Tag Archives: tuba

The Tuba God

Not long ago, I was driving through Tennessee and happened upon a town called Cookeville, which is home to Tennessee Tech University. I had been advised that TTU, an engineering school out in the middle of nowhere, is also one of the world’s great centers for tuba playing.

This is largely due to the presence, since 1967, of Winston Morris, whom my source referred to as The TubaIMG_1277 God.

As a reporter, I pride myself on braking for anyone I hear who is colloquially known as the “God” of something, or the “King” of something else.

I have done stories on The Cambodian Donut King and The Tomato King and a Chinese-Mexican beauty Queen selected because she accumulated the largest number of Pepsi bottle caps (true story – Hell, they’re all true stories.)

Among the cool things about being a reporter is that it gives you a license to barge into the lives of some of the most creative people in America. So that’s what I did.

I called Morris and he kindly allowed me to stop by on my way from Nashville to Knoxville. We talked a lot about tubas, the most relegated of instruments, and how it has emerged from the shadows where other instruments – mostly trumpets – had placed it. A civil rights movement for tubas, where the instrument was now breaking with all limitations, and playing any piece on the instrument was now possible.

Many years ago, Morris started the school’s Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble. He said he did this to attract attention to his program and to begin writing repertoire for the instrument, which had precious little. He envisioned the ensemble as tuba version of the string quartet or brass quintet. The Ensemble is now four decades old and has recorded pieces by Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Thelonious Monk, Gunther Schuller, Michael Jackson, and a bunch more.

He had more to say about tuba playing, about living in the Jim Crow South as a boy, about caring for his wife for 16 years after her massive stroke. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant in Cookeville.

Morris, btw, also holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest collection of tuba-related figurines – more than 2200. Rabbits playing the tuba, bears playing the tuba, Santa Clauses playing the tuba, soldiers playing the tuba, monkeys and elephants and cats playing the tuba. He’s donating it all to the school, which will set up an exhibit of tuba-related art.

Just another reason to stop while driving east from middle Tennessee.

 

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Death of a Tuba Superstar – RIP El Jokoki

jokoki

Carlos Soto, El Jokoki

Sad news from Mexico that Carlos Soto Beltran, aka El Jokoki, has died of complications from leukemia.

Soto was the tuba player for many years for Banda El Recodo, the holy mother of all bandas in Sinaloa.

He grew into something of the Michael Jordan of the tuba, in that he was a great player, but also made his persona into something younger tuba players wanted to follow and emulate.

He was, in other words, the first star tuba player – something that Mexican tuba playing didn’t have before him.

Soto spent 20 years with Recodo. He retired due to his illness in 2012 and his place was taken by another great and influential tuba player, Alfredo Herrejon.

During his years with Recodo, though, Soto raised the bell on his tuba so that the audience could see his face, thus plucking tuba players forever from the obscurity and ignominy they endured with the bell covering their face down to their nose.

I want to say he was among the first to engrave his tubas with florid designs – but others please correct me if I’m wrong.

Soto also had a signature tuba mouthpiece – the Jokoki – made by Pablo Garibaldi of Garibaldi Music in Paramount, CA.

His nickname means Cream.

El Debate from Culiacan says in its obituary that he retired from Recodo to dedicate himself to therapy for people sick with cancer, spinal ailments and others.

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PHOTOGRAPHY: Another Tuba Photo

Paramount, CA

Alfredo Herrejon, tuba player for Banda El Recodo.

Alfredo changed Mexican tuba with his playing on “Mi Gusto Es” by Banda Tierra Blanca in 1997 — a reworking of the tuba part in that classic ranchero song that ignited the imagination of dozens of younger players.

Mexican tuba playing hasn’t been the same since.

This was taken outside the shop where he has his tuba mouthpieces made — Garibaldi Musical Instruments in Paramount, CA.

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LOS ANGELES: The Tubas have left the building … again

Los Angeles Tuba

So yet another school has lost its sousaphones to thieves who apparently will spare no effort, and overlook many other valuable items, to make off only with the tubas.

San Fernando High School’s marching band had its only two tubas stolen last month. The thieves broke into one band room, stole nothing, then broke into another and stole nothing but the tubas — overlooking guitars, violins, trumpets, drums, etc.

It’s all about banda music and the tuba’s newfound popularity here in LA, where it’s really the emblematic instrument of the era, much like the guitar was in the 1970s.

 

 

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PODCAST: Oystein Baadsvik and Tuba Civil Rights

Oystein Baadsvik is the only tuba player in the world to make his living entirely from solo performances, his own CDs and master classes.

For the last 20 years, he has been expanding the possibilities of the world’s largest brass instrument, and reshaping the way it’s viewed by the public, as well as by the musicians who play it.

(Listen to an interview with Oystein Baadsvik, tuba virtuoso and creative spirit.)

A Norwegian by birth, Baadsvik, 46, now spends 200 days a year traveling, preaching tuba creativity and the limitlessness of an instrument born more than a century ago into accompanist captivity.

I met Baadsvik before a master class he was to give one night at the University of Southern California — itself a center of tuba effervescence. (It’s where the late Tommy Johnson taught and turned out dozens of professional tuba players; and it’s where Jim Self now teaches and continues to educate the tubists of tomorrow.)

Close to a hundred students filled the class later that evening — most of them tuba players.

During our interview, we spoke about Baadsvik’s life as a tuba soloist, the limitations other non-players have imposed on the tuba, how tuba players have subconsciously accepted these limitations, and whether a tuba civil rights movement has formed to lead the instrument out from the back of the band.

“Playing a tuba is always crossing borders, doing stuff that hasn’t been done before,” he said.

Anyway, hope you enjoy an interview with a creative spirit.

The pieces on the podcast are:

First, “Dancing with a Blue Ribbon” from his new CD, Ferry Tales.

“Winter” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” from his first CD, Tuba Carnival.

Finally, “Fnugg,” also from Tuba Carnival.

 

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LOS ANGELES: R.I.P. Chalino Sanchez

Perhaps the most influential musical figure to emerge out of Los Angeles in a generation was Chalino Sanchez, who was found shot to death 20 years ago today outside Culiacan, the capital city of his native state of Sinaloa, Mexico.

An unlettered immigrant who spoke no English, he virtually singlehandedly created the narcocorrido genre of music, with songs he composed himself that act today as an oral history of the lawless ranchos — villages — of Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua and other northwest Mexican states, where impunity and drug trafficking were rife.

On May 15, 1992, he’d given a show in Culiacan and gone out afterwards with friends. A group of men dressed as policemen stopped the caravan of cars and took Chalino. His body was found in a field the next day with two bullets in his head.

Sanchez was already an underground star in LA by then. His death confirmed his street cred and he became a phenomenon. He is today a legend and well known to kids who weren’t even born when he was alive.

Chalino also did the impossible by making tubas, accordions and clarinets hip and cool instruments, so much so that young Latino kids would blast tuba- and accordion-based polkas from their trucks as they drove down the streets of towns in southeast LA County. Still do.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of LA-born kids followed him, becoming narcocorrido singers and sounding and looking just like the master.

I’ve always felt, though, that they imitated the wrong part of Chalino — his dress, his raw style of singing. Instead, the point of Chalino’s life, I’ve always thought, was to follow your own vision, your own way of doing things. People would tell him to shut up, that he couldn’t sing. “I don’t sing; I bark,” he said, fully aware of his own musical shortcomings. But he kept on, trusting his own experience and ability. he wrote corridos from the people he met in LA; recorded them in small studios, then sold the cassettes of these songs at Mexican bakeries, butcher shops and at swap meets.

DIY — that’s how great things are accomplished.

The narcocorrido scene he fathered in LA was one of the great DIY musical movements to come out of LA. First was punk, in Hollywood. Then gangster rap out of Compton. Then narcocorridos out of Huntington Park, Paramount, and other southeast LA County cities.

You can read more about him in my first book, True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.

There’s a concert in his honor on Friday at the Gibson Amphitheater, which should be great, and a tour coming out of that later this year.

A great punkrock spirit. RIP Chalino Sanchez.

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CULTURE (kind of): SNL spoofs tuba thefts

This is getting weird. SNL’s Weekend Update riffed off the stolen tuba story last night. Here’s the full show, check it out at minute 35 or so.

As it happens, I missed it. By weird coincidence, I was out last night at a rehearsal of a banda of guys calling themselves Los BuKnas de Culiacan (that would be a bastardization of Buchanan, the rum), in a garage in Downey (see photos above). Buchanan Rum is a prized drink in the Mexican narco world — a sign of class and having arrived.

One of the songs was “Si No Vienes Conmigo” — which involves a man threatening his girlfriend that if she doesn’t come with him, he’s going to kidnap her and not charge a ransom. Where’s the romance gone?

Actually the band is a mixture of banda and norteno — with tuba, baritone horn, plus accordion — and looks to me a lot like the beginnings of punk rock. Went to the club where they were playing after the rehearsal and they wouldn’t let me and two BBC colleagues in. Reporters strictly prohibited at El Potrero Club in Cudahy.

 

 

 

 

 

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MIGRANTS: Tuba thefts

Santiago "Shagi" Mata, tuba player, Maywood, CA

The LA band craze continues to claim high school tubas right and left.

Here’s a link to a story about the latest: Bell High School had two stolen over the weekend, valued at $6,000 apiece. Several other schools have had tubas stolen in recent months.

It’s all about the emergence of the tuba as the emblematic instrument for Southern California in this era, just as the electric guitar was for the 1970s.

With the arrival of Mexican immigrants, and their tradition of house parties, the tuba has become all the rage in SoCal. Great tubists in banda music, like Santiago Mata (pictured here), are paid more than other musicians.

Also, the Sierreno trio — tuba, guitar and accordion — has grown in popularity at these parties.

Hence, tubas, the most expensive of marching band instruments, are in high demand. Most of the thefts have taken place in predominantly Mexican immigrant areas — southeast of LA especially — where banda is hugely popular.

I’ve written a story about this phenomenon and one about the thefts of tubas that many instructors believe is the result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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