I had another wonderful week of travel. This time to Tennessee. My dear friend and fellow “Amigo”, Winston Morris was celebrating his 55th and final year of teaching at Tennessee Tech University.
I have never heard of a professor teaching 55 years in one position—anywhere. Winston is one of the most revered and loved tuba players and teachers in the world. He is most famous for fostering the large tuba/euphonium ensemble. His efforts led to many colleges in America and around the world having similar ensembles. Along the way he produced dozens of CDs, commissioned thousands of compositions and arrangements for tuba/euphonium ensembles, played several Carnegie Hall concerts and taught hundreds of students—many who became virtuoso soloists, symphony tubists, professors and military musicians.
I had dinner with my Amigo Dan Perantoni after arriving in Cookeville. With Winston we call ourselves “Los Tres Amigos”.
This final concert featured 8 world premieres. One was for me to write a new work. It was commissioned by Gail Yates, one of Winston’s students in his 1st year teaching at Tech (1967). It was in memory of Gail’s dear friend Billy Blankenship—another member of that 1st class. I wrote a fun samba in 7/8 titled “Samba Deeze Daze”. Mark Morette recorded the entire concert—stay tuned for the CD release.
Well, this concert turned into a 3-day celebration of Winston’s amazing career. Hundreds of friends, former students and colleagues from around the world came to Cookeville to honor him. One of the many amazing things Winston did over his career was to assemble thousands of tuba figurines and memorabilia from all over the world. His collection was inducted to the Guinness World Book of Records and was the subject of a cool video a while ago. His collection was donated to Tennessee Tech University and they have established an amazing display room on campus. A tour was part of the weekend’s festivities.
Former student and pro photographer, Charles McAdams documented the collection in a photo journal.
The concert was held on Saturday afternoon followed by a banquet that included many testimonials to Winston’s brilliant career. The speakers included the President of the University, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Chair of the Music Department and numerous alumni covering his entire 55 years. After the banquet the party continued at a local watering hole.
Tuba Mafia at Banquet
Sunday morning Winston and his wonderful wife Ellen held a brunch attended by many. I have observed up close Winston’s body of work that also included scholarly works, jazz groups and leadership roles in the International Tuba and Euphonium Association. His energy wears me out!
That afternoon I drove 100 mikes east to Knoxville. From 1969-1974 I was the tuba/euphonium professor at the University of Tennessee. My wife Jamie and I have endowed a tuba scholarship and 5 brass scholarships for the “Volunteer” Brass Quintet. Since I was nearby, I arranged to go there for a couple of days of teaching and master classes. That 1st night I met one of my lifelong best friends, Don Hough for dinner. Don is a retired trombone professor at UT. He took me to Jan Bechtel’s home for a nice dinner. Jan is a benefactor of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and the UT School of Music. We serve together with Doc Severinsen on the School of Music Development Council. Jan also happens to be Don’s “lady friend”. After dinner Jan told us that her favorite jazz song was “In A Mellow-tone”. I just happened to have my recording of that tune on my IPhone. It was from a CD I had made in Knoxville several years before called “Size Matters” with the great jazz tenor man and UT Clarinet professor, Bill Scarlett. He and Don were my best friends from my years in Tennessee. Hearing it was very nostalgic.
On Monday morning I had breakfast with tubist/guitarist Sean Greene who is a good friend and lives near Knoxville.
Then I met tuba prof Alex Lapins at the music building to guide me though my teaching there. Also we ran into Sande MacMorran who is teaching for Alex this semester during his sabbatical. Sande replaced me at UT in 1974 and taught tuba/euphonium there for many years. (I wish we had Les Varner and Kelly Thomas there to complete the entire UT tuba faculty).
I coached the Volunteer Brass Quintet on my composition “HoopLA”–and then gave private lessons to some talented tuba students.
Then Alex took me to lunch and I taught some more in the afternoon. That evening School of Music Dean Jeff Pappas and Development Director Chris Cox took me for a fine dinner. I was wined and dined a lot on this trip.
Tuesday morning a high school friend Pete Dabrowski met me for breakfast. He lives near Knoxville. Great to catch up.
Back to lessons that morning and then in the afternoon I presented my Master Class. The Volunteer Brass Quintet performed HoopLA, I showed my 8 minute video of my solos in the movies, “Jim Self in Hollywood”, listened to some brass soloists and ended with me playing “the Basset Hound Blues” — with the audience “howling”.
I then listened to a Wind Ensemble rehearsal with Dr. Don Rader. Guest soloist was Vanderbilt University trombone professor, Jeremy Wilson–a former student of Don Hough. Then the new UT Trombone prof, Alex Van Duren took me for coffee. I then returned to the music building and sat in with the UT Jazz Band on a G blues–with their director, Keith Brown. Finally, I listened to a rehearsal and addressed the UT Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble.
That evening tuba prof ,Alex Lapins, new trumpet professor, Arthur Zanin and new horn professor, Kate Johnson-Webb took me to dinner. UT has a young vibrant brass faculty, an excellent new music building and great leadership in Dean Jeff Pappas. What a change from my 5 years there in the early 70’s. (They knocked down a concrete block wall between two practice rooms so I could have a tuba studio—alas with NO windows). UT is a major force in the music world NOW!
I had a wonderful time the next morning with the great Doc Severinsen and his significant other, trumpeter Cathy Leach, at their beautiful home south of Knoxville, TN. (Doc and I serve on the Development Council of the University of Tennessee School of Music. Cathy is the retired trumpet professor at UT and retired Principal Trumpet of the Knoxville Symphony).
Doc and I shared memories from L.A. and our many mutual friends from Harvey Phillips to Tom Peterson. He is a heathy 94 and is full of energy and good humor. I was able to give him copies of the recent David Angel Jazz Ensemble triple CD, “Out on the Coast” and my recent duo jazz CD with guitarist John Chiodini, “Hangin’ Out”. Doc, of course, is a living legend to all musicians and I cherish his friendship. What an inspiration! When I left they went on to their regular workout at their local gym. Cathy later texted me that Doc said, “That Jim Self — he’s a winner”. I am a happy man!
After seeing Doc I drove back to Cookeville to spend the day with Winston and Ellen at their cool house. Engineer Mark Morette was still there so we had an early dinner. Winston and I had nice conversation that night.
The next morning I drove to the Nashville airport. where I had a 4 hour wait. When I finally got on the plane to Phoenix I had a bizarre experience. I sat down next to a small older man. He was friendly. I had my IPad on the tray which had a photo of my student tuba quartet. The man asked me what I did and said, “I was a tuba player, what do you do”? I was astounded when he said, “I am a former mob boss”. Then he gave me his name, Sammy the Bull Gravano, told me the city in Arizona where he lived– and gave me a website. He has and ongoing podcast about his life in the mob and wanted me to watch it. I didn’t put two and two together at first but, during my layover in Phoenix, I looked him up. He had been an underboss in the Brooklyn Gambino Mob Family and the guy who ratted on John Gotti and many New York mobsters. As part of his plea bargain, he admitted to 19 murders, He got 5 years in prison but was released after 2 into the witness protection plan in Arizona. He and his wife later were convicted of narcotics selling and spent 18 years in prison. He got out in 2020 and started a podcast (for money of course) at sammythebull.com. What an experience”
I have since watched several of the episodes and have been caught up in it. It is like The Godfather, Goodfellows and The Sopranos—but this is NOT fiction.
With my earlier memoir about my week in Pennsylvania I have great memories of my musical life “on the road” in this Spring of 2022.