Life Before Hollywood
To give a bit of context to my career, I thought I would share with you all a little of my history before Hollywood.
I am a graduate of the University of Southern California where I studied horn with Waldemar Linder and Vincent DeRosa. I was also influenced in my years there by James Decker, Wendall Hoss, Tommy Johnson, Mitchell Lurie, Norman Herzberg, Kenneth Watson, and Robert Marstellar.
These incredible musicians were extremely influential to me in different ways. They helped me look at music through the eyes of different instruments, as well as different perspectives. This planted the seeds of my growing awareness of music as a whole.
In the summer after my junior year, I was invited to attend the Music Academy of the West, where I played under the baton of Maestro Maurice Abravanel, who was one of the founders of the organization and the long-time music director of the Utah Symphony. Under Maestro Abravanel I got the opportunity to play principal horn on Mahler’s 6th symphony, a full staging of the opera Carmen and many, many chamber works. Little did I know it at the time, but this summer was to prove a critical moment in my career.
Upon graduation from USC in 1977 I was invited to attend the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, which to this day is one of the premiere summer institutes for young musicians. There I worked under the directions of Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Bernstein, Klaus Tennstedt, and Gunther Schuller, who became my mentor (more on this later).
When I was at Tanglewood, I received a phone call from Abravanel who invited me to become a member of the Utah Symphony as their first ever contracted Assistant Principal horn. I was 21! It was basically without an official audition, but my informal assessment was my time at the Music Academy of the West the previous summer. Maestro Abravanel really liked my work! I had great mentorship from the Utah symphony’s principal horn player, Don Peterson. I really enjoyed my year with that Utah symphony, and the horn section of Don, Lynn Larson, Ed Allen, and Richard Fletcher. They were great to me! I learned a lot in that one year.
I chose to resign after a year to go back to USC and get a master’s degree because I wanted more time with Mr. DeRosa, but I never got the chance to attend. Midway through the summer of 1978 I received a phone call from Leonard Slatkin, then music director of the New Orleans Philharmonic. He asked me if I would be willing to come down and open the season as a temporary principal horn (their contracted principal horn had resigned and there was no time to hold an open audition). I would play principal for a couple of months and then I placed in the finals of the eventual audition.
The line I will never forget him saying was “I don’t know who you are, but your teacher says you are very good.” Slatkin’s parents… were concert master and principal cello of… respectively, where Vince DeRosa was principal horn. The only thing I could put together was that Maestro Slatkin had spoken either with his mother or Vince directly, so I went to New Orleans instead of going back to school! At age 22 I was principal horn of a full-time symphony orchestra.
I remained in New Orleans for two years. During that time, I began to cut my teeth playing jazz. I studied with Ellis Marsalis and started sitting in in jazz clubs. Marsalis played at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where most of my lessons were being held. Lessons turned into playing sessions; we would perform tunes together during his gigs in the atrium. He taught me how to listen; if I stopped listening, he would actually stop playing!
There was also a major jazz club at the Hyatt Regency, and any time a big artist was booked, which was regularly, Ellis would introduce me to those great musicians. I was fortunate enough as a 22 year old French Horn player to play with the likes of Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden and others. After three years of playing almost strictly symphonic repertoire (with an occasional solo recital thrown in for good measure) and playing in some jazz clubs, I realized it was time for a change. I resigned from New Orleans when I was 24 and made my move back to LA.
Once I was back, I was invited by then principal horn of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Robin Graham to get together and play duets. I thought this was the greatest thing, I got the chance to play duets with a big-time player. As it turns out it was not just Robin and me playing duets, other people were there; both the personnel manager and executive director of the Chamber Orchestra joined us. That became my audition for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra! I played a week with them with Gerard Schwarz (who has now joined me at UM) as conductor and was immediately hired!
A couple of years later Robin left and I became principal horn. It was during that stretch when I first joined the chamber orchestra that the connection to playing studio music came in. For the first time I was able to really utilize all of the knowledge that I had been absorbing ever since I was a student at USC and having been influenced by so many great artists on so many instruments.