International Tuba-Euphonium Association
Oral History Project
Oral History Interview of
Dr. James M. Self
July 24th, 2001
Recorded in Bloomington, Indiana
Approved by Narrator, October, 2001
©International Tuba-Euphonium Association
Dr. James M. Self
Dr. Self’s educational background includes a Bachelor of Science from Indiana
University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Music from the Catholic University of America, and a
Doctor of Music Arts from the University of Southern California. He was a member of The
United States Army Band from 1965-67, and taught at the University of Tennessee from 19691974. In 1974 he moved to Los Angeles and since that time has worked as a free-lance and studio musician, performing for hundreds of television shows, and over 1,000 movies. He also performs with the Pacific Symphony, Music Center Opera, Opera Pacific, American Ballet Theatre, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and many other groups, as well as teaching at the University of Southern California.
In this interview, Dr. Self describes his youth in Oil City, Pennsylvania, early musical influences, and his teachers at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His reminiscences of his time in the Army Band include playing in the same section as Robert Pallansch, Daniel Perantoni, Chester Schmitz, and Leo Hurst. During the same time period, he worked on a master’s degree at Catholic University, taking lessons with trumpeter Lloyd Geisler of the National Symphony, and with Harvey Phillips in New York City. After leaving the Army Band he taught at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, played in the Knoxville Symphony and worked on a D.M.A. at the University of Southern California during the summers.
Bernard Herman’s film Taxi Driver was one of Self’s first studio calls. He discusses various movies and television shows he worked on, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Home Alone, JAG, Family Guy, The Grinch who Stole Christmas, as well as fellow studio musicians (particularly Tommy Johnson). Dr. Self has had a number of instruments built to his specifications, including several cimbassi by different makers, “Monica,” a Yamaha copy of the Chicago York CC tuba, and a contrabass flugelhorn or “Fluba” he calls “Peg” made by Robb Stewart.
Through the 1970s, Self taught at a several California State University campuses, and was hired by the University of Southern California after finishing his D.M.A. At the time of the interview, he was playing in five orchestras, teaching, and also composing, along with his studio work.
Dr. Self became involved with the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association at the time of the conference at Indiana University in 1973, and describes impressions of the conference as well as premiering the tuba quartet Five Moods by Gunther Schuller with Toby Hanks, Samuel Pilafian, and John Turk. Self served as President of the Association, and hosted the Mid-South Tuba-Euphonium Conference in 1974, and the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference in 1978.
Recorded in Harvey Phillips’ basement in Bloomington, Indiana.
i, 27 pages, index. Abstract and biographical note written in October, 2001
Tape 1, Side 1
Carole Nowicke: This is Wednesday, July 25th, and we’re interviewing Jim Self in Harvey
Phillips’ basement. [laughs]
You told me that you are going back to your high school reunion in Pennsylvania, if you could start perhaps with your early musical experience.
James Self: At age 9 I became a guitar player. My father, I guess wanted me to play something and he got me guitar lessons. He liked to play boogie-woogie piano, but that’s the only musical experience anybody in my family had. No one else played any instruments of any kind. The only thing I remember vaguely, when I was a real little boy, there was a black man that lived across the street from us who liked to play boogie-woogie, and he had a piano, so my Dad would go over there and they would play four-handed boogie-woogie piano.
That’s the only thing I remember, but he got me a guitar, and I took lessons for several years. Actually, even though I became a tuba player, I played guitar all the way through college. Eventually, like a lot of bad guitar players I switched to bass.
In junior high school (Oil City, PA), they needed a tuba player, the band director, Gerald Keefer, asked me because I had some musical training, and he asked me to play the Sousaphone. They had an old helicon tuba that was put together with airplane glue, I think. That’s when I began-age 13. It came pretty easy to me, because I had guitar training and could read music. When I went to high school I was in the band. Actually, they needed tuba players, they put me in the high school band a year before I was out of junior high. They needed people to come and play in the marching band.
When I got to senior high school, which was 10th grade, I was quite active in music in school, singing also. I was fortunate enough to make the district bands and things like that in Pennsylvania. Eventually, my senior year I made it all the way to the Pennsylvania All-State
Band. I liked music, and I didn’t know what I was going to do for college. My father died when I was 15, and my mother had been an invalid, so I didn’t have any money, I was living with my grandmother.
My band director and the choral director (the two music teachers at the school) were very good musicians. They were both commercial musicians too, they’d play dance jobs and stuff like that. Frank Puleo was the band director. Phillip Runzo was the choral director; he played pretty good jazz piano, cocktail-style piano. They encouraged me to be a band director, and I went to Indiana Pennsylvania. It was called Indiana State College at that time, it’s now called Indiana University at Pennsylvania. It’s where Gary Bird is these days. You probably knew Gary from here, he got his D.M.A. here at I.U.
So I went there in 1961. I was a music ed major, and tuba was my major instrument. I intended to be a band director, that was my goal. I didn’t know what else to do, I liked music best of all, but all the way through college I still played guitar in the jazz band there. I started picking up string bass about that time, and played in a folk-singing group, like the Kingston Trio type thing, and sang. Bass playing became a very important part of my musical life later on, and I made a lot of money playing it.
I pushed myself a lot in college. I did everything I could do. It was a small college. I didn’t have a tuba player for a teacher, I studied with William Becker, who was the trumpet teacher there. He taught all the brass players except the French horns. He was one of those jack-of-all-trades guys that had to teach courses of all kinds. He was a very valuable person in teaching me basics of music and brass playing. Shortly after I left, Indiana did get a tuba teacher, Pete Popiel, who was there for a few years, then Gary Bird came. He’s been there quite a few years now, but there was no tuba specialist when I was there.
I did get a lot of great experiences; I sang in the Broadway shows, and I sang in the choruses. I did everything, I played in the orchestra, band, I had a big variety of experiences you don’t get in a place like I.U. where you are pegged as “just a tuba player.”
Nowicke: And if there are 30 other players…
Self: There were only two or three tuba majors there at Indiana, so I got to do a lot, and I was pretty much the first chair guy. I had some great experiences, even though it was a small school. The band director Dan DiCicco, was a wonderful teacher. I remember every student in his wind ensemble had to spend an hour of practice time a week on the Stroboconn. It made us learn our instruments–how to play them in tune. He was very picky about things like that, intonation and perfection, and good sounds, just the kind of thing you need when you are that age–good training. Do you want me to just continue on here?
Nowicke: Did you play bass in the orchestra?
Self: No. They had very little orchestra stuff there, I maybe played two concerts a year on tuba. That’s about all they had. They had kind of a community-student orchestra–small town. I think some of the faculty played in it too. I didn’t really have any orchestral experience, and I must say, I never even had my own instrument. In high school I played an old Conn Sousaphone, it had been restored, or something. When I got to Indiana, I got a three valve King BB-flat tuba, with a recording bell. I’m trying to get them to sell it to me. It’s still there–it’s pretty beat up, but there’s a lot of nostalgia with that horn. That’s the way I went through college, playing that horn. I never owned my own until I was in the Army, but I did audition for the Army Band on that tuba, so I guess it was OK. When I think back on it, (and it only had three valves)–it was a good little horn.
I do remember, I was not exposed to any of the kind of things–like, Dan Perantoni, who is only a couple of years older than me. He is from Pennsylvania, too–he went to Eastman. Right away he got thrown into a bigger competitive thing. I never even heard of Eastman. It was never mentioned to me. The only option I even had, I thought, was going to Indiana . In retrospect, I think it was OK.
One of my early influences was George Pheasant who was an older student getting his teaching degree at Indiana State College. George was a virtuoso tuba player who had been a featured soloist on the road with Horace Heidt. He played all those Carnival of Venice type trumpet solos and played jazz too. Alas, George had serious eyesight problems and couldn’t continue a playing career.
Nowicke: You were from a smaller place, too.
Self: Not smaller than Dan. He was from a smaller town than I was from, but somehow he had information about it, through somebody. I never asked him how he knew about Eastman, but he went there.
I pushed myself. I got through college in 3 ½ years, including student teaching. Then I got out in January and the only job I could get paid $4,500, teaching in a junior high school somewhere around Pittsburgh. A little rural town. I can’t remember the name of it now.
I heard about an opening in The U.S. Army Band, and I went to one of their concerts in Harrisburg, and talked to the tuba section leader, who was Paul Scott at that time. He invited me to audition. I went down to Washington and auditioned for the band, and I got in. That’s all I know. I don’t know how, but I did. It was a little different in those days. Of course, it was Viet Nam time, and the bands were full of wonderful musicians trying to avoid the draft. If you weren’t in school or something, they drafted you and sent you to Vietnam. I’m glad I didn’t have to kill anybody or be killed.
I went to basic training in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. I was there ten weeks, and somewhere about the middle of that March, 1965, Lyndon Johnson called up the first 500,000 extra soldiers for Vietnam. Our sergeants told us right away, “All your orders are changed, you are going to Vietnam to be in the infantry, no matter if you are in a band, or anything.” Boy, that scared me!
I got on the phone right away to the Army Band and they straightened it out. So, I was relieved. I got to the band, and that time the Concert Band had six tubas, and the Ceremonial Band had two tubas (Sousaphones). I was in the Concert Band. It was a great tuba section, I became a professional by going there. I became a player, rather than teacher or anything else. Paul Scott was the section leader, and Leo Hurst was there, the second player was Bob Pallansch, who was a key person in my background. He taught me a lot and was a good friend of mine, a very musical person. Then there’s Chester Schmitz, and Dan Perantoni, and me. Chester was there one year, and then he got out and went to Boston. Dan was there one more year, and got out and went to Rotterdam, I believe–he got a job in an orchestra somewhere in Holland.
I got to play with those guys, and we were all young. When I think back on it, they were wonderful players then, but relative to their place in the world still young and untried. Their careers have certainly proved it out. So, I was thrown in with some really good players. I enjoyed the Army, although some of the stuff was a drag, the marching parts, and the standing at attention–I passed out at the White House one time. I was standing there with my Sousaphone. It was a pass and review on a hot, humid, summer day, and I just keeled over.
Nowicke: Did you fall on the Sousaphone?
Self: The clarinet player next to me got a hold of my Sousaphone. It was on the ground, and I was holding it like this, in the position we had with them standing. I fell over and the medics pulled me back in the bushes where they had a first aid station. There were a lot of soldiers passing out that that day. The Band passed in review, and the clarinet player carried the Sousaphone, so it looked right. I guess he didn’t play his clarinet, I’m not sure. That’s an interesting little anecdote from that time.
Nowicke: You’re the only instrumentalist I know who has passed out.
Self: I also had a bad scene one time. Dan can tell you about it. Maybe I shouldn’t–it may not proper for this kind of a thing. I had an all-night drinking session one night at a party, it was a Sunday morning, and I got into my apartment about 6:00 in the morning, and really in pretty bad shape–like a fool. A half-hour after I got to sleep, the band calls and past-president Eisenhower 1had died, and the band had to meet his casket at Union Station.
Nowicke: Andrews? Union Station.
Self: The train station in town.
Nowicke: Yes, I’m just used to people doing arrivals at Andrews.
Self: He lived in Gettysburg at the time, after he retired and I guess they sent a train. So the band had to meet the casket, and they said, “You have to be at the band in your dress blues in 30 minutes.” I was so sick, all the way down Constitution Avenue, I was throwing up out the bus window on a Sunday morning. You may not want to put this in here! Dan and Chester saved me from being kicked out of the Army, I think, they lied for me and told the sergeant or the drum major that I had to use the bathroom. I had to get out of line there, standing at the train station. They made up some stories. I somehow got through it.
We had a great band. I remember the concerts at Watergate and at the Capitol steps. We had six tubas, none of the other bands had six tubas. It was a big band, proportionately big, lots of trumpets and all. Good players–Ralph Sauer was in the trombone section, the horn players were excellent. We played all those great transcriptions, and a lot of serious pieces like the Hindemith Symphony for [Concert] Band, and all the great symphonies, like Tchaikovsky, where you play basically the bass parts that have been transcribed.
1 Dr. Self’s recollection was that the deceased was President Eisenhower, however, the dates do not match the period of service. The United States Army Band has been unable to identify the dignitary in question.
I met my first wife at a Watergate concert. Florence Ditlow was a pretty student nurse at the time and we married in 1968.
The Army Band was a lot of fun. It was a great learning experience for me. The Army is where I really learned to sight read, because I had to go out and play concerts with no rehearsal. Of course, the older guys knew the music, but the new guys came in, sometimes you’d be on a one tuba job. They’d send a small band out to a hotel to do something and you’d have to play. That sure has paid off in spades for me, now, as a studio musician.
I was there three years in the Army. Do you want me to keep talking?
Nowicke: Sure. Of course, Bob Sheldon was there then in the Boneyard Band.
Self: Bob Sheldon was there. Yes, he was. He played peckhorn in the Boneyard Band. That’s what they called the Ceremonial Band
Nowicke: He was on the bus ready to go to Vietnam and someone hauled him off and said, “Oh, you can play in the post band.”
Self: He was a nice guy. Is he still at the Smithsonian?
Nowicke: He’s at the Library of Congress.
Self: He was at the Smithsonian.
Nowicke: Yes, he moved over to L.C. when a job opened up.
Self: He was a neat guy, I remember Bob. I’ve lost track. I haven’t even heard from Pallansch in several years.
Nowicke: He has email.
Self: I tried emailing him, two or three times, and he didn’t respond, or I had it wrong. Maybe you can give it to me.
Nowicke: I’ll give you another address, he did change providers a couple times.
Self: That must have been what happened. He was a dear friend, and Fifi, his wife. I took some lessons with Bob, and played a lot of duets with Bob.
Nowicke: He likes to teach that way, we played ophicleide duets.
Self: He had these instruments he’d put together with airplane glue and wire. I don’t know how they ever played. They were these German instruments–he’d found them somewhere, and made them work. Bob always had a great sound.
Nowicke: His regular quintet horn was an E-flat saxhorn.
Self: That’s right, it was what you would call a saxhorn. He was always a stickler on the tube-the taper. I don’t think anyone else could have played those horns the way he played them. Somehow he pushed and pulled, and made them work. They were pretty seriously out of tune, a lot of them, but he could play them well. He wasn’t the section leader (I know he became the section leader after I was out of the band) but he did play a lot of the solos, because he was a better soloist than the principal player, and he just let him play, I guess.
Nowicke: I didn’t know that. I thought he was principal when you went in.
Self: No, Paul Scott was. Paul is a nice man, a very quiet man, he’d been there since the second World War..
Even though I’ve said the Army was something I wouldn’t make a career of, it was a good experience for me, basically, just like college. While I was there, I went to Catholic U. and got my master’s degree. It’s very interesting–I did it in two years, I never missed a class because of the band. They would let me off of a job to go to a class, unless it was a big-time thing. But I don’t think I never missed a class.
Nowicke: That was very accommodating of them.
Self: So I got my master’s degree there, and I studied with Lloyd Geisler, who was the trumpet principal of the National Symphony, or maybe he had just retired. It was right around the time he retired.
Nowicke: I know Paul Krzywicki had studied with him when he was there, but I didn’t know that you and Paul overlapped in D.C.
Self: We didn’t. He was ahead of me. Geisler was not into teaching the tuba though, to be very honest. He was a trumpet player, and a superb trumpet player. He had to teach trumpet, tubas, and trombones–he had to teach a lot of brass instruments, and I don’t think he really wanted to. He didn’t seem turned on about teaching tuba, to me. At the same time, they let me go up and study with Harvey. That’s when I started studying with him, I commuted to New York City. When I was preparing my master’s recital, Harvey helped me with all that. The literature I played, mostly was in manuscript at that time, and it was almost all of it written for Harvey: the Effie Suite, the Persichetti Serenade, and then I did the Bozza Sonatine with a brass quintet from the band, and a couple other pieces. I have tapes of that somewhere. Harvey was so busy doing all kinds of free-lancing in New York. I wanted to be just like him–and am lucky to have a similar life in L.A. now.
About that time, shortly after I got in the band, I bought my first tuba, which I got through Dan
Perantoni–he was already a wheeler-dealer, and he had connections with Mirafone, and I got a
186 four valve CC tuba (for $600), I switched to CC tuba. That’s when I got into solo playing. I never played a recital in under graduate school, I didn’t have to in music ed. I don’t know what I would have played. I think the only serious piece I played in my bachelor’s college was the Hindemith, maybe, and I played these funny tuba solos, transcriptions of a trumpet solo, or something–Ernest Williams’ tuba solo, very technical, fun to play. I didn’t get into serious tuba music much until I was in the Army and studied with Harvey.
So I went up to New York for most of year, about every third week or so to take lessons. It was astounding to me, because he was such a great player and teacher, the whole environment, the New York thing. My one anecdote I like a lot about this. I went up there, and I couldn’t reach him on the phone. We had a tentative lesson scheduled for a Saturday. He said, “Call me the day before.” So, I couldn’t reach him, and I had to make travel plans. I got on the train and went up to New York, got a hotel, I finally reached him at 12:30 in the morning, he finally got home. He said, “Jim, I’m sorry, I can’t teach you a lesson, I don’t have any time tomorrow. But, if you have a black suit, you can sit in the pit at the State Theater for Nutcracker.” I went out and bought a black suit. I bought the cheapest black suit I could find. I remember, it cost $26.00. I was quite poor at that time, living on an Army salary. I did sit in the pit for the Nutcracker, and it was really cool, because it’s a good tuba part and the orchestra was wonderful, and Harvey just played the heck out of it. He was solid, and his sense of time, and his musicianship, every note he played was musical. I have a vivid memory of that. I wish I could do that. I do a lot of opera and ballet now, and I wish I could have students sit in the pit with me, but conductors won’t go for it. I learned more from that than I would from sitting in any audience.
I was playing bass a lot at this time. The Army found out that I could play a little bit of bass. Actually, Chester Schmitz played some bass too, but when he got out, they gave me his old bass and they put me to work. I did those strolling strings jobs at the White House, where they play around the dinner tables for state dinners. Then I started doing combo jobs, dance jobs–sent out to the Officer’s Club or whatever. Those were Army jobs, but then I started doing free lance jobs, just going out and playing dances on Saturdays.
I got into Dixieland at this time, too. Dan Perantoni had been working at the Scarlet Garter, playing Sousaphone with this little trio, with George Graves on banjo and singing. Just three musicians. It was a lot of fun. It was $10 a night and all the beer you could drink. I started subbing for Dan, and finally he quit, or he got out of the Army. We were doing that six nights a week. I was playing Sousaphone, I learned to play all that stuff, Dixieland and lots of solos. It was a lot of fun. Lots of beer! [laughs] Shall I just continue on?
What did I do then? Well, I got out of the Army a little bit early because I took a teaching job. A public school teaching job in Fairfax County–elementary band. The George Graves Band had moved on to a couple other clubs, the same little group, and I had started playing electric bass, and we were playing more jazz than Dixieland stuff. We started working in a club on Capitol Hill. I was working six nights a week and teaching school all day. I would teach school from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, come home and sleep 3 hours, and then go work from 9:00 P.M. until 2:00 A.M. in the club, sleep another four hours and get up and go teach. I did this for a whole year. I got married right after that and I quit the teaching job.
I wasn’t a good teacher, because I don’t do well with young kids. I was so tired all the time I think I was a little bit mean and nasty. Short-tempered, I think is a better term. I didn’t have patience with them. I don’t think I was a very good teacher that year, and teaching beginners was not my kind of thing to do.
Then I was on the road, playing bass with George Graves, and we went all over the country. We played Vegas, and did night club gigs. One of the gigs I did was we played six weeks in a private club in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Senator’s Club. One of those places where you pay $5 at the door and you become a member. It was the only way you could drink in Tennessee in those days, you couldn’t buy liquor, they didn’t have regular bars.
I was there six weeks, and it was a miserable winter, it was November and December and it was cold and grey, and I thought what an ugly place it was down there at that time–muddy. (I later found out what a beautiful part of the country it was). But I got to meet Les Varner who was teaching at the University of Tennessee. Les and I got together and played duets. I had my tuba with me and I needed to stay in shape. We played a lot of duets and became pretty good friends.
Eventually I got back in Washington, I was kind of out of work, except for dance gigs. I was looking for something. Les got drafted. So he quit at Tennessee. They called me up and offered me the job right over the phone. I had met the other brass people and they liked me, I guess. The job was never advertised or anything. I took it. Les didn’t have to go in the Army because he got 4-F somehow, flat feet or something.
Nowicke: Could be the eyesight.
Self: Maybe so. He had some problem, maybe it was his eyes. I knew at the time, I think.
Luckily, Ball State was open and he got that job. I would have felt terrible if he had quit Tennessee… In retrospect, he should have waited until he was fully in the Army until he quit, or taken a leave of absence or something..
Anyway, they offered it to me. I went down there. I thought I’d never want to live in Tennessee, but I was there for five years. I enjoyed it pretty much, we had a good faculty brass quintet. I was teaching theory at first, but by the third year I had a full teaching load of tuba and euphonium. I was in the Knoxville Symphony also, and I was playing a lot of bass, still. I did all the shows that came to town. Mostly Fender bass.
The first summer I went to teach at the New England Music Camp in Maine.
Nowicke: Oh, that’s where Bob Whaley teaches, isn’t it?
Self: I don’t know, does he?
Tape 1, Side 2
Nowicke: You taught at the New England Music Camp.
Self: Yes, that was just the one summer. I remember I had a big ‘98 Oldsmobile at that time, and they paid me $300 for the whole eight weeks I was up there, and it cost me more for gas to drive
that Oldsmobile up and back from Tennessee than I made all summer. [laughs]
Nowicke: Bob Whaley liked to go to the Wyeth collections up there. He’s very interested in art.
Self: I had a good time. Louis Stout from Michigan (formerly Chicago Symphony) was the horn teacher, Sid Mear from Eastman on trumpet and Roger Smith was the trombone teacher. Roger was principal trombone of the Met. I was the young kid, this was after my first year of college teaching.
They invited me back but the second year I was antsy about getting to work on my doctorate. I needed to have some long-term plan to leave Knoxville somehow, I needed to play more. I was lucky to have the experience with Harvey, and be in the Army Band and stuff, you get thinking about a high level of playing, and while Knoxville was good, and I was doing pretty good things there, the money was terrible and I didn’t have a bright future except just more of the same thing. I knew I could make a living playing bass anywhere. I looked at New York and L.A., basically, to do graduate work.
My years in Tennessee were good for me and I made life long friends there. Don Hough, the trombone professor is a dear buddy and Bill Scarlett, clarinet and sax, was one of the most important influences on me as a musician. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams and my love of jazz–he is a great tenor sax player.
I started to come out to U.S.C. the second summer I was in Knoxville to do D.M.A. work and study with Tommy Johnson. After the first year at U.T. my marriage (to Florence) broke up. She was a nice gal, but I was away too much, I think, whatever reason, we split up. We never had children or anything. In 1973 I met and married Sarah Spain, a petite blonde music teacher. Sarah shared my desire to come to LA.
I went three summers to Los Angeles, and eventually I had to do a year of residency, so in 1974 I took an unpaid year off from Knoxville and went out there. I was a full time doctoral student and I was playing dance jobs on bass, and doing a little bit of teaching tuba– I made twice as much money as I did as a full time professor at the University of Tennessee, so I said “Forget it,” and I
quit, and I never looked back.
I’ve been in Los Angeles now since 1974, finished my D.M.A. in ‘76. Tommy Johnson was my mentor and teacher and helped me a lot. He gave me lots of jobs. I became a sub for him for lots of things. He got me on studio calls. I remember one of my first calls was in ‘75 I did Bernard Hermann’s last film, which was Taxi Driver. We finished the score about 5:00 or 6:00 on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, and he went home and died that night. At least I worked once with him.
In those years there was a lot of work. I was lucky, I was there at the right time, I had Tommy’s help, and I went ahead and finished my degree, and we put together a tuba quartet, the Los Angeles Tuba Quartet with Don Waldrop, Roger Bobo, Tommy Johnson, and me. We played some concerts. One of my doctoral recitals was a tuba quartet concert, it was a marathon concert. We had a great time, and played some good stuff.
There was a lot of television in those days going on in the studios. In the late ‘70’s, Universal Studios I remember at one point had 26 television shows going every week. Each would have a three or four hour session or sometimes a double session for each of those shows. They had an orchestra–a 20-30 piece orchestra for every show. Some of the guys were working two or three jobs every day. Tommy was very busy in those days, and I got a lot of his extras when he had conflicts. About then I started accepting calls on bass trombone.
I did a lot of studio work, and in fact in 1976, Tommy was on a vacation and I got called for John Williams to do Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What it turned out to be, at the end of that, it was a one-day session. It was a great part, of course, it was just two oboes, contrabassoon, and tuba. It was done as “pre-score”–it was done ahead of the movie, and they made the movie to the music (it was very unusual) so it synched up the music, and lights and stuff. It’s usually the other way around–we put music on to the film. Several months later, this was June ‘76, the next spring, around April or May, we recorded this score for the movie. There were three tubas on that, Tommy was first, I was second, and Ray Segal was third. They also tried to redo that “Conversation” (not re-record, they had different music), but it just didn’t synch up right. That was Tommy on that session. There has always been confusion about which one of us did it. They ended up using the version that I did.
It was an early thing for me, a good shot. A few years later, John did ask me to be his tuba player, not because of that, but he did like my playing. Home Alone in 1990 was my first film with him as his principal tubist, and I’ve done all his films since then–that he’s recorded in Los Angeles.
In 1980 we had a big strike in Hollywood that devastated the business, and all that television work that I was telling you about, it all got switched over to synthesizers and things. There was almost no work. My income went way down for several years, it didn’t pick up again until ‘86 or so. That’s when they started getting more orchestral scores in the movies, thanks to John Williams, James Horner and others, there seemed to be more of that happening. I started get some first call accounts, if you will. I think about ‘87 I I started working for James Horner.
I also was teaching at U.S.C. When I first came to Los Angeles, I started getting these jobs at the universities, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Long Beach, and. after In 1976. After I finished my doctorate, U.S.C. hired me as the second tuba teacher–chamber music coach, mostly. I’ve been doing that for 25 years now. Tommy and I both teach there. In fact, we team-teach a master-class on Monday nights, we’ve done that for 25 years. Either both of us are there, or when one has got a job, the other one takes it. We’ve made it somewhat open for other people, not just U.S.C. students. It’s become an “event” around Los Angeles for young tuba players. We hold mock auditions from time to time. On occasion we’ll have Gene Porkorny (who is a graduate of that school) or some other person who might be in town to come and be a guest. It’s been very nice.
Anyway, we had this strike in 1980, and that just devastated the business. Finally the movies got quite busy around ‘86 and they stayed quite busy until just a couple of years ago. Television never recovered. I’ve just this year passed 1,000 movies that I’ve done, it’s a milestone. Tommy has done a lot more than that. I’ll never live long enough (it doesn’t matter anyway), but he started quite young. He’s a wonderful musician and teacher and everything.
In Los Angeles, free-lancing is quite a complex thing. We have to double, for one thing. I was a bass player, and for many years, even out there, I played dance jobs, big bands and small jazz groups. I sort of phased out of that here a few years ago, people stopped calling me when I turned them down too much. I’m sort of out of that business. Bass trombone is very important. Pretty much everybody plays some bass trombone. I play quite a bit of it, particularly on TV shows like Voyager, and JAG, and I’ve been doing Family Guy. There’s not much though with orchestras for tuba in television. The cimbasso has become a very important double for tuba players. I have this instrument that Bob Pallansch worked on. It was originally a contrabass trombone with a double slide. Bob put an F attachment on it, and then later on, Larry Minick made a valve section for me, sort of L-shaped, I called it my “tubone,” and in parentheses “cimbasso” in the union book. I did work a little bit on it, but a few years after that, Tommy Johnson got one, and he started showing it around the studios, and pretty soon they were writing for it. Now everybody has to have a cimbasso.
Nowicke: You guys and Bob Bauchens are the people I know who really use them a lot.
Self: I use them all the time, in fact, I’d say about half of the movies that I work on we double. It’s worth 50%, so I get 50% as a principal player, plus another 50%–that’s double scale. That’s a lot of money and it’s really worth it.
Nowicke: Bob had Rudi build him an E-flat because that’s what he likes.
Self: That would never work, probably in the studios, because the ones we use in the studios are C, or, mine’s a BB-flat.
Nowicke: It works better for his Italian operas.
Self: It’s great for opera. I have two of them in F, I have one that Yamaha made for me, it’s shaped like a little tuba, and it plays great. It’s a small sound, then I just got a Kalison, which is bigger sound, but it’s in F also. Those instruments are much better for Verdi, lighter and better in the upper register. In the studios, what they want is loud, low, edgy, super-bass trombone kind of sounds. So the big instruments are what are used for that. It’s usually unmusical stuff, but it’s effective, you know. You have explosions going on or fight scenes. You know what I mean? It’s dramatic music, usually. I can never remember playing anything pretty on the cimbasso in the movies. [laughs]
I’ve had a wonderful career here now. I met Jamie Fouda in the early ’80’s and we’ve been married about 14 years now. (I guess I don’t have a great track record with long marriages), Jamie is a great lady. She works at U.C.L.A and is a ardent amateur violinist. Together we raised her daughter Yasmin, who is now married to a doctor and has her own daughter, Maya. What else am I needing here?
Nowicke: We haven’t talked about T.U.B.A. yet.
Self: Oh, yes, absolutely. I was not in at the very beginning of T.U.B.A., but I was in the first serious organization of it, when we had the tuba conference here in ‘73. I had known Harvey, and he invited me to this house here, and we sat around that big table up there planning the conference and T.U.B.A..
Nowicke: It was that house [points to another part of the basement] I don’t think this addition was here–and the old barn, not the designer barn.
Self: We planned out that thing in ‘73, of course, it was Les Varner, and Dan Perantoni–I’m trying to think of all the guys.
Nowicke: Bart Cummings.
Self: Bart Cummings was there.
Nowicke: And Winston.
Self: Winston, of course. There were about eight people, and we were all artists at the thing also. I had the good fortune (unfortunately, it wasn’t good for Harvey), but Harvey got sick and had to go in the hospital, so I ended up being his sub on the Gunther Schuller tuba quartet, Five Moods. We did the world premier of that. It was with Toby Hanks, Sam Pilafian, and John Turk. That was an intense day. I was woke up at 5:30 in the morning and told I was going to do it, and he wrote, I think, four of the five movements all during that night. It was really hard, and at the time I was scared–I was young and I was kind of nervous. We pulled it off, we played all day long with him. He conducted it. He was an intense guy to work for, especially then, and he was pretty tough. It was a great piece.
Later on, when I did my doctoral recital, we did it with the L.A. Tuba Quartet and I did a paper, an analysis. It was a lecture-recital if you will, of that piece. I know it intimately. Later on when I became a composer I wrote a piece for four tubas and vibraphone, and the Schuller was in my mind, although it’s nothing like it. Just the idea of the sounds he got, I was searching for some of that.
Composition, by the way, has become a very important part of my life now, and jazz playing. I’ve made six solo records now, four jazz albums, and two classical albums. I got into writing about ten years ago, very poorly, I think, and very haphazardly, but I really get a lot out of it now, it’s almost as much fun as playing. I now feel that when the chops do go, I’ll still have something really cool to do. I’ve written quite a bit, mostly chamber music, and things for tuba, woodwind stuff. I’m starting to write some string pieces. It’s a very passionate thing for me. I’ve written for Summit Brass, and it’s cool to have your pieces premiered by great musicians. I think I’m getting better at composition, slowly.
The jazz playing, and improvisation led me to that. Your ears work that way. It’s very important for me–you have to hear things in a sense, you know, in your head. So, you just sort of improvise, then you write it down. It’s just coming out, although I haven’t been very inspired for a few months right now, but I got a commission to do a piece for 14 brass. Collecting ideas at the moment. I’m supposed to do it for this fall.
Nowicke: Does it have a theme?
Self: No, it’s for the Pacific Brass Ensemble out in Los Angeles which is pretty much like Summit Brass. Good young brass players.
Nowicke: So, “we want a piece this long for this ensemble,” rather than “we want a piece to open this gallery,” or…
Self: This particular piece, Don Sawday who is the leader of the group owns a repair shop in Long Beach. He’s a good repairman. He doesn’t have any money to commission music–so you know what he does? He restored a couple of my instruments, and he’s going to restore my antique Keefer Sousaphone. He’s done some work on my antique E-flat Distin.
Nowicke: Bob Rusk made one of those into a 5-valver, it’s wonderful.
Self: That’s the old high-pitch instrument too, by the way, and it has a lot of engraving on it.
Nowicke: What Rusk calls that is his “Bing Crosby” horn.
Self: I had a great job in 1979-1980, I worked a year with Jon Hendricks, who was a famous black jazz singer from Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in the ‘50’s. He put a show together called “Evolution of the Blues” where he sang and narrated. There were three or four singers, and a group of dancers, and a seven piece jazz band on stage at the Westwood Playhouse. We played for a whole year, eight shows a week. I was the only white guy in the whole production. We played the history of black jazz. I was the string bass player and a played a little bit of tuba and I used that little Distin because we marched around and played When the Saints Come Marching In or something. The only reason I was there was because I played tuba, but I played pretty good bass.
I was 38 years old at the time I remember, that’s when I decided how bad of a jazz player I was. I was working with these great musicians, and I wanted to get better as an improviser. I was a good bass player, you know, playing rhythm section stuff, but not as a soloist on bass or anything. So that’s when I put it in my mind that I’m going to get into being a better jazz musician, and I’ve worked hard at it for 20 years. I’ll never reach what I want to be, but in any case, it’s my passion, for sure. Now I have the Fluba, see? I’ve also been lucky to have played and with the Don Ellis Big Band in the late ’70s and Mel Torme with the Marty Paich Dektette in the late ’80’s–Again great jazz musicians.
Nowicke: Well, I almost had that Distin, but Bob Rusk brought it down and he sat in with our brass band and played it, and got such a great reaction from my brass band that he said, “I’m not going to sell you this horn.”
Self: Mine has a nice sound to it, and nice engraving on it.
Nowicke: It has a bottom with the 5th valve, and it’s low pitch now. They’re very pretty. It has that “Sunday in the Park with Clark” sound.
Self: It has a sound.
Nowicke: It’s a very sweet little tuba.
Self: Mine is still high pitch, and I had to use a Sousaphone bit to help me bring it down so I could play it.
Nowicke: He put extensions on it.
Self: Don Sawday cleaned it up and lacquered it over the silver just so it could be sitting around and not get tarnished. I’m not going to mess with it much, if I play it much, the lacquer will come off. He’s restoring my Sousaphone now, that’s my commission for writing this piece.
Nowicke: Don Harry is looking for a Jumbo Sousaphone if you see one.
Self: I had a chance to buy one and I blew it. It was that big horn that belonged to the tuba player at Fox Studio. Clarence Karella had this wonderful museum–no Dale Hale has it. I have done interviews, I have him on an oral history. I’ll get that stuff to you if you can get it transcribed.
Nowicke: I can do it.
Self: I have stuff on about four or five older guys.
Nowicke: You and Abe Torchinsky are the only two who have ever mentioned Karella.
Self: He was at Fox for many years. We can talk about him some other time. I never knew him when he was playing. He was an old man, retired, and was an invalid too. He’d hurt his back when he was in the Army in the war, and it became degenerative. He had these instruments. He had this huge Conn Sousaphone. Even though I got my restored, it’s probably going to go on the wall because I don’t have the back to play Sousaphone any more. I’d have to have it on a chair or something. I played a lot of Dixieland on that thing when I was young. It’s about a 1916 instrument, when I get it fixed up I’m going to put it on the web site.
Nowicke: Somebody said to me, “Why would you put pictures of your instruments on your website?” and I said, ‘You don’t understand gearheads.”
Self: That’s right. I’ve always had a certain interest in it. I’ve had guys make me instruments that were sort of unique. I had a double bell made for a tuba. Tommy Johnson had one also. I had the cimbasso (tubone) made. I got in the L.A. Opera when the L.A. Opera started, it was about ‘86 I think. That’s when I started using my tubone, my cimbasso. Shortly after that though, I found out it wasn’t great for Verdi, it was just too high, so I had Yamaha make this little horn. I’ve since kind of replaced it with this Kalison. I hope that Kalison’s going to work out. We’ll see.
Part of being a free lancer is being versatile. I’ve had times when I’ve played bass on studio calls. I don’t do much anymore. For years I even played an E.V.I., an Electronic Valve Instrument. On one of my jazz records, New Stuff, I feature it quite a bit. That instrument is rarely used in the studios any more.
Nowicke: Do you know what you are going to play before you go, or do you haul a bunch of horns with you?
Self: I have a truck with a camper shell on the back. My standard thing is I take a big CC tuba which is my new Yamaha/ York that is an amazing instrument. “Monica,” I call her. [laughs] I take a small CC tuba, usually a Mirafone (which used to be my big tuba), my 188 Mirafone. It’s really snappy and easy to play in the low register–I don’t like it when you play loud on Mirafones. I played Mirafone for years, because Tommy played it, gradually in my mind–I had this sound in the back of my head, like when I was a kid, I played a King piston valve tuba. In the Army band I played Martins. So I gravitated back to larger piston tubas.
Self: BB-flats, yes, 4 valve BB-flats.
Nowicke: The kind with a bell about this big?
Self: Pretty big bell yes! When I was there they had four of these Martins (they may have had more, but we played four). Two of them were top action, two of them were front action, so two people could sit on a music stand. Then they bought some of these Holtons that were just coming out that were a copy of Jake’s tuba, but they were in BB-flat big things. Chester played one of those, maybe Dan did too. At that time they made us play those big horns. Shortly after that, while I was still in the band, they let us play CC tubas. It was quite a different sound.
Tape 2, Side 1
Nowicke: I never knew the Army Band had Martins.
Self: Yes they did. I think they were kind of woofy.
Nowicke: The side action were not side-rotors?
Self: No, they were all pistons.
Nowicke: I know that Martin made a few rotary horns.
Self: I never played one of those. In those days the band had to use American instruments. They couldn’t buy foreign. Couldn’t buy Hirsbrunners or anything like that. Alexander was a hot tuba in those days. Dan had one and Chester had one. They had a great sound.
Nowicke: Everybody had some German stuff until World War I and the Marine Band decided (or were told) that they’d better quit buying German instruments.
Self: You asked me about the T.U.B.A. thing.
Self: I got diverted somehow. I was president of it at one point. I think Dan was the first president, after the original group of Rÿker, and them, which from my understanding it started just as drinking guys at McSorley’s with Bill Bell.
Nowicke: There was that, and then the meetings at Midwest when they were trying to get organized and find some interest. Those were ‘69-’72.
Self: I was involved in a little bit of that when I was at the University of Tennessee. Les was quite involved, I know, and Winston.
Nowicke: Les, Winston, and Rÿker worked on constitutions.
Self: I think I was about the fourth president, after Dan, Winston and Les. I think it was ‘79-80.
Brian Bowman followed me and later I think Harvey did two terms. In ‘78 I hosted the Third International Conference. The first one was here at I.U., and Dan did the second at Illinois, and I did the third one out there at U.S.C. I about killed myself for a year. We didn’t have the set-ups that we have now. We didn’t have the university support–I didn’t. I had to rent the hall at the campus to play the concerts in. I lost quite a bit of my own money on that thing. There weren’t enough people who showed up, a little under 200. It was enough to be successful, and there was some great playing.
Michael Lind played the most amazing concert I ever heard, and of course, Roger Bobo and Tommy Johnson were great. Don Harry was there. Whaley, Bowman, Campbell and many others too.
Nowicke: I know Les was there.
Self: Les was there. I’m glad I did it, but one time. But I did two years as president, so I guess I’m one of those past presidents now. I’ve always been active, I try to help with scholarships if I can, and things like that. I’m trying to think if there were any unique things that happened in my presidency. They had the conference at North Texas during that time, I remember. I tried to get the regional stuff all organized. I tried to get the international thing more organized. I don’t know how successful I was with any of that. It’s been an ongoing thing.
Jerry Young was doing the Journal in those days, then he stopped doing it for a while. He’s back and it’s so great to have him back. I saw Jerry just the other day. You know I’m on a flying vacation. My only hobby is flying. ( I’m a music-holic). I learned to fly about 15 years ago, and I have an old plane that I’ve restored, a 1973 Piper Arrow, and I love it. I haven’t been on a flying vacation back east for 10 years.
Nowicke: Same plane?
Self: It’s the same plane I had then. (I had one smaller Cessna before that). I’ve since restored it, I painted it and redid the interior.
Nowicke: How about the engine?
Self: The engine hasn’t been overhauled since I got it. When I got it, it was newly overhauled. I have another five years probably on the engine before it has to be done. It’s in good shape. I’m having fun. I rarely get the time when I don’t have to work much, I’ve turned down a couple gigs at the Hollywood Bowl and one studio call but that’s all–this time.
By the way, I play in five orchestras in Los Angeles. I play in the Pacific Symphony, and the Pasadena Symphony (which are both excellent orchestras). Pacific is the third-largest symphony in California after L.A. and San Francisco. It’s bigger than San Diego, bigger budget and everything, and they’re building a new, big concert hall.. It’s in Orange County. We’ve done several CD’s, and it’s a fine, fine, orchestra. The principal players are all top classical studio musicians. The same with the Pasadena Symphony, it’s an older orchestra, and it’s a limited season, we just do eight concerts a year. We have a fine conductor, Jorge Mester.
I also play in the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in the summertime, which is a spin-off of the Philharmonic. I mean, it’s associated with the Philharmonic, it’s a separate orchestra of studio musicians. It’s pretty much pops-type concerts, although we did a concert version of Aida a couple of weeks ago. We do things like that occasionally, we’ve done several recordings and tours, even. It’s a fun group.
I play in Opera Pacific, which is associated with the Pacific Symphony, kind of, it’s in the same hall in Orange County. Then I play the L.A. Opera, which is getting very serious right now. Placido Domingo is the Executive Director and Kent Nagano is our new principal conductor.
The Philharmonic has shared the same hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the Philharmonic for 15 years now, and the Philharmonic is getting a new hall, the Disney Hall will be done in two years, and then the Opera is going to go big time. I’m going to have to decide what to do, more opera and forsake one of those other jobs, or less studio work or something. Conflicts are a big problem for me.
Nowicke: How do you even work out the rehearsals for that many groups? Or don’t they rehearse?
Self: Oh, yes, they rehearse a lot—the operas do many. The symphonies usually are about four rehearsals. All the orchestras in town have contracts that you have to do a percentage–you can get out of a percentage, like the Pacific Symphony you have to do 70% of the classical concerts. I don’t have to do any of the other stuff. If they have a ballet, I don’t have to do it, although I like to, it’s good money. I have subs–Doug Tornquist and Fred Green do most of the subbing for me. They are wonderful tuba players in Los Angeles. Tommy Johnson does some for me, too.
If I wasn’t a tuba player I couldn’t do this, because tuba is not needed on a lot of concerts or operas. So, I somehow, up to this point have been able to rob Peter to pay Paul if you know what I mean. It’s something I enjoy doing, although I work seven days a week, usually, and it’s rare that I have a day off. I like that because, as I said, I’m a music-holic, I might be a drunk or something else if I wasn’t working. I’d be a–who knows? I wouldn’t be a happy camper, I know that.
Nowicke: We only have a few more minutes before you are needed upstairs. I wanted to go back to 1973 again. A lot of people have mentioned that when they came here to I.U. to the conference that the either met people hadn’t met, or head a lot of things that they hadn’t heard. A number of people told me that after hearing Don Harry play, that they resolved that they’d better learn how to do circular breathing. Did you meet anybody here that you hadn’t met before?
Self: I met tons of people–a lot of composers. Harvey had something like 100 pieces commissioned for that thing. Of course I met Schuller, and I met Alec Wilder at that time. I performed Wilder’s piece for horn, tuba, and piano there. I’ve always felt embarrassed about it, because I was so nervous I forgot to recognize him at that end. I think that upset Harvey, but I was just nervous. It just slipped my mind, that Alec was in the audience. That was my solo piece that I played on one of the nights. The Conference was quite a thing, a big deal–probably the most important tuba event ever! Exhausting! Of course it put Harvey in the hospital.
The next year (1974) I hosted the first regional. We called it the Mid-South Tuba-Euphonium Conference. That was my last year at Tennessee before I went to California, and it was my swan-song, kind of. I had Tommy Johnson come from L.A. Winston was involved, too. So I had some experience with a little convention, and I learned from the master, here.
‘73 was absolutely the seminal year of T.U.B.A., and I think these years of my life, certainly–the colleges have gotten tuba teachers in these years. We are in, or have been in a golden age of tuba playing. When I was young I never even played a CC tuba or anything, I played three valves, you know? That was common. Then Harvey came along, and Tommy Johnson out on the West Coast, they just changed things. They were virtuosos and soloists, they could play melodies, beautifully. It was so rare before that. Bill Bell is about the only prominent person before that, and his career was not as a soloist like Harvey’s was, or Roger Bobo’s became. The technical thing has just changed enormously, and a lot of it is from good teaching.
I was involved in all that, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud to have been a teacher, and proud of T.U.B.A. and what has happened and that I had a little bit to do with it. I wasn’t particularly an innovator, I don’t think, but I was certainly one who worked hard to make things happen. It was probably the most important year. Things exploded–a great deal of literature was written because of that, and an awareness happened amongst composers, and amongst players.
Winston had his wonderful tuba ensemble at Tennessee–I had a tuba ensemble at the University of Tennessee, Connie Weldon had one at Miami, Florida, Dave Kuehn had one at North Texas State. There wasn’t much else though, there weren’t very many more. The next group–our students became great players–virtuosos. Look at the students that Perantoni has put out, and Arnold Jacobs, you know? My God! It’s been a golden age of tuba playing. I hope it continues.
I’m sorry to say that it’s not so great in the studios anymore.
Nowicke: As you said, with the kind of playing you were doing, the whole jingle market, the whole radio market is gone.
Self: It’s gone in New York for sure, and it used to be the whole thing there, practically.
Nowicke: Bob Bauchens said that he used to make more for one jingle than he made for playing with the Lyric.
Self: I remember doing a jingle somewhere around the early ‘80s or so for Continental Airlines, and made the normal, whatever it was at that time–$50 or $75 for an hour work. Somehow Continental went on strike, or something, and they didn’t make any jingles for quite a while. I made $7,000 for that one hour in residuals. They kept coming, every three months for about five years–I kept getting these residual checks. A lot of people made big money on those kind of things. I never did much, although residuals are very important in movies for us, and then records, but particularly movies–to those of us who do a lot of movies. A big movie can be a substantial part of your income in residuals.
Of course, a lot of producers don’t want to pay it, and they want to go get a scab orchestra in Seattle, or Salt Lake City, or they’ll go to Prague, or Moscow, or Ireland, where ever they can get it done cheaply.
Nowicke: Or do something electronic.
Self: When we were on the strike in ‘80, to get the music I know they had students here at I.U. recording sessions for TV shows and just paying them cash. That bothers me so much about the thing in Seattle because those people dropped out of the union. They are working for cash payments, they’re not paid doubles, they’re not paid principal pay, they’re not paid any residuals of any kind–no matter how rich the producers get off of things for using their stuff. They can take their music and use it to put other musicians out of work, for instance, to back up, say, a production of a ballet, the Nutcracker, say. If Seattle records Nutcracker, they can take Seattle’s music and use it to put a whole orchestra out of work in Indianapolis or somewhere else. It took 50 years or more for musicians to get pensions and to get residuals and to get health insurance, and a lot of people struggled to make that happen, and now we have people that don’t think that’s important. It’s greed I think. They think that everybody’s rich in Los Angeles.
There are only about 300 busy studio musicians, I’d say maybe two full-sized orchestras, plus a bunch of other ancillary people. There are a couple of other tuba players getting some studio work, but Tommy and I are the only ones that make a good living at it. It’s proportional, there’s probably 8-10 trombone players, maybe 20 French horns, that kind of thing. It’s not like there’s a huge bunch of people, and not a lot of people getting rich. There are a few, like Malcolm McNab on trumpet and Jim Thatcher on horn, they work all the time, They do darn well, but it’s not the norm. It’s frustrating, but I’m lucky to be pretty well established, and when there’s work I usually get some of it.
Nowicke: Until you say “no” too many times.
Self: Everything is free-lance, so you are only as good as your last job. You sight read everything, you go on a job, you do not get to see the music ahead of time, including Close Encounters or everything else I’ve recorded, no matter now hard it is, you never see it until you get there. When I do clinics now, I like to get students to do that, I bring cues that I’ve had, and the simplest things they can stumble on. It’s usually rhythmic mistakes they make, or they miss notes or something. It’s absolutely imperative to do it very quickly and often we have just one rehearsal, sometimes no rehearsal–they record the first time. If you miss something, you’d better not miss it a second time. We become pretty good at that. Often times being a tuba player is very boring in the studio, you sit there and play whole notes, or you play very dumb parts, all day long. I always say, “At least I’m getting paid well.” At other times it is sheer fright!
Do you have any more questions?
Nowicke: I probably out to let you go or I’m going to get in trouble with Harvey. I don’t hear anyone arriving upstairs.
Self: We’re OK, we can go a few more minutes.
Nowicke: What I haven’t asked you bout here–we’ve actually talked about all of your teachers, and they had William Becker’s name wrong in the Tuba Source Book. There are your two page of recordings. I’m sure you’re up to three pages now.
Self: Oh, these things, I see. Ron Davis (the recordings editor) just asked me for things that were prominent.
Nowicke: Yes, and that was also 1995, you’ve done a little bit more in the last few years.
Self: I’m first tuba for John Williams, James Horner, James Newton Howard, Marc Shaimen, quite a few of the best composers in town, and I’m usually second call for most of the others, to Tommy. Horner has written a lot of good tuba solos for me over the years, and so has John
Williams. Those are among the best scores I’ve done. We did AI with Spielberg and John Williams this spring. It wasn’t much of a tuba part but good music, it’s kind of subtle, thinly scored.
Last winter, John Debney did Emperor’s New Groove, that was nice. It had some tuba solos, and James Horner did the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, which was really a good tuba role for me. Not much this spring. We did Pearl Harbor, we had five tubas and one euphonium on all the sessions. It was all over dubbed. I heard the movie, I didn’t hear a tuba in the whole thing. It was just mixed in–it wasn’t in any way contrapuntal or anything, it was just sort of pads. I am glad to have the work but it sure would have been fun to do something interesting with that many instruments.
Nowicke: And the subject matter would lend itself to it if one was thinking.
Self: I’ve done a lot of two tuba movies with Tommy, starting with Taxi Driver, and one of my favorites was Star Trek with Jerry Goldsmith, the first Star Trek movie, the one that they called the Motion Picture. That was a great score and the tubas were featured a lot. We’ve done a lot of movies together over the years. The Fugitive was a really good one with James Newton Howard. I learned a lot by sitting next to Tommy.
Nowicke: How about cartoons?
Self: I’ve done a ton of cartoons, although Tommy was the king of the cartoons. He did all the Hanna-Barbara stuff, which, by the way, was always doubling on bass trombone. I was his sub on a lot of that once I came to town, and I did a lot of that because he’d be busy doing something else. It was fun. You go in, and those things they usually recorded right away. If the first take wasn’t good, they’d do it again, that’s all. Fast. The pace in those things–they changed tempos all the time, all kinds of things. You’d be playing a bass trombone, like a big band thing, and you have four bars rest and tuba solo–something sensitive, like some flying elephant or something. They were challenging and a lot of fun to do. In recent years cartoons have been rare. The Stalling’s-type things that they do for Warner Brothers never used tuba, they use three trombones. Once in a while I’ll go in do some of those things, like Animaniacs. or something. Rarely did they use tuba though, and then they’d bring me or Tommy in to play a solo. I’d say only two or three times a year do they do that. Tommy did a lot of the Flintstones, but the original Flintstones were done by George Bouje, who was one of the people who I have on the tape. He’s the original owner of my York. Before Tommy he was probably the best tuba player in Los Angeles. He’s retired in his late 80s now.
Nowicke: Was he a New York musician who moved out there, or was he a local?
Self: I don’t remember, he wasn’t in L.A. originally. I have all that on tape of course.
Nowicke: I know not many people are “from” California.
Self: No, almost nobody is, they came out of an orchestra or something–or they studied in LA. The thing about studio musicians is that they are versatile, they can play styles, they can play a Mozart symphony, and turn around and play a jazz piece or rock and roll. Those are the kind of musicians who tend to be attracted to that work. They went out there, and they were particularly good and they fell in, got the right breaks, and there are some other people who are virtuoso soloists and just kind of fall into the work, and they go out and do solo clinics and things.
One of the most famous ones, of course, from a long time ago was Rafael Mendez. He was a second trumpet at MGM back in the ‘50s. He was going out and doing his solo things–he was an artist. It doesn’t happen to much because it’s hard to manage. If you aren’t available they stop calling you. I like to do a little bit of it, maybe half-a-dozen times a year. It gives me an incentive to practice and get new stuff up. I’ve been doing more of that, especially with my composition and stuff. I love to play jazz when I can–under the right circumstances with good people. I’ve become very spoiled. I never work with a bad bass trombone player, and I work with about ten great ones.
Nowicke: That was something Bob Rusk said to me about some of my interviews–due to my lack of experience–I wasn’t asking the interviewees about their relationship with their bass trombonist, because that’s who you are with in an orchestra.
Self: Well, the guys sitting in an orchestra every day for 20 years or something they sometimes hate each other. You can’t do that as a free-lancer–that guy may be the next big contractor in town.
Nowicke: Your musical relationship with them.
Self: Even then, you can’t play together if you don’t like the way the other guy plays, or nobody will give in on the length of the note, or the pitch. In free lancing you don’t do that. One of the things about free lancing is this–you have to be a pretty good person. You have to have an ego, but you can’t have too much that it gets in the way of getting the job done. If you’re fighting with the guy next to you, musically or otherwise, it’s not going to be a good product on the tape.
Also, you’re dependant on people liking you. If you want to be asked back, the best thing is to have the bass trombone player say, “I like that guy.” That’s the best thing, and he talks to somebody else, and he talks to somebody else, and over the years… Of course over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of that happening to me, but when I think about subs for my own work, one of the few things I do if I send somebody on a job, I’ll ask the bass trombone player who was on that job, “How did so-and-so do?” “Oh, I like him,” or “Man, he plays out of tune, don’t send him any more.” Often that’s it–well, it doesn’t happen very often, I usually don’t send anybody unless I have a pretty good idea that they’re good anyway. If somebody plays really like a pig or plays too loud and the bass players complain about it, I don’t want them being my sub. I want them to be a compliment to me, I also don’t want them hustling my gigs. You have to be a good guy.
The players are so good, they are phenomenal players, it’s amazing the things they do. I am in awe of a lot of them, the woodwind soloists just play gloriously all day long, the trumpets never miss notes. The horn players are phenomenal in Los Angeles, they play in big unison sections of six and eight and you never hear a clam. Where else do you find that? Go to any major symphony and try to hear a whole concert without horn clams–rare! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting them down, the horn sections of all major orchestras are great, but nothing quite as perfect as the studio players. Part of the discipline is perfection. It’s my cup of tea, actually, because I like variety. Every day is different. I don’t know what next week (or day) is going to be, but I like it.
Tape 2, Side 2
Self: I’ve been fortunate to make some good choices and to have help and able to make a living like I have. When I was young I never thought I could ever be a player, and then I never thought I could play on the level that I do.
When I went to Tennessee as a professor, they called me an “Artist in Residence,” I could never stomach that, because I was not an artist. Thinking about the hierarchy of music, and to me, improvisation and composition are the very pinnacles. I’ve struggled to be better at those things, I knew it would make me a better musician. It’s very cool now that I’m writing, even though I rarely make any money at it. Now I feel that a part of me is artistic now. Like I said, I’m a lucky person. I hope through my teaching and everything else, I can give a little bit of it back.
What I said about being fortunate is true. Over the years I’ve been able to play tuba, bass, bass trombone on very high levels with great musicians. I’ve gotten to play most of the important orchestral and opera literature, have worked and recorded with many of the greatest artists of our time and have play all style from classical to rock and roll. That I was in the right place at the right time and I was prepared with the right skills. That I was in the Army Band with Dan and Chester and Bob. That I got to study with Harvey Phillips and Tommy Johnson, and these people are so important to me. That I was able to have these experiences–that’s the only way that I can do what I do now is to have had help from those people, and being somehow in this crowd of people when T.U.B.A. was getting going. It’s been important to me, and they are many of my best friends, Harvey, Dan, and these guys. We were young and full of vinegar, and we were trying to get things done, and we were idealistic. The fact that I was in that crowd, somehow, has given me a world-view of music, and a world-view of my own life, and career and opportunities. I feel very, very, fortunate.
[End of interview]
Bass, 2, 4, 7-9, 13-15
Becker, William, 2, 21
Bell, William J., 16, 19
Bird, Gary, 1-2
Bobo, Roger, 10, 17, 19
Bouje, George, 22
Bowman, Brian, 16-17
Campbell, Larry, 17
Cimbasso, 11-12, 15 Kalison, 15
Cummings, Barton, 12
Debney, John, 21
Dicicco, Daniel, 2
Ditlow, Florence, 4, 9
Early musical experience, 2-3
Geisler, Lloyd, 6
Goldsmith, Jerry, 21
Green, Fred, 18
Harry, Donald, 14, 17-18
Hanks, Toby, 12
Heidt, Horace, 3
Hendricks, Jon, 13
Herman, Bernard, 9-10
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, 17
Horner, James, 10, 21
Hough, Donald, 9
Howard, James Newton, 21
Hurst, Leo, 3
Indiana University, 1-2, 18, 20
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 1-3
Jacobs, Arnold, 19
Johnson, Tommy, 9-11, 15, 17-23
Karella, Clarence, 14-15
Keefer, Gerald, 1
Knoxville Symphony, 8
Krzywicki, Paul, 6
Kuehn, David, 19
Lind, Michael, 17
Los Angeles Opera, 15, 18
Los Angeles Tuba Quartet, 10, 12
McNab, Malcolm, 20
Mear, Sidney, 9
Mendez, Rafael, 22
Minick, Larry, 11
Morris, R. Winston, 12, 16, 19
New England Music Camp, 8-9
Opera Pacific, 18
Pacific Symphony, 17-18
Paich, Marty, 14
Pallansch, Robert, 3, 5, 11
Pasadena Symphony, 17
Perantoni, Daniel, 2-3, 6-7, 16-17, 23
Pheasant, George, 3
Phillips, Harvey, 1, 6-7, 12, 16, 18-20, 23
Pilafian, Samuel, 12
Pokorny, Gene, 11
Popiel, Peter, 2
Puleo, Frank, 1
Runzo, Phillip, 1
Rÿker, Robert, 16
Sauer, Ralph, 4
Sawday, Donald, 13
Scarlett, William, 9
Schmitz, Chester, 3-4, 7, 15-16, 23
Schuller, Gunther, 12, 18
Five Moods for Tuba Quartet, 12
Scott, Paul, 3, 6
Segal, Ray, 10
Self, Jamie Fouda, 12
Shaimen, Marc, 21
Sheldon, Robert, 5
Spain, Sarah, 9
Stout, Louis, 9
Torme, Mel, 14
Tornquist, Doug, 18
Trombone, 10-11, 15, 21-23
Conn, 2, 15
King, 2, 15
Tubas (Continued) Martin, 15-16
Mirafone, 6, 15
Yamaha, 11, 15
Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (T.U.B.A.), 12, 16-19
Conference (1973, Indiana University), 12
Conference (University of Illinois), 16, 18
Conference (1978, Los Angeles), 16-17
Mid-South Tuba-Euphonium Conference (1974, University of Tennessee), 19
Turk, John, 12
University of Southern California, 9-11, 16
University of Tennessee, 8-9, 16, 19, 23
United States Army Band, The, 2-9, 15-16, 23
Varner, J. Lesley, 8, 12-13, 16-17
Waldrop, Don, 10
Warner Brothers, 21
Weldon, Constance, 19
Whaley, Robert, 8-9, 17
Wilder, Alec, 18
Williams, John, 10, 21
Young, Jerry, 17