17 May 2008
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
If you play a trumpet, and you are a friend of mine, or even just an acquaintance, please be careful out there.
The friends and family of Ralph Sappington celebrated his life last night at the Alberta Bair. He had a knack for assembling outstanding musicians; last night was no exception, even posthumously he hasn't lost his touch. It was tasteful and musical, as Ralph always was and is, come to think of it. A guy by the name of John Roberts, from Malta MT, who did some amazing things with a trombone that Ralph had given him a dozen years earlier, seemed to be the musical director. There were some awesome saxophone players and a left-handed guitar player that just wouldn't stop. They were all very good.
The closing number was Just A Closer Walk With Thee, with lots of tear- and joy-filled choruses. Sorry, this version above is a little corny.
The reason for the warning is that during the show I remembered a few other trumpet players that cashed in their chips way too early. I played with Dick Ruedebusch in high school: He sold cars for an income but he played traditional music for a living. As I was returning from a trip east a few weeks ago, I may have stumbled upon the alley just off Wells St I think that led to the nightclub in Milwaukee that he played at while I was in college in nearby Waukesha.
Dick Ruedebusch and his Underprivileged Five Plus Two playing St James Infirmary Blues. Oh yeah. I was shaken by his trumpet sound early one morning as I was drifting off to sleep my first year in medical school, ca. 1962, but I knew that he had recently died in his 40s from a valvular problem with his heart in the days before the surgeons fixed those problems almost easily. There is a place in your temporal lobe where these things are stored, so I instantly recognized his sound: Of course, it was a recording made with Woody Herman. Whew, I got a little shaky there for a minute or two. That might be the cover of the long-playing record if any of you still remember that terminology.
And then I remembered my friend, Don Ferguson, who wrestled with some form of lymphoma that just wouldn't let him go, despite all the best efforts of his oncologists. I was lucky to play in a brass quintet with him and other real musicians some years ago when the concept of "middle age" was just slowly teasing itself through my brain.
And now Ralph, who liked his fellow musicians enough to write some parts that would stretch you even if you were down on 3rd or 4th trombone.