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  • Nick Drozdoff

Ad Hoc Clinic in Tokyo - 1981

This blog is just my reminiscing about my experiences on Maynard Ferguson's band during my somewhat brief stint with him in 1981.

Before I get to it, I want to make a plea for my podcast, "Duets From the Trenches: Musicians You Should Know." For the first five months, I was getting about 121 plays a month, average. Not great, but not out of the realm of expectation for an obscure podcast out of Chicago. Then in July, things went totally CRAZY! I got over 3800 plays in July, and over 4500 in August! I thought perhaps, there was a non linear progression that might be typical of new podcasters. However, while there was blinding leap forward in July, there has been a precipitous drop off in September, with only 831 plays so far in December, with the biggest decline in the last two weeks.

I don't have a grip on the stats, yet, but my last show (as of the writing of this blog on September 23, 2019) was an interview with Chicago trumpeter, Chris Davis. He is a fine trumpeter and an extremely nice person. It is a really good story and worth the listen, if for no other reason than the fact that I feature two of his CD tracks.

So, to the point of blatantly asking for your support, please check out the show and share it with EVERYONE!! I hope to get the trend back on track. Here are some relevant links:

Thank you for your support!!!

Now on to the actual "nostalgia files" blog.

My Ad Hoc Trumpet/English Clinic in Tokyo, Japan

In 1981, I did several tours playing 2nd trumpet (Stan Mark played, Alan Wise played 3rd and Sergis Yow played 4th) with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra. During my time on the band we toured Canada, South America (well, Venezuela) and Japan. If you go through my blog archives, you'll find one about how I ended up getting called to play on Maynard's band.

We spent several weeks in Japan. While I did spend some social/hang time with the guys in the band, I often skulked off by myself, too, just be alone. I had only been married 6 months when I went on the road and I missed my wife and home. I do want to be clear that I valued my time on the band, but my new family was of paramount importance to me and I couldn't help feeling that.

I also liked practicing a great deal. I could pull that off in American hotels and motels with a practice mute and the TV turned on as a distractor. I had problems with the hotels in Japan. The walls just seemed thinner. In any case, this was a problem for me.

At one point we were in Tokyo for one concerts (one of which was at a huge soccer stadium). I wanted to practice, but, it was not going to work in the hotel, so I grabbed my horn and went for a walk. It was a beautiful day, so just poking around was fun.

Our hotel was across the street from a huge park. I wandered for a great distance through the park and found a great big tree that seemed to be isolated in the middle of nowhere in the park. I sat under the tree, broke out my trumpet and just started practicing with abandon. It felt good playing without a mute in the horn. I was enjoying myself and was able to loose myself in my thoughts when I put the horn down to rest. I was able to shake off my slight bought with home sickness, too.

After a while, though, I had this odd feeling of being watched. I put my horn in my lap and turned around suddenly, doing sort of a "Crazy Ivan" to borrow from The Hunt For Red October, and was confronted with five or six young Japanese men. A couple had head bands on, and the crew was eyeing me strangely and talking a bit amongst themselves. Frankly, I thought I might have been in danger of getting mugged.

I scrambled to my feet and mustered a tentative 'hi.' One of the young men came over a few steps and in mildly labored English asked if I was from the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra. Not thinking, I asked "how the heck did you know that?" This was Tokyo, after all, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Smiling, he informed me that my practice spot was not at all private and asked me to walk with them to the top of a little hill by the tree. When I came to the top of the hill, there sprawled a city university. A building with open windows was only a few yards from my practice site! The young man explained what had been going on.

My practice spot was apparently right next to one of the band rooms and the music students had been listening to and apparently enjoying my practicing for an hour or so. The university? It was Sophia University of Tokyo.


The rest of the guys with the fellow who spoke English were all from the big band (so was he). They asked if I would come talk about playing trumpet and playing in Maynard's Band to the big band - a totally ad hoc clinic/lecture. I agreed, of course. I was thrilled. I thought the experience of moving from the erroneous thought of being mugged to the joyful experience of sharing ideas with nice folks from another country was just wonderful. Obviously, they spotted a rather obvious American skulking about the park with a trumpet - not something you usually see, even in Tokyo. They were jazz students and were obviously aware that Maynard was in town. It wasn't a stretch to put it all together.

An added feature of the experience was my English. They asked, in addition to the music students that wandered in (there were quite a few) if they could run across the way and drag in some Japanese students of English to come over and hear me speak. I, of course, agreed. I thought that was really pretty cool, too.

I have no unique recollection of what I talked about - probably warming up, range development and technical studies (I was running Mendez solos under the tree). I just remember how incredibly heart warming it wall was. There was a lot of love there, and, given that I was feeling a bit lonely for a variety of reasons, not the least of which missing my new family, that love was what I need to exchange. I'll never forget the event.

As an aside, the English students wanting to hear me speak was not limited to this chance encounter at Sophia University. We ran into that on bullet trains. Absolutely adorable groups of uniformed Japanese school children, obviously on some sort of field trips would seek us out on the trains (word would spread) and all come in just to hear us talk.

Being on the road (I've done road time with several bands - all when I was a young man starting out) is tough. There are moments that are challenging on a spiritual level. Sometimes it was downright tough. Then there were moments (and there were many) like this, that really brings home the idea of what being a musician is all about: sharing LOVE through music.

Drop the word music and replace the word musician' with 'human,' and this all takes on even more meaning for me, as I recollect this event.

We didn't have smart phones and digital cameras back then. I did have an old Leica range finder 35 mm camera with me. Here is the only picture I got of some of the musicians/English students I met that day. I think it would be really cool to meet them again.

Some of the folks at my 1981 ad hoc clinic at Sophia University, 1981.

This is a shorter post.

Again, please check out my podcast, Duets From The Trenches: Musicians You Should Know.

Respectfully submitted,

Nick Drozdoff

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