George Stein (1976) Trumpet
I was in the music program band-member from Fall ’74 to June ’76. I have many recollections of this important part of my life and although I was hesitant to begin writing about those days I was persuaded by the director, Roger Mills, and his obvious heart-felt emails, on behalf of the New Trier West Jazz Team. I began feeling that any recollections from that era will provide more puzzle pieces, to my fellow band members, and curiosity seekers, but they might also honor that very creative and intense time in all our lives.
I remember my mom driving me to audition for placement in the band during the summer of 1974, as I had enrolled in the jazz ensemble program. Previously I was in a successful junior high school band in California, and we had won a regional junior high band contest in Eagle Rock, I believe, and I had the 1st place medal pinned inside my trumpet case, more for personal motivation than to impress, but Mr. Mills (now Roger) and Mr. Mages saw it and made a comment about how medal winners still had to audition. I had a great junior high band director, Ken Lesight, who made a very strong impression upon me, and he had stressed how important practice was, and I took him to heart, so I had developed a respect for the process before I came to New Trier West, but of course, Roger and Mr. Mages picked up right where Mr. Lesight dropped off. I started lessons straight away. I cannot remember the trumpet teacher’s name, I think Burt Tobias, but I do remember that he loved to talk about Barney Miller. One last mention of Mr. Lesight – he always impressed upon us that a band was only as good as its weakest member. I have found that to be true in all instances since then.
It’s been 47 years since that NTW start and I have lost some of the day-to-day memories, while others do stand out. I remember playing bridge, or spades, with Tony Kalin (1978), Rob Ferdman (1977), Aaron Weinberg (1977), and others during our off hours in the music building. I think it was more for the camaraderie than the card skills. I remember the intense preparation before our concerts. I remember how amazing Marc Kupferberg (1976) was as a jazz soloist – legions beyond the skill level where I and others were. I remember Ron Cohen (1978) falling into the orchestra pit during a solo after getting dizzy holding a note for an extraordinary amount of time. And I remember jazz great Clark Terry visiting our jazz program one day. What an honor it was to meet such an exceptional man and musician.
One memory that is more a nightmare than dream is around the recording sessions for our album, I believe, in 1976. We were recording a song with a high decibel count and the recording was picking up a ringing sound, possibly from the Timpani drumheads sympathetically vibrating. But in any case, in an attempt to track down the issue, we spent hours playing a small snippet of this song without resolution. It speaks about our desire to achieve perfection for our album.
I mention this because, at least for me, being in Jazz Ensemble carried the same level of commitment and the demands as the football program did, or more (to be clear, I was not in the football program.) The skill level was high, the competitiveness level was high, and Roger’s expectations and requirements for us were just a bit higher. It is an opportunity that not many 17-year-olds, outside Olympic training, experience, and it does persuade one to work at a very high, professional level. I do credit music and my NTW Recording Jazz Ensemble experience with my ability and desire to excel in other endeavors. With my experience in jazz, and jazz improvisation, it instilled in me an ability to attack other difficult and frightening obstacles. I have had my fair or more than fair share of failures, but it was not for lack of effort.
So here are several more memories before I end my ‘down memory lane. I graduated a year early, after junior year, and Mike Minnick (1976) and I wrote our own arrangements for the Jazz Ensemble, which the band performed at the Spring concert. I do remember getting mighty resistance from Roger about our controversial song titles. Mike’s song was ‘Binding Arbitration’, which was a shot at the teacher negotiations with the school district at that time, and my arrangement was called ‘Kiss My Brass’, which was a general invitation for controversy, but which we agreed to change to ‘And it Came to Brass’ the night before the concert. Roger had a way of persuasion when it came to keeping his job.
After high school, I did end up in the UCLA Jazz Band under Gary Gray and in several rehearsal bands in Los Angeles and played in several struggling quartets and quintets around town. I took great pride in the skill level that I was able to acquire and hone before and after my NTW days. Though I decided to leave music after college, I credit the time and effort that I put into music in developing my aesthetic understanding of art and beauty and for my ability to approach and solve problems from a broader, outside-the-box approach. I try to direct my artistic leanings now in the area of photography, and to actually pay the bills, I do compliance work for Bank of America.