The Best of Jazz, and Jazz as a Pathway to Greatness

I had the good fortune to attend an excellent public high school. Langley High School in McLean, Va., was so good that the great and the good of Washington, D.C., who had their pick of exclusive private schools, often sent their kids to Langley.

I was a decent trumpet player, and mid-way through my sophomore year I was plucked from the pedestrian Concert Band and took the fourth chair in the trumpet section of the Jazz Lab.

The music teacher was a white-haired, red-faced Boston Irishman named George Horan. He ruled his empire with a cunning mix of fear and encouragement. We wanted to make him happy, because a) he was genuinely delighted when we demonstrated improvement and b) we were afraid of what he’d say if we didn’t demonstrate improvement.

Going from Concert Band to Jazz Lab was like being suddenly promoted from single A baseball to the major leagues. I hid at the end of the section and played my parts as softly as I dared, lest I attract any attention.

Horan was having none of it. “Sully!” he’d bellow. “Lemme hear it from the top.”

My junior year we went to what was then West Berlin on an exchange trip. (The Germans sent a bluegrass band, which sounds like the premise of a Philip Roth novel.)

We played two shows a day for two solid weeks, on television, radio, in a former concentration camp and in a beer hall on the same bill with the Platters. Then we drank beer at Burger King with some of the Platters.

And when we came back we were a tight outfit. We won every competition we entered.

I had braces for what seemed like forever, and playing a brass instrument with braces is not much fun.

Senior year the braces came off and with them went most of my range. 

But my tone was suddenly nice and round and full.

Horan promoted me to the second chair, which handled whatever soloing was called for.

He ordered me to practice endless scales at home.

And he told me to listen to (and play along with) records by Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins — the former for what a trumpet player could get away with without a big range, and the latter for how to start a solo with a restatement of the melody line and then add a few twists. 

Much to my surprise, suddenly I was improvising and it didn’t sound awful.

He recommended some other stuff too — a lot of bluesy material without complicated chord changes.

So I did, because nobody disobeyed George Horan. Here are the records I picked up or borrowed and played to:

• Miles Davis: “Kind of Blue.” This is on everybody’s jazz list but so what. 

• Sonny Rollins: “Saxophone Colossus” (especially “Blue Seven”).

• “The Trumpet Kings Meet Joe Turner” with Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Harry “Sweets” Edison.

• Joe Turner and Count Basie: “The Bosses” (with Edison on trumpet).

• “The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz,” which in its first incarnation ran the gamut from Robert Johnson to Ornette Coleman.

I occasionally get my trumpet out and I can still play “Ornithology” (not very well).

But I never forgot George Horan and the way he got the best out of me — and then demanded a little bit more.

Amazon Catalog Photo

Amazon Catalog Photo

Amazon Catalog Photo

Amazon Catalog Photo

Latest News

Cornwall labrador maimed in bear attack

Charlie the labrador retriever must wear a cone while he recovers from a bear attack on Wednesday, July 17.

Phyllis Nauts

CORNWALL — An eight-year-old black labrador retriever named Charlie was mauled by a bear in his yard on the evening of Wednesday, July 17.

Phyllis Nauts, his owner, said she did not hear or see the fight and only realized what had happened when Charlie came inside for mealtime.

Keep ReadingShow less
Thru hikers linked by life on the Appalachian Trail

Riley Moriarty


Of thousands who attempt to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, only one in four make it.

The AT, completed in 1937, runs over roughly 2,200 miles, from Springer Mountain in Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park of Maine.

Keep ReadingShow less
17th Annual New England Clambake: a community feast for a cause

The clambake returns to SWSA's Satre Hill July 27 to support the Jane Lloyd Fund.


The 17th Annual Traditional New England Clambake, sponsored by NBT Bank and benefiting the Jane Lloyd Fund, is set for Saturday, July 27, transforming the Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s Satre Hill into a cornucopia of mouthwatering food, live music, and community spirit.

The Jane Lloyd Fund, now in its 19th year, is administered by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and helps families battling cancer with day-to-day living expenses. Tanya Tedder, who serves on the fund’s small advisory board, was instrumental in the forming of the organization. After Jane Lloyd passed away in 2005 after an eight-year battle with cancer, the family asked Tedder to help start the foundation. “I was struggling myself with some loss,” said Tedder. “You know, you get in that spot, and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Someone once said to me, ‘Grief is just love with no place to go.’ I was absolutely thrilled to be asked and thrilled to jump into a mission that was so meaningful for the community.”

Keep ReadingShow less