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What Was The Worst Advice You Ever Received? 

By Anne Farnsworth



Alan Kaplan

              Actually, there were two pieces of bad advice that had a big influence on me. When I was in high school, I had an uncle who was a society bandleader here in Los Angeles and he told me, ‘Don’t go into music – you’ll never make it’. As a teenager, it carried a lot of weight with me and may be why I initially studied engineering in college.

              The other advice was given to me after I got off the road from a tour with the Harry James Orchestra. Someone told me to send cards to all the contractors telling them that I was available for work. I did it and it was like one big door slamming on my face – no one would even talk to me. Later on, as I did start to work with these same people I realized that they had no recollection of me or my cards so the whole exercise was useless.

Trombonist Alan Kaplan is one of Los Angeles’ busiest studio musicians, playing behind everyone from Barbara Streisand to the Simpsons. He has also toured with the big bands of Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Don Ellis, and Lionel Hampton. His debut CD as a leader is entitled “Lonely Town”.



Willie Ruff

              I was in the Army Band and some deadheads (not the fans, ‘dead’ as in rigor mortis) told me, ‘Don’t stay in the book (the technique book) too long  - it will stunt your musical imagination and stifle your creativity’. What a lie that was! I believe creativity is stifled and cramped only by one’s capacity for imagination and thinking original thoughts. Ideas blossom out of what we learn by reading and hearing things that project into and out of our native intelligence.

Musician, author, and, academic Willie Ruff plays both French horn and bass. A Yale School of Music faculty member since 1971, he is the founding Director of Yale’s Duke Ellington Fellowship Program. He has written on subjects as diverse as Hindemith, Ellington, the scientist Johannes Kepler, Russian music and dance, and has lectured in China in Mandarin.


Doug Webb

     One of my teachers, I don’t want to say who because he is well known, told me ‘it doesn’t matter what notes you play as long as you play good time’. Ultimately, even though it was obviously horrible advice, it was good because it got me to think about rhythm and swinging.

Doug Webb plays reeds and flute and has been featured on over 150 recordings as well as numerous television and film scores. He is a member of the Doc Severinsen Big Band and has played with a diverse group of musicians ranging from Quincy Jones to Bonnie Raitt. He is a graduate of the Berklee School of Music.

Luis Bonilla

     In late 1990, after graduating college in Southern California, I thought about moving to New York.  After confiding and getting encouragement from [Latin trumpeter] Tony Lujan, he proceeded to call everyone we knew (and people I didn't think either one of us knew) to tell them I had decided to move to New York to become a Jazz musician (which was news to me, too).  My phone started ringing off the hook for days. I was excited, thinking all this work was suddenly coming my way. But it turned out the greater part of the Los Angeles musician community were calling to discourage me and tell me how difficult and competitive it could be in NYC. I suppose it could've been......WRONG!

Costa Rican native Luis Bonilla is one of Latin music’s premier trombonists, composers, and arrangers. Founder and creative director of the Now Jazz Consortium, he has appeared with Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, Dizzy Gillespie, Astrud Gilberto, Willie Colon, and many other top Jazz and Latin musicians. Despite advice to the contrary, Bonilla makes his home in New York City.


Aralee Dorough

     The least helpful advice I received has been about auditioning. ‘Audition committees are just looking for some reason not to advance you’, is something you hear all the time, meaning it’s what you do wrong that counts. But it’s really about what you do RIGHT! Also, you play better when you think about positive actions rather than trying to avoid mistakes. This goes for playing any time. If something goes wrong, keep on playing no matter what even if you have to make something up!

ARALEE DOROUGH is principal flutist of the Houston Symphony. She has recorded on the IMP label and appears regularly as a soloist with the orchestra. Dorough was a featured performer at the 2001 National Flute Association convention. She is the daughter of Blue Note recording artist Bob Dorough, composer of Schoolhouse Rock.


Ira Nepus

     When I was on the road with the Woody Herman band, I went to a well-known teacher for some help with my technique. He told me that I was holding my horn too low, that a trombone player should play with his horn straight out in front of him.  He sold me a special mouthpiece with a very sharp lower edge, razor sharp, so that if I lowered my horn just a little it would actually cut me.  I’d be on the bandstand with blood running down my chin – it actually wore a groove in my lower lip. I had to put silly putty in the groove just so I could play!


Trombonist IRA NEPUS grew up with jazz – his father was one of the cofounders of the Hot Club of France in the late ‘30's. Ira has played and recorded with a diverse group of artists running the gamut from Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway to pop stars like Neil Diamond and Lou Rawls. An active television and movie studio musician in Los Angeles, he is also the inventor of the SOFTONE mute for brass instruments.



Susan Shaw 

     The worst advice I ever received was to quit playing the bassoon!  It wasn’t one person who suggested this to me, but several.  When I was younger people would ask, “What’s a nice girl like you playing a heavy instrument like that?” Sure, we complain about carrying our instruments.  We complain when we can’t see our friends because we have to practice for an upcoming concert.  We complain about how far we have to travel for certain jobs.  We complain about reeds.  But when it all comes together there are no words to describe the magical experience of performing.  I wouldn’t want to live without it.


SUSAN SHAW is Principal Bassoonist of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, the Allentown Symphony, the Pennsylvania Sinfonia and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, and has performed in Broadway orchestras for “Carousel,” “King and I,” and “Miss Saigon”. She also directs a band program in the White Plains public school system.  A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, she has studied with Stephen Maxym and Jane Taylor.


John Thomas

     Probably the worst advice I ever received concerns sending in subs when you can’t make a gig or a rehearsal. ‘Always send someone who is as good as you or better’ is the prevailing wisdom. Well, that’s a sure way to lose the gig and it happened to me a couple of times. So, send in a good sub - but not someone who is too good!

Lead trumpeter JOHN THOMAS is a professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California. He has performed with Count Basie, Chick Corea, and Louis Bellson and tours with Burt Bachrach, Chick Corea, and the Bob Florence Big Band.


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