It’s taken me eighteen years to finally be able to put this story to ink (even if it’s only digital). The year was 1995 and I’d had a tragic accident with my Holton TR158. The outer slide fell off when I was coming out of a practice room while on crutches. The slide was damaged terribly and needed new outer tubes. My Professor, Don Lucas, told me, “well, maybe it’s time for that Edwards you’ve been wanting to buy for so long.”
I paid my way through college by teaching private students and brass masterclasses in the high schools of Lubbock, Texas. I was not flush with cash, so I had to get creative in order to scrape together enough dollars to be able to afford the upcoming purchase. Not only was I going to get an Edwards, I was going to fly into Midway airport in Chicago and travel to the factory to be fit by Jonathan Winkle. Don worked it out so that our visit would coincide with Joseph Alessi’s visit to the factory during the summer. Chris Branagan was also going to buy a horn.
Flying into Midway saved us a lot of money, but it meant we were 2 1/2 hours from Edwards. Once in Elkhorn we stayed at the Americinn hotel. It’s a nice place, but there are no restaurants around the joint so we just settled in for the evening. The next day we all piled into Jonathan Winkle’s car and went to the factory. The fitting was everything we had hoped for. The sounds we were able to make were heavenly. Those horns were destined to take us into the next phase of our careers as elite orchestra musicians.
Joseph Alessi did come in during our fittings and was very complimentary, even with me playing every third and fourth position note out of tune. I did this only because the T350 was very different from the Bach 42 closed wrap I was borrowing from Chris since my Holton’s demise…
That evening we went back to the Americinn but had a problem. There was no food nearby and we had no car. Jonathan lived in Milwaukee so we were out of luck there. We had our new Edwards trombones with us, so I went downstairs to talk to the local native behind the desk. We talked about what we were doing in Elkhorn and she was amazed that we were travelling in for instruments. I asked if there was a way to go to Lake Geneva, and she offered to loan us her pickup.
I went upstairs and told Chris and Don. We decided that we had to play for her. The only duet we had was Don’s arrangement of Three Emily Dickinson Songs by Michael Hennigan. Don Lucas was wanting to premiere it later that year, but Chris and I stole that opportunity and did the world premiere at the Americinn in Elkhorn, WI. We then left our trombones as collateral and were off to Lake Geneva for dinner.
The next day, while driving to the airport, Don opened his mouth and what he said would make this trip the stuff of legend: “Guys, we gotta stop for Giordano’s deep dish pizza. It’ll change your life.” Against our better judgment, we stopped and ordered three personal deep dish pizzas. Deep dish takes longer to bake, so we thought getting the personal, smaller size would speed up the process. We kept glancing at the clock nervously, but the manager told us not to worry. After 45 minutes (45 minutes!), the order was ready. We sprinted to the car, pizzas in hand, and floored it for Midway.
If the pizza delay wasn’t enough, we hit the dreaded Chicago freeway summer construction. We couldn’t have been going more than 25 mph. To say we were nervous was an understatement. We got to the airport with 8 minutes (8 minutes!) to spare. Since this was pre-9/11, we were able to go directly to the gate. I took off in a sprint, leaving Chris and Don to be the luggage and trombone mules. I got to the gate in time to see the door closing. I told them to wait, that we are there and ready to board. “Sorry sir. The plane door is already closed. We can’t let you on.” I pleaded desperately (I was sure that after getting a loaner car from a hotel manager that getting on this plane would be easy). Chris and Don showed up just in time to see the plane pulling back from the gate. My mouth was open, but no sounds came from it.
Don and Chris had plenty of questions, but the only thing that mattered was this – there were no more flights to Lubbock that day. Midway Airport at the time was a dump and incredibly hot, so staying there the night wasn’t an option. We got on the phone and found out that Jeff Kurka was in Houston. He was planning on driving to Lubbock later that night after picking up slides from Bob Hester, who is/was our slide doctor.
We had a little time to spare – and I was starving – so I dug into the pizza while Don and Chris got us on a Houston flight. Chris was so distraught over the events that he couldn’t eat his, so he put it in the trash in disgust (the pizza had become a symbol of what was wrong in the world). That box sat there for .01 seconds before I tore into it. No food went to waste in my college years.
We got to Houston and Jeff picked us up. He owned a white Geo Prism that was hardly big enough for two people, let alone four trombone players, four trombones, eight additional slides, and luggage. Jeff’s parents had bought him a luggage rack to go on top of the car so we could make everything fit. If you are curious, the trip takes 8 hours 11 minutes according to our friends at Google.
And the trip was dark. In every way possible.
Chris was the music hall manager at Texas Tech. There was a recital happening that evening that he was responsible for. He made calls to make sure the hall was open and the recording was made, but he wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy to be sweating and stuffed into the back seat of a Geo Prism for 8 hours and 15 minutes (8 hours and 15 minutes!).
But Don was fine.
In fact, he decided to stop for a recruiting opportunity. AAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!
Chris and I were furious. Jeff was Switzerland. But Don won. We stopped at a high school student’s house so Don could convince him to come to TTU in the fall. Just this past year I was amazed to find out the student was Bruce Faske who will be performing at this upcoming years Alessi Seminar.
The trip seemed like it would never end. It stuck with me for a long time, but I’ve never been able to put it down in ink until now. In spite of all the craziness of that trip, I did learn a lot:
- The instruments here are amazing.
- The people in Wisconsin are great and will help you if you ask.
- The new Hampton Inn is closer to food so you won’t have to test your “skills” or do a world premiere of a piece to get a ride.
- Chicago style pizza will change your life. Maybe not enough to make a 3 hour trip into an 18 hour trip, but it’s pretty good.
The T350 I bought that day had a 384CF bell, rose single radius tuning slide, tenor bass crook slide, and a T2 custom silver leadpipe. This trombone sits next to my CNC and I play it every day when I’m making mouthpieces. It’s been modified a bit since, though.
If you were to ask, “would you do it again?”, my answer would be yes. And I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s taken me eighteen years to be able to say this.
Photo by Gary Lopater