By Kristi Kates
It was Bill Harts fourth grade year in Iowa, where his parents owned
a service station. Traveling big bands would stop on their way to and
from gigs to grab some gas and perhaps an ice-cold Coca-Cola; all of
them seemed pretty exotic to the little boy.
One day, Vaughn Monroes band was passing through, and one of his
musicians took the time to say a few words to Bill. Little did he know
how influential those words would be.
Were going to play tonight in Cedar Rapids, the anonymous musician
explained, there will be lots of good food, and people will be
dancing. Then well get back on the bus, drive to a different city,
and do the same thing tomorrow night!
The road had now officially called to
Bill Hart, and his trumpeting career was about to begin.
BIG BAND BEGINNINGS
They all seemed so happy, Hart says, remembering his first meeting
with the big-band musicians, and I thought, how do I sign up to be
part of this?
Hart began playing trumpet that year, supported by his mother, who
played piano, and his grandmother, who lived with the family and gave
Hart lots of encouragement, he says.
When Harts father passed away, the family moved to East Grand Rapids,
which, while from sad beginnings, was another turning point in Harts
Our move was a tremendous break for me, as the band director there,
Warren Faulkner, was an excellent trumpet player and was passionate
about teaching. He stayed after school three or four nights a week,
playing trumpet duets. I ended up going to Interlochen on a
scholarship for several summer sessions, and played first chair in the
The following two summers would finally see Hart stepping onto the
tour bus with Chicagos Peter Palmer Orchestra, where he found himself
sharing stages with the likes of The Lennon Sisters and Les Paul.
TOMMY AND LOUIS
In June 1962, Hart met trumpet great Don Jake Jacoby during his
junior year of high school via Mr. Faulkners introduction. Jacoby and
his wife took Hart into their home for a week, treating him like a
family member and gifting him with lessons, a new trumpet, and visits
to Jacobys own studio sessions.
I heard wonderful, inspiring music there, Hart remembers.
Jacoby then recommended Hart for a position in the Tommy Dorsey
Orchestra, and his career took yet another big step forward
I toured with the Dorsey band from June through December of 1962,
Hart explains, the band is still touring today, as is the Glenn
Miller Orchestra; these bands are called ghost bands, performing
even though their leaders are gone.
One night in Fruitport, Michigan, Hart was at the dance pavilion, and
found himself sitting next to none other than the great Louis
Armstrong during an intermission.
His sideman stopped me, explaining that the backstage area was for
musicians, Hart says, but Louis said, if hes a trumpet player,
its okay. He gave me eye contact, answered all my questions, and
wrote down the address of a place to get his favorite lip salve. The
friendly advice helped me become a better trumpet player; and I always
play Louis What a Wonderful World at my programs.
Hart would run into Armstrong again at a later date, at the Croydon
Hotel in Chicago.
Louis stayed there, also Woody Herman and Count Basie, Hart
explains, it was a real band hotel. It was wonderful just being in
the same room with them and hearing them talk.
MUSIC TO MATH
Harts many conversations with famed musicians - some of which hell
be sharing at his upcoming lecture event at the Charlevoix Library -
both helped him continue pursuing his musical career and his secondary
career, as well. Hart has now accomplished 50 years of professional
trumpet playing, and 46 years as a math teacher at Detroits Macomb
Community College; he says that each career affects and supports the
Knowing the power of the encouraging remarks I received from the
likes of Armstrong and Henry Mancini - who was a judge at the
Collegiate Jazz Festival in April 1962 when I won the Trumpet Award -
I enjoy talking to my math students and letting them know that theyre
going to do well in any math course they encounter, he explains.
In what is perhaps now his third career - as a lecturer - Hart shares
his favorite big-band stories and songs (anything from the Great
American songbook, really - music by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter,
Mancini, George Gershwin...) and plays snippets of trumpet music to
give the audience an authentic ear as to what those days sounded like.
He also plans to continue teaching - and wont give up the music any
time soon, either, continuing to play live with an award-winning
I am a regular with The Rhythm Society Orchestra, Hart says, its a
16-piece swing band.
And hes taken the musical lessons hes learned over the years to both
heart and horn.
I enjoy playing close to the melody whenever I do my programs, Hart
explains, its like Louis said; Billy, youre never wrong when
youre playing the melody.
Bill Hart will share stories from his 50 years as a trumpet player at
his highly-interactive Big Band Memories lecture/program at the
Charlevoix Public Library on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m.; telephone
231-547-2651 for details. More information on Bill Hart and his music
may be found at the Rhythm Society Orchestras website,
www.rhythmsociety.net, while his math efforts are showcased at