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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tony Caviglia

The older  trumpet player with the beard in the midst of a teenage trumpet section is Tony Caviglia. Mr. Caviglia is a graduate of Julliard and a long-time stalwart of the East Bay Area music scene in Northern California.  Tony is no spring chicken, but he is still playing concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area last time I checked.  He is also a long-time music educator that has changed the trajectory of many lives, including mine.

I met Tony Caviglia in September 1967 when I entered John Muir Junior High School in San Leandro CA. Tony was the instrumental music instructor for the school. Back in those glory days, California schools were top-notch, and the John Muir Junior High music department had fine facilities and equipment. We were just a 2-year institution (8th and 9th grade), but the music department included a concert band, a symphony orchestra and many smaller ensembles.  The most meaningful group for me was the "stage band."  This "swing era" term was still used used in the 50's and 60's for big jazz ensembles.

The John Muir Stage Band was an extracurricular activity.  Rehearsals convened an hour before the first class - that would be 7:15 AM.  This is not a natural hour for 13-15 year old people to be awake.  Tony Caviglia had the type of intensity and charisma that could motivate a bunch of teenage punks to do unnatural things.  He also was able to coax real music out of a bunch of beginners.  We started out playing some fairly easy, schlocky tunes that were popular when our parents were young ("Sentimental Journey" by Glen Miller, "Woodchopper's Ball" by Woody Herman, etc.).  As time went on and the band grew in skill, Mr. Caviglia began feeding us more challenging stuff - Count Basie tunes (those classic Neal Hefti arrangements) and Charles Mingus (a killer big band version of "Better Get It In Your Soul").  We began to sound pretty damn good.

But we were still rotten punk teenagers.  On some mornings, we were not easy to teach.  In mid-winter, on a wet, dark morning, the whole band was surly and uncooperative.   Mr. Caviglia was laboring mightily to settle us down.  After 30 minutes of chaos, he was done. "Alright fine!" he yelled.  "I am not getting paid extra for this.  If you kids don't want to be serious and play this great music, I'm done.  This band is dis-banded!" and he stomped out of the music room.

Well, the music room fell silent for a about half a minute.  We were all surprised and dismayed.  We decided to head to our classes.  Mr. Caviglia will cool down, and we will be OK in the morning.  We will get back on track.

But when we showed up at the music building the next morning at 7:15, Mr. Caviglia wasn't there.  The custodian let us in and we set up and waited.  No Caviglia.  Somebody said "Well let's rehearse since we are all here."  Somebody called the tune, another kid counted it off and we started to play.  We even stopped and worked on the rough spots.  There was no chatter; we were very focused, and worried that Mr. Caviglia would never lead us again.

As the rehearsal hour wound down, Mr. Caviglia showed up.  He stood in a corner near the entrance as we played and we didn't notice him. We kept playing and finished one of the tunes - it sounded pretty good.  We were startled by the sound of one man clapping.  We looked over and saw Mr. Caviglia applauding.  His eyes were wet.

"I will see you kids tomorrow at 7:15.  Bring your 'A' game."

So we went off to our classes and returned to rehearsal the next day.  We never got rowdy after that.  And that year, we won the Festival Grand Prize at the Reno All-Star High School Jazz Festival.  We were one of three junior high bands at the fest.

Seriousness of purpose, joy in teamwork, and self-discipline were the lessons Caviglia taught me.  I am not much of a trombonist these days, but I still use Caviglia's lessons every day.

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