!!! And he had a passion for everything he does! He was very tough, but it made you work very hard and take your music to the next level. Thank You Mr. Mills for your inspiration and encouragement!!!