I’m a band parent. My daughter is in the Jazz Band at Taft Middle School. It's not a required class or an elective. It's a volunteer band and she's in it because she loves music. This means that I have to have her at school for band practice at 7:20 every morning before school starts- it’s a big commitment for her. But that commitment paid off during the ever wonderful and famous Taft Band Nacho Night and Silent Auction!
When an email from band director Dr. Rod Daniel appeared and said that a special guest might play with the band for “Nacho Night”, the excitement started to build. The special guest was renowned Jazz trumpet player Tony Lujan - a Taft Middle School alumni.
The night was magic. Several Taft Band alumni joined and played alongside their former classmates. Tony Lujan jumped right in and wowed the crowd. He was not only amazing on stage, but he was so generous and supportive of the band. For someone of that caliber to spend his Friday night playing with middle school students is indeed an incredible thing.
After the evening was over, we all got a chance to talk to him. He was so giving of his time, ready to talk to anyone who approached and ready to answer any questions. I told him I would love to interview him for a little blog I do every Wednesday and he said sure! He said I could email my questions to him and he’d email the answers to me as soon as he got back home from playing at the Blue Note in New York!
Here’s what I received by email –
Did you have fun playing with the Taft Jazz Band for Nacho Night? How did that all come together?
Yes, that was a fun night. I have not been back to Taft Jr. High in many years. It was also fun to see some old friends. The way it all came together? My mother and I were on our way to a friend’s house, fellow trumpeter Bobby Shew, who just moved back to Burque. He was my trumpet teacher in Los Angeles. When I got to the intersection of 4th and Osuna I had a wild idea – visit the old band room at Taft. So I made a quick left towards the school. We entered the principal’s office and asked if we could visit the band room, and with a little persuasion, and identification, the principal guided us to the band room. Once in the band room all the fun began.
You grew up in the North Valley of "Burque" – what are some of your memories growing up there?
The North Valley as I remember it was a fun place to grow up. I attended Mission Elementary then I was off to Taft. I often have dreams of being a child and attending Taft. It was a great time for me, especially for music. Mr. Paul Farmer was the instructor at the time. He could play Jazz and Dixie. Often I would stay after school and pick his brain for musical information, and he was always helpful. During one Concert our special guest was Mr. Bob Farley. My friendship with him lasted until his passing. Other memories are of my friends the Motto's, Debbie Gill, Stanley Vargas, Marie Fixemer, Chris Anderson ,The Goose, Offie Rey Guiterez, Joseph Mirabal, Mark Aldaretti, Kenny Anderson, Fenton Katz,Ed Wolf, Ron Lipka and so many more. THE FOOD!!!
Any great stories you remember from Taft?
Here is a funny story. We were in Band one day rehearsing. I had just read some trumpet info that famous classical trumpet player Raphael Mendez quoted. "Being a trumpet player is similar to being a surfer. You must learn to hold your breath for long period of time." So while Mr. Farmer was rehearsing the woodwinds, Stanley Vargas and I started timing and holding our breath. We were doing fine until I hit the floor from a lack of oxygen. We were immediately sent to the principal’s office to resume our contest - which I won, and landed up with the most paddles of the day. I often share this story with my students when I am teaching them to hold their breath for long period of time.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Our household was loaded with Music. My father played trumpet, guitar, accordion and was a vocalist. We listened to Ranchera, Mariachi, Dixie, Jazz. My sisters were into the current styles of music at that time, The Beatles, Stones, Hendrix etc. There was never a lack of music around the house.
What has been the highlight of your career?
That is hard to say, there have been so many. I have always enjoyed music. At this point in my career I enjoy working with kids the most. It is the most gratifying experience. "The more I give the more I receive". This is my quote and it is so true.
Any funny stage or recording stories?
Well working with Ray Charles was by far the most funny experience of my life. Every night was wild. We band members always carried palm recorders to record the gory details.
One morning I was awakened by the voice of Brother Ray. "Good morning N-----ers this is the captain speaking" . (This is always how he addressed the band.) "They tell me that you can see the tree tops, we are currently at an elevation of 20,000 feet." At that point I looked up the aisle toward the cockpit and there he was flying the airplane!!! I freaked!! I immediately woke up a fellow trumpet player and told him Ray was flying the plane. He told me, “Ray flies his plane often, go back to sleep!!” I said. “What?!!!” He said, “What's there to hit up here?” I stated, “The ground!!” Needless to say, I quit the band two weeks later.
How did you get started working with school music programs?
My mentors Clark Terry and Bobby Shew were clinicians. After the experience of being around people who had command of their instrument and were willing to come out to Jr. High, High school and Colleges, I immediately wanted to follow in their footsteps. Education is the most important thing we as adults can provide for the youth. The more info I can give them, the sooner they can reach their musical dreams. Creativity can help you in all walks of life not just music. It is very important to keep the arts alive for the sake of learning how to think outside of the BOX.
When working with kids, how do you relate your music to them? Can you identify with the music they listen to?
Great question. The best way to communicate and convey my music is to play their music as well. When a student realizes that Jazz is a language and can be used in most every form of music then they become interested. Another important factor, once a student realizes that you are a human and not some genius or prodigy, they also realize that they too can achieve their goals. Through proper training, discipline, dedication, perseverance and most of all LOVE for the Music or any field in general. All dreams can be accomplished.
When you come back to visit what are some the favorite places you go to. Anything in 'Burque you wish was still around?
Most of the time when I visit Burque I spend my time in the Mountains where I was raised after my Taft years. Only recently have I reached out to visit Burque. I miss a lot of my old friends which I have lost contact with. I'll have to spend more time doing research and trying to locate them.
Experiences of learning from musicians like Tony Lujan can really make an impact on a child. Arts education - it's a wonderful thing! A huge thank you to Tony Lujan for taking the time from his very busy schedule to answer my questions! And one more thing...TAFT BAND ROCKS!