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T-Shirt Tuxedo

By Tim Hayes

Of the three bands at my high school, Marching Band was the most fun, Concert Band the most challenging, and Stage Band by far the coolest.

Playing drums in Stage Band opened up all sorts of possibilities.  We played jazz charts, meaning that different performers got to take extended solos – including the drummers – and the feeling of being carried forward under a swing beat that you were laying down?  Musical nirvana.

Chicks liked the Stage Band guys the best, too.  Never a bad thing for a bespectacled nerdnik like me.

Led by Mr. B, our director, we got introduced to the music of Maynard Ferguson, one of the greatest trumpet players in the world.  We listened to his albums relentlessly and played a couple of his charts in the Stage Band repertoire.  Fantastic stuff.

But we had no idea how close our little group of jazz aficionados stood to Maynard’s awesomeness until one day Mr. B introduced us at an evening rehearsal to Randy – a graduate of our high school and a living, breathing, real-life member of the Maynard Ferguson band!  Talk about knocking the wind out of sixteen stunned teenagers at once.

Only seven years older than me at the time, Randy not only performed on trombone with Maynard, but he arranged and was spotlighted on one of our favorite album’s tracks, “The Way We Were.”

But Mr. B wasn’t finished shellacking our senses yet.  Randy would be playing with us at our spring concert…performing his arrangement of “The Way We Were” with us!

Well, you could have knocked us over with a guitar pick at that point.

But here’s the thing I remember most about our Stage Band experience with Randy.  Having such an accomplished professional musician in the band – and one who came from the same hallways, lockers, classrooms, and musical experiences as the rest of us – actually made each of us play better.  Not more confidently necessarily, although that happened eventually, as well.  But better.  Definitely better.

It’s the same credo that great leaders in business, politics, sports, music, or any other profession follow.  When you attract the best people to your organization, it lifts everyone’s level of performance.  Leaders who can’t get past their own egos, who insist that they have all the answers and feel threatened by people with more talent in certain areas, usually get the corresponding lackluster results.

But those who actively seek out the stars, and surround themselves with the best minds and the best talent, win on nearly every level.  Their organizations benefit from such a wealth of ideas, people feel proud and empowered when they have opportunities to contribute, and the leader can be confident in the organization’s progress and the positive attention it generates.

The night of the concert, all of us Stage Band performers wore the uniform of the group – a ruffled shirt, black bow tie, and black slacks.  We took the stage and did the first two or three numbers on our own, and played well.  Then Mr. B introduced Randy and the place went nuts.

I attribute the reaction to two things.  First, the fact that this recent graduate of our school had achieved so much in his musical career in such a short time.  And second, because of the outfit he chose to honor his alma mater.

Randy strode onto the stage in blue jeans and a black T-shirt with a silk-screened image of a tuxedo.  At a city high school in the late 1970s, you couldn’t get much cooler than that.

Mr. B counted us into the arrangement, I laid down the beat, Randy played that trombone like nobody’s business, and the Stage Band made high school history that night.

The Way We Were, indeed.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes