I was blessed to be born into a very musical family. Both of my parents were excellent singers. My mother’s side of the family boasted many fine violinists, and both sides had wonderful pianists who were not shy about initiating a sing along or family concert.
Grandma Brown (my mom’s mom, May Darrow Brown) started me on the violin at age 6. I switched to viola in the 7th grade, and then to the string bass for the two years after that. I studied bass with Joseph Kazakevich and learned a lot. Most of my experience in school was confined to orchestras and big bands. By the 8th grade, I had purchased my first bass guitar. I dropped out of formal instrumental music training at the end of 9th grade to concentrate on rock and roll and related genres, which I pursued for the next 20+ years. During this time I had been playing the cello Grandma gave me for fun. Around 1977 to 1980 I got serious about the cello and studied with Dick Fenner until I moved away from San Francisco. Shortly after that I purchased a string bass and started phasing in my move away from rock toward jazz and other acoustic based musics.
I began singing at school and church early on (I had the “lead” in the 1st grade musical review…). By junior high, my wonderful choir director, Morey Wildt, encouraged me to write for the choir. I also participated in the madrigal singers, the boys choir (which I helped accompany on the acoustic bass), and the school’s musical productions (in which I participated on stage and not in the “pit”). I continued this type of school based vocal experience through high school and my college years.
In high school I was very active in drama, as well as vocal music. (I was even the president of the Thespian Club as a senior.) I briefly considered theatre as a career.
As a youth, I was also very involved with sports. That discussion is better left for another time.
I have been involved with working bands since I was 15. This was going on while I was doing all this other stuff. Always.
I dropped out of Oakland University in Rochester,Michigan and the liberal arts program I was attending after one semester. A year or so later I sent myself back to the same institution and took a couple of years of music (almost every theory class they offered, piano, and madrigal singers), gym, and some hippie classes.
About this time I was taking opera based vocal lessons. These continued for the next 4 or 5 years. I studied with Bel Canto tenor Richard Conrad.
I have been playing full time professionally since 1970, most of my real education has come “on the job”. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with extremely talented mentors. These mentors have been too numerous to list, …but I have to say that Bob Lucas taught me a lot about what I know of jazz, and Vince Delgado along with Mimi Spenser taught me a huge amount about odd time signatures and music that uses quarter tones.
To this day I continue to try and gather bits of knowledge from all of the fabulous musicians I have the pleasure to work with. I am truly indebted to them all.
No biography would be complete without mentioning my family, all of which has been very supportive of my crazy vocation/lifestyle.
Growing upon the Detriot area, my immediate family consisted of Dad and Mom – Jim and Lu – and their four kids. I was oldest – Tom, Jerry, Donna, and John. We didn’t know then how truly great everything was… but it was. We’re spread out all over the country now, but we all still get along, all are happy, and pretty darn healthy to boot…. My dad, the greatest dad of all time, has passed in 2011. He was almost 88, and lived a great life. Now (202o) my Mom is doing great at 97. May we all be that lucky.
I now live about an hour north of San Francisco with my loving wife, Gabi, and our Golden Lab, Emily. We are blessed with two children, Sebastian and Lilith, who are both out in the world here in Northern California and doing quite well. I’m happy and proud.
Life is good.