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Mr. Tuba

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With warmth and humor, tuba virtuoso Harvey Phillips tells the story of his amazing life and career from his Missouri childhood through his days as a performer with the King Brothers and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses, his training at the Juilliard School, a stint with the US Army Field Band, and his freelance days with the New York City Opera and Ballet. A founder of the New York Brass Quintet, Phillips served as vice president of the New England Conservatory of Music and became Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University. The creator of an industry of TubaChristmases, Octubafests, and TubaSantas, he crusaded for recognition of the tuba as a serious musical instrument, commissioning more than 200 works. Enhanced by an extensive gallery of photographs, Mr. Tuba conveys Phillips's playful zest for life while documenting his important musical legacy.

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1 Growing Up in Missouri

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CHAPTER ONE

Growing Up in Missouri

NEWS SPREAD QUICKLY in our small town of Marionville, Missouri. In mid-June 1947, when the preacher of my church heard that I would be “running away with the circus,” he drove to our house and asked to speak with my mother and me. As always, Mom greeted the preacher cordially and invited him into our parlor, a room kept prim and proper for the visits of preachers and insurance salesmen, every doily in place and everything clean and orderly. Reverend Gilbert was assigned the most comfortable chair while Mom sat on the front edge of another chair holding a handkerchief in her lap. I sat on the piano bench, in front of our old upright piano.

After friendly exchanges about the weather, vegetable gardens, and everyone’s health, Reverend Gilbert took a big breath and extolled lavishly about what a fine young man I was, what a great job I was doing as junior superintendent of the church and as president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. I enjoyed that part of his visit. But suddenly his manner changed; his voice became dark and ominous and he stated, “From what I hear, this young man is going into a life of sin!” He then continued to express, through combined lecture and sermon, his opinions and what he had heard about the decadent morals of show business people, circus people especially, and how, as an innocent seventeen-year-old youth, I could easily be corrupted by association and temptations.

 

2 King Bros. Circus Band

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CHAPTER TWO

King Bros. Circus Band

IT WAS THE AFTERNOON of Saturday, June 22, 1947, and my dad, brother-in-law Ralph Wilks, and I had just finished putting another wagonload of hay bales into the barn loft. As we replenished our supply of cold well water in a jug hanging on a hook under the wagon, we observed Major Homer F. Lee drive his 1940 black, two-door Ford sedan into the driveway. He drove right up to the gate, got out of his car, and walked rapidly toward the barn. We took a welcome pause in our work to greet him.

As he approached us he was smiling from ear to ear, waving a yellow envelope and announcing excitedly, “Harvey, Harvey, you’ve got a job with King Bros. Circus!” Like most people in show business, and as a former circus bandmaster, Homer Lee was an avid reader of Billboard magazine—especially the circus section. In a recent issue he had noticed that King Bros. Circus bandmaster A. Lee Hinckley needed a bass player for his band. Without my knowledge, Mr. Lee had contacted Mr. Hinckley and, on Mr. Lee’s recommendation, Mr. Hinckley agreed to hire me. Mr. Lee said he hadn’t spoken with me about such a possibility because I might have been disappointed if the answer had been no. But Mr. Hinckley wanted me to join his King Bros. Circus Band in Waterbury, Connecticut, on Monday, July 1, only nine days away! The job paid fifty-five dollars a week plus room and board. It was a lot more money than I could earn doing farm work!

 

3 Traveling with the Greatest Show on Earth

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CHAPTER THREE

Traveling with the Greatest Show on Earth

I WAS APPREHENSIVE, but I hoped I could be successful with bandmaster Merle Evans and his band. This was no small-town circus I would be joining—it was the Greatest Show on Earth!

Once again, I was “running away” with the circus, only this time there was no preacher’s visit to contend with. Mom and Dad, with Mr. and Mrs. Homer Lee, gave me a proper send-off from the Missouri Pacific Passenger Station in Aurora. I was excited and anxious to be making music again with professional musicians. We would have two weeks of rehearsals in Sarasota, Florida, three full days of travel between Sarasota and New York City, then another week of rehearsals in Madison Square Garden. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, the Greatest Show on Earth, was scheduled to open in New York City’s Madison Square Garden on April 7, 1948. Then on to Boston and the world!

I was met at the Sarasota train station by circus drummer Red Floyd. Red was truly a legend to drummers the world over and, as time would tell, one of the most unforgettable people I have ever known. Once I had my tuba and other luggage in Red’s Chrysler Town and Country station wagon, he said, “We’ll leave your tuba at the American Legion Hall where we rehearse tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock. Then we’ll pass by the trailer park and meet the other bass player, Reuben Clinton ‘Johnny’ Evans—no relation to Merle.” Red then said, “Johnny is a terrific bass player, one of the best ever. He has only one problem. He never gets along with other bass players, so be careful.” As Red finished this surprise bombshell, we arrived at Johnny’s trailer. I enjoyed meeting Johnny. He asked questions about my trip, my hometown, my folks, and my experience. He seemed to be satisfied with my answers and was quite pleasant. Johnny said, “I look forward to tomorrow’s rehearsal.” I agreed.

 

4 Juilliard, Studying with William J. Bell

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CHAPTER FOUR

Juilliard, Studying with William J. Bell

I ARRIVED IN NEW YORK CITY by train during Labor Day weekend 1950 and took a taxi to Mr. Bell’s uptown teaching studio. Tante Lena was still there, as was Eric Hauser, with whom I would share the back bedroom while attending Juilliard. It was a utilitarian apartment/studio. I took one good look at the back bedroom and immediately started considering plans for making it more comfortable.

The morning after I moved in, I spoke to Eric about doing some minor redecorating, at my expense, of course. Eric cordially allowed that I could do whatever I wanted to do, as the room had needed redecorating for too long. I went to Tante Lena about my proposal. As expected, she was delighted, especially when she heard I would paint the walls and install new linoleum and custom-made venetian blinds to replace the dirty old window shades. She was even more delighted when I paid two months’ rent in advance. I went right to work, scrubbing the walls and floor and measuring everything. Over the telephone I ordered the linoleum and the custom-made blinds, to be delivered in one week. I visited the local hardware store and bought paint, paintbrushes, spackle, putty, several grades of sandpaper, and the minimum tools I expected to need as a bona fide resident of Apartment 1-E. When visitors smelled fresh paint, they wanted to see the room. They were surprised to see burgundy walls and a white ceiling along with matching yellow-green venetian blinds and linoleum. OK, so it wasn’t stylish, but it had character to spare! I was finished with decorating our room.

 

5 Freelancing 101

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CHAPTER FIVE

Freelancing 101

IT IS DIFFICULT to reconcile that, having had such limited exposure to music for seventeen years, at age twenty I was a Juilliard freshman studying tuba with the great William Bell. I was also a busy freelance musician in New York City, the Big Apple, having a ball! By listening attentively I came to appreciate the finer stylistic concerns of each musical situation I encountered. Everything I was called on to play as a freelance musician was judged by composers, conductors, and other musicians dedicated to authentic interpretations. I listened closely to their discussions as well as their performances. I learned to appreciate, understand, and enjoy why each particular style of music was considered so special. For freelance musicians, coping with all musical styles was essential if they wished to remain on the “call lists.”

Active tubists in New York when I arrived included Bill Barber, Karl Bedurke, William Bell, George Black, Don Butterfield, Philip Cadway, Al Corrado, Fred Exner, Fritz Geib, Doc Goldberg, Major Holley, Tex Hurst, Herb Jenkel, Harry London, Jay McAllister, Giovanni Manuti, Joe Novotny, Joe Park, Fred Pfaff, Bill Rose, Joe Tarto, Abe Torchinsky, Vincent Vanni, Giovanni Volpe, and Herb Wekselblatt.

 

6 Carol

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CHAPTER SIX

Carol

THROUGH MUCH of the summer of 1952, I performed as a replacement for Mr. Bell with the Asbury Park Municipal Band, conducted by Frank Bryan. The proud traditions established in the 1930s by conductors and legendary co-founders Arthur Pryor (trombone) and Simone Mantia (euphonium) were carried on. My teacher, William J. Bell, was a close friend of both Pryor and Mantia and loved playing with the band. Bill Bryan (the conductor’s brother and band manager) had no trouble recruiting top freelance musicians from New York City.

The concerts were always challenging. Rehearsals were not in the budget, so good sight-readers were always in demand. Like most band programming, each concert started with a spirited march to get the adrenaline flowing. Also featured were major orchestral works transcribed especially for band. Other featured numbers could be Broadway medleys (Victor Herbert, George M. Cohan, Richard Rodgers, etc.) and descriptive medleys (Battle of Little Big Horn, circus music, waltzes, galops, trombone smears, characteristic pieces, etc.). Circus music had an excitement and flavor all its own. And there was always a soloist, usually a cornet player like Armando Ghitalla, but sometimes there would be a trombone, euphonium, or occasionally tuba, when William Bell was so inclined! Whatever the musical menu, programs of one-and-a-half hours were always well received by loyal and enthusiastic audiences.

 

7 Chamber Music, New York Brass Quintet

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Chamber Music, New York Brass Quintet

WORLD WAR II ENDED in August 1945. By the fall of 1946, Juilliard, like many other conservatories and college and university schools of music, was crowded beyond capacity by returning servicemen taking advantage of the GI Bill. Few schools were prepared for such a windfall. Juilliard, with only two orchestras and no wind ensemble or band program (“band” was a four-letter word), could not offer sufficient performance opportunities for the abundance of brass players, including seventy trumpets! An enterprising trombone student named Julian Menken became aware of the early music for brass published by Robert King Music and took it on himself to acquire copies. He then organized a large New York Brass Ensemble (NYBE) and prevailed upon his friend Samuel Baron, a renowned flutist finishing a graduate degree in conducting, to coach and conduct the group. Baron, with his enthusiasm for chamber music, was perfect. Earlier he had founded the New York Woodwind Quintet.

 

8 A New York Professional

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CHAPTER EIGHT

A New York Professional

AFTER MY DISCHARGE from the Army, Carol and I took an apartment at 42-25 80th Street in Elmhurst, Long Island, one block away from Elmhurst Hospital. A lot of musicians had apartments in that big building. The owner and manager of the building was very musician-friendly. If someone came to complain about musicians practicing at all hours of the night, he’d tell them to move. He said, “I’ve never been stiffed by a musician.”

New York musicians often said, “If you want to learn the art of music, go to Juilliard. If you want to learn the profession and business of music, go to the Manhattan School of Music.” I had the good fortune to attend both schools, but my motivation for enrolling in the Manhattan School of Music was so I could leave the Army in time for the start of the 1956–1957 concert season, which began in mid-September. After completing four years of music studies at Juilliard, I didn’t feel like I was in dire need of academia. By the time I returned to New York, I had more than twenty gigs booked already, including the rodeo, ice show, the New York City Ballet, and the New York Brass Quintet.

 

9 On Tour with the New York Brass Quintet

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CHAPTER NINE

On Tour with the New York Brass Quintet

ONE TIME IN 1954 the New York Brass Quintet was in Boston to do children’s concerts in Brookline, Massachusetts, for a couple of days. We had an afternoon off and went to Harvard to their little recital hall to rehearse and perform. There was an older gentleman in the hall who turned out to be music publisher Robert King. That’s when we first met him. He was very taken with the group because he had organized a euphonium–tuba quartet in the late 1930s. He and his friends would go into the mountains of New Hampshire to rehearse. They intended to tour. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and their plans were all smashed. He had done a lot of research into Purcell’s, Holborne’s, Gabrieli’s, and other Renaissance composers’ brass works. He became an ardent fan of the New York Brass Quintet and gave us a catalog of his publications, which was very helpful. After the quintet became popular, he sold a lot of music.

 

10 Family, Friends, and Summer Activities

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CHAPTER TEN

Family, Friends, and Summer Activities

WHILE IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE to divide my busy musical life into clearly identified sections, there were some events in the 1960s that brought about major changes, most importantly the birth of my three sons, Jesse (1964), Harvey Jr. (1966), and Thomas (1968), and starting Twentieth Century Innovations with Gunther Schuller.

In 1959, Julius Bloom, executive director of the Carnegie Hall Corporation, requested that Gunther—himself one of America’s most important composers—select, organize, and present a series of modern chamber music. The concert series would be presented in Carnegie Recital Hall and repeated at major colleges and universities when possible. With our attorney, Gunther and I established Twentieth Century Innovations, Inc., with the goal of giving contemporary composers a venue to have their works performed. Gunther was the president and I was vice president, but in reality this meant that Gunther was the conductor and I was his tubist, personnel manager, and manager of the small budget from Carnegie Hall (or occasionally, Gunther was the boss and I was the lackey!). We featured the music of Luigi Nono, Joseph Arrigo, Charles Ives, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Ned Rorem, Ralph Shapey, Harvey Sollberger, Milton Babbitt, Gunther himself, and many others who in general were not your typical household composers. Nobody in New York was performing this music. After only six concerts in three years, this series had presented more twentieth-century compositions than any other chamber ensemble in the world.

 

11 New England Conservatory of Music

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

New England Conservatory of Music

IN MARCH 1967 I received a call from Gunther Schuller. He told me he had been appointed president of the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) in Boston and he was inviting me to work with him as his vice president for financial affairs. I was surprised to hear myself instantaneously accept his invitation. Subconsciously, I reserved putting order into my response for later, not fully reviewing the reasons why I said yes right away. I rationalized that having a traditional academic work schedule would allow me to spend more time with my family. But the primary reason I said yes came from our friendship and long association and from my unbounded admiration of Gunther’s achievements. Considering that we had worked on many projects together, it was a quick decision, but certainly not a rash one. At least, that’s how I explained it to Carol when I arrived home that evening and told her we would be moving to Massachusetts.

 

12 The Search for TubaRanch

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CHAPTER TWELVE

The Search for TubaRanch

BILL BELL, WHO WAS SCHEDULED for the two-week Cumberland Music Camp in 1971, took ill before the camp started. His sister came and took him to Perry, Iowa, where she lived. I stepped in. My responsibilities to the camp were finished on a Friday evening. I had made arrangements by telephone for Carol, the boys, and me to meet with a realtor to show us possibilities for a home in Bloomington, but the more we thought about it the more we wanted to make some excursions on our own without a realtor. I contacted the realtor in Bloomington to reschedule our appointment for a later time. I had decided we should get to know Bloomington before getting confused by realtor assistance.

We drove from the Cumberland Music Camp in Morehead, Kentucky, to Bloomington and, like tourists, got to know neighborhoods and located “for sale” signs. When we passed such a property we would try to talk to the neighbors or people living in the house about the price and availability of homes in the area. The only bad impression I got was when I approached a gentleman and asked if there was any farmland in the area for sale. He tersely answered me, “No, there’s nothing for sale, and if there was, you couldn’t afford it.” On the very next road, Snoddy Road, a gentleman had just taken his Sunday newspaper out of the box and waited patiently for me to pass by. I stopped and said hello and inquired again about farmland. The gentleman I later discovered was named Ervin Deckard and he was very friendly but he couldn’t think of any farms for sale. I thanked him for his conversation and started to pull away when he suddenly said, “Wait! Wait! There is one farm where I am renting pasture for cattle.” He told us where it was located, around a corner, less than a mile away.

 

13 Institute for Advanced Musical Studies

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Institute for Advanced Musical Studies

IN MY FIRST YEAR at the New England Conservatory, a young conductor, Daniell Revenaugh, of the Jacksonville Symphony, had come to see me. He inquired about my availability to administer a project establishing an advanced school of musical studies in Switzerland. I was interested in the project but could not become involved because of my commitment to Gunther Schuller and the NEC.

In August 1969, Richard Zellner became program adviser for the division of continuing education at Florida State University, Tallahassee. He worked with Daniell Revenaugh to provide continuing education credit to student musicians performing with the Jacksonville Orchestra. Revenaugh introduced Zellner to Dimitry Markevitch, director of the newly formed Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Sion, Switzerland. Markevitch engaged Zellner as the American liaison to the institute for the purpose of creating a council of American Music School Deans and to recruit students. In 1971–1973, Revenaugh and Zellner worked on the Electric Symphony Orchestra project in Berkeley, California, utilizing members of the San Francisco Symphony. Zellner continued working to establish the Deans Council and to recruit student musicians for the institute in Switzerland. In 1973 the Swiss-based administration of the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies unexpectedly lost control of its facilities in Sion, and the arrival of students was imminent. The Italian-American philanthropist Pier Talenti, the institute’s financial backer, summoned Zellner and Revenaugh to Rome, where Talenti asked them to resolve the situation. They contacted the Grand Hotel of Montreux, which agreed to become headquarters for the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies. Zellner was appointed managing director.

 

14 Bassed in Bloomington

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Bassed in Bloomington

IN TEACHING AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY, I endeavored to discover each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Our job was to work on the weaknesses while not losing any of the strengths. Each student made two columns on a piece of paper and wrote down strengths on one side and weaknesses on the other. The goal was to bring things from the weaknesses column into the strengths column. I would always make assignments based on what I felt were the weakest aspects of a student’s progress. Even so, I always made it clear that the priority for each student was the ensembles he or she was assigned to.

At IU, I taught private (one-on-one) tuba, some private euphonium, and a tuba repertoire class, as well as coaching performances. I served on a repertoire committee and would later join the distinguished ranks committee. Sometimes I had as many as twenty-six or twenty-eight students. The load for one-on-one was eighteen, enough to serve the performance needs of the ensembles: four orchestras, two bands, and miscellaneous groups.

 

15 Carnegie Hall Recitals

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Carnegie Hall Recitals

FOR SEVERAL YEARS, some of my colleagues, both composers and performers, suggested that I do a Carnegie Hall recital. I resisted the temptation because I felt my teacher, William J. Bell, should present one first. In 1961, Roger Bobo, a tubist wunderkind, on his graduation from the Eastman School of Music, presented the first solo tuba recital in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. I was unable to attend Roger’s concert but I know it was excellent from our mutual friend Alec Wilder. Alec not only attended the concert but wrote “Encore for Tuba” especially for Roger Bobo’s recital. William Bell passed away on August 7, 1971, without ever having performed a solo recital in Carnegie Hall.

I did not get around to performing a solo tuba recital until January 1975. That month, I presented five recitals in nine days in Carnegie Recital Hall, sponsored by the Carnegie Hall Corporation. My purpose in doing five recitals was to illustrate the growing repertoire and acceptance of the tuba as a solo instrument. A number of colleagues assisted the performances, but none of the professional players, with whom I worked consistently, would accept payment. Preparation for the nine days consumed sixty-seven hours of rehearsal, some in Boston. One started at midnight with the New York Saxophone Quartet; it was the only time everybody could get together. One was in Bloomington with IU School of Music Dean Charles Webb, who was my piano accompanist on one of the five recitals.

 

16 Indiana University Retirement

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Indiana University Retirement

IN FEBRUARY 1972, I received a call from Mason Jones, personnel manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He told me I had been recommended by the orchestra search committee for the tuba position being vacated by Abraham Torchinsky and that Maestro Eugene Ormandy had asked him to contact me and negotiate an agreement. There would be no need for an audition and I could discuss salary with him. I told Mason I appreciated his call and I would give every consideration to the position.

But I decided it would be improper to resign from Indiana University after only one year. A couple of days after receiving the call from Mason Jones, I called and told him to pass along my respects and appreciation for the offer but that I had decided to honor my agreement with Indiana University.

In March 1972, trumpeter Fred Mills and tubist Chuck Daellenbach of the Canadian Brass quintet chartered a plane and flew to Bloomington to ask if I would consider managing the Canadian Brass. During my stay at Indiana University, several other schools approached me about administrative positions, including the Oberlin Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, the North Carolina School of the Arts, Arizona State University, the Peabody Conservatory, and the New England Conservatory. I was also invited to follow Ed Birdwell as director of the music division for the National Endowment for the Arts. I went to Washington for an interview with Frank Hodsoll, chairman of the NEA. But I had no quarrel with the way I had been treated by Indiana University and the community of Bloomington. I had good relationships with the president, the chancellor, the dean, the faculty, and my community contacts. I co-sponsored activities with the mayor’s office from time to time and shared sponsorships for concerts with the local newspaper.

 

17 Renaissance of the Tuba: A Summary

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Renaissance of the Tuba: A Summary

IN DISCUSSIONS WITH FRIENDS and associates, I would occasionally hear, “Harvey, you take the tuba too seriously.” When appropriate, my response was, “The tuba is my vocation and my avocation; it houses, clothes, and feeds my family. Don’t you think I should take it seriously? If everyone took their profession more seriously, their life with their families and friends would be more fulfilling.” I’m just as serious about what I do, about my instrument, as my two sons, who are surgeons, are about their scalpels! We try to work with the same precision, the same artistic concern for the patient, for those who will listen to us, and hopefully learn to admire what we do. As Bruce Duffie, a Chicago radio personality, said, “The surgeon works on the physical body; the musician works on the immortal soul!”

As I look back on my life as a dedicated tuba player and musician, my proudest achievement is the role I have played in helping to elevate the quality and abundance of tuba repertoire in all music disciplines and styles. I have prompted many composers to be aware of the tuba as a principal instrument in the symphony orchestra, to recognize its potential in brass quintet and other chamber music combinations, to include it in their compositions, orchestrations, and arrangements, and to be familiar with the world’s great tubists, gain their acquaintance, and know their individual qualities and special sphere of activities.

 

18 On Being a Teacher

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

On Being a Teacher

BECOMING A TEACHER of music is a calling equal to that of religion. Teaching personifies a devout life of selfless giving and sharing all that you have with others. Instrumental teaching is like being a parent, a lifetime commitment concerned with every aspect of life. It demands that you continually seek to add to your knowledge and experience so that you have more to give and share. We who teach one-on-one hope our offspring will be good musical citizens, sharing their gifts of talent and achievement with the world in future generations.

Let me quote Phil Woods, friend and colleague of fifty-four years, and in my opinion the greatest jazz alto saxophonist of his generation. In a major magazine interview about the teachers of great jazz players, Phil related the experiences he had with his first teacher, Harvey LaRose of Springfield, Massachusetts. Phil spoke of the profound influence this teacher had on everything he had accomplished professionally. The publishers notified Phil that his interview would not be published because no one connected with their publication had ever heard of Harvey LaRose. Didn’t Phil study with a famous saxophone player or teacher known to their readership? Phil’s response was perfect, and shared by many: “The unsung heroes of our music profession are often the local teachers who help us discover ourselves through their concern and toil. It was Mr. Harvey LaRose who turned me on to Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker (!) plus he taught me the American songbook and gave me advanced improvisation lessons when I was thirteen years old!”

 

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