Ross Rutherford (1979) Drums
My love of music began at Locust Junior High School. It was there that I first experienced playing the drum set, or “traps,” in Camille Bertagnolli’s (Mrs. Bertagnolli to her students) pit band. Notably Alan Berliant (Bass) and Jun Corpuz (Guitar), future NTW Jazz Ensemble members, were in that same pit band with me. In addition, I was also in a rock band called Everday People that performed concerts at other schools in Wilmette’s district 39. While in junior high I heard a performance of the New Trier West High School Jazz Ensemble. I decided right then and there that when I got to high school I would try to become a member of that group.
Upon entering New Trier West High School, I auditioned for the Jazz Ensemble program, and it became clear that I could shuffle but could not swing. I was relegated to a practice room for a period each day and I improved enough to join Lab Jazz Band A with Mr. Fitchuk thereby achieving my first goal of becoming an actual band member. I did practice; enough so that I was awarded the big drum solo, for that group, at the year-end (1977) concert.
Much of the credit for my speedy absorption of jazz, I attribute to my percussion instructor, Phil Stanger. That, and the possibility of impressing the girls who followed the jazz ensemble musicians like they were star athletes. In addition to my drum lessons, with Phil, I also played in the percussion ensemble that he directed at New Trier.
This photo is of my Lab Band Solo in 1977
I practiced long and hard the summer between freshman and sophomore year and it paid off. Within the first few days of my 1978 sophomore year, I was “woodshedding” in one of the practice rooms, riffing off of a Gene Krupa solo I had recently heard, and someone (I do not recall who) told me I was wanted in Roger’s office. I do not think Roger Mills knew who was practicing in that room, but he had decided that I deserved to be in Recording Jazz Ensemble. I had made it to the top jazz band as a sophomore. I was thrilled! And terrified. The top drummer was so good, and I had to play with him watching me regularly. Wow….
Hard work, and discipline, got me to my goal. I was a member of the New Trier West Jazz Ensemble.
At the beginning of my junior year I returned to having a great time, while playing in Recording Jazz Ensemble. I was learning so much. I was becoming the drummer I had hoped I could be. And then, sadly, just weeks after returning for my junior year, my family suddenly moved out of the school district. The school I attended next, though it was a great school, did not have anything like what we had in the New Trier West jazz ensemble program.
As I continue to reflect on those times, I have many fantastic memories of being a part of the Jazz Ensemble program. It was one of the greatest challenges of my life and I loved it! I remain friends with several people, who were in that program, and it was there that I met the love of my life Ann Wainer, who was also in the Jazz Ensemble.
Although my New Trier West Jazz Ensemble career was cut short, it has always remained a part of me. It was truly a pleasure and one of the best experiences of my life.
To sum up my jazz ensemble experience, I, like most of the musicians, had never experienced competition that pushed me so hard. Competing at that level required discipline, and consistency, to practice enough to succeed in these groups. These were excellent student musicians, and it was clear that you had better know your scores or stop wasting everyone’s time. Without a doubt, Mr. Mills was my most influential teacher and a good friend. He supported me in so many ways; many of them having nothing to do with the music program. Through him, I learned how to be organized, honor deadlines, develop a strong work ethic, and above all, be prepared.
I went on to perform professionally throughout the eighties, but became dissatisfied with the music industry, especially as it pertained to drummers, and continued playing as a hobbyist ever since. I performed with such groups as The Skokie Concert Choir, The Brad Hubble Quartet, The Reason, Chambers of TIme, Rocket 88’s, Public Servants, Craig Champlin, Tim Menard, Tim Hart and The Ship of Fools, The Locals, James Curley, Melonie Budd, The Vinyl Kings, Friends Without Benefits, Face For Radio and others.