From the early Salvation Army band I learned to play, and developed sensitivity to intonation – the ability to play in tune, in whatever group, at whatever dynamic level was required – and to listen to and work with other musicians, like actors in a play. The SA music, religious and grounded in worship, chorales and hymn tunes, provided a perfect place to develop and study. And Morley’s lessons launched me into music theory exploration, the technical basis for arranging and composing, regardless of genre.
Vern’s jazz taught me about the exciting immediacy of spontaneous composition – on-the-spot improvisation – the creative heart of jazz, swing, blues and soul music, and about the fascinating and exciting colours of a great arrangement.
Doc’s music, rising out of classical religious composers and poets, military band music, symphonies, fanfares and marches, took me back to my Salvation Army brass band roots. Doc once said “Give me a melody and I’ll follow you anywhere”. His melodies are a study in flowing, musical, lines.
Without Morley, Vern, and of course Doc Gayfer, my life would have been different. Following one possible thread, it could be argued that without Morley my interest in music theory might not have flourished. Without the connection to Vernon’s band, my ability in jazz and arranging might not have developed, and I might not have encountered Doc Gayfer, and revived my interest in brass bands.
Who among them had the greatest impact on me? Truth be known, I’m hard pressed to say. Just how I would have been different without them, any of them, is speculation, at best. Would I have learned in other ways, taken other roads? Through more formal study? Perhaps. At university? Conservatory? Or private lessons? Possibly. Or maybe I would have abandoned music altogether. All speculation, of course.
On the path to now, I’ve encountered some very talented musicians. Occasionally they do me the honour of coming together to play my music – mostly jazz flavoured these days. And, like publishing a story, the reward is knowing someone enjoyed your work. It’s the ultimate assessment, where all the struggles with theory are tested. It’s where the soundless written notes are heard, and where the magic becomes real. To paraphrase band leader Stan Kenton, referring to lead trombonist Vinnie Dean, (the musicians) can take black notes from white paper and bring wonderful life to them.” Both abilities truly magical.
Morley Calvert died in 1991, James McDonald Gayfer in 1996, and Vernon Isaacs in 1999. With such diverse music genres, I wonder what they would say about being here, on this page, together.