Blues for Fritz

The human race is a massive story composed of millions of stories. Digital storytelling has really changed how we are all collaborating on what really is the most important story of all time – us. Just where are we going with all of this? I went back to school recently in order to pursue a masters in teaching Jazz history, but I never even finished getting a Bachelors. My first two courses upon returning are the history of Math and digital storytelling.

Digital storytelling led me to create this

Please peep this out my friends. The creative process behind this got my Mom going back through her own memories which in turn allowed her memories to unlock more of mine. Going deeper I’m looking at making music videos as a whole new medium that I now have access too. Maybe I’ll stop writing and switch to music videos and attempt to go VIRAL.

Telling my grandfathers story began here at Fat Eb, in maybe my most important piece besides “Roy Campbell and Bright Moments”, Grandpa’s Rainbow  

This is more or less part 2 of that entry . The whole thing is leading up to my making a record about and for my grandfather with the 12 Houses, my orchestra that is going to tune the world.

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In 1978 my teacher Mr. Napoli handed me a list of instruments and told me choose one to play.  I didn’t know what any of them were. These days, I tell parents and kids to go on youtube and listen to the different instruments before they choose a path. I chose the trumpet, having literally no idea what it was or that it would consume me in years to come. Dhortly before their impending divorce, my parents rented me a Bundy Trumpet. After looking at my teeth, Mr. Napoli said it was a good choice.

It was tough early on. I recall trying to cheat by writing the fingerings down on the music and getting busted. I was always playing louder and more aggressively than the other kids. Right or wrong. After the requisite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star phase I went on to stage two. During the second concert I played, I’ll never forget misreading the chart and exploding a huge loud fanfare at the wrong place and time. Mr. Napoli was terrified, as I could have thrown off the whole band, but everybody kept their place. I see now that even then, I was demanding a solo. Staying quiet in the ensemble would never be enough. I MUST be heard no matter the cost. Eventually I ended up in a little dixieland combo that played at the library, of all places. I was so into it.

Stage three was a solo feature playing outside in 6th grade. I was placed into the middle school band of 7th and 8th graders, which was a big deal. The solo? Popeye the Sailor Man, and I was terrified of not only an F but a high Bb above the staff. It was too hard and I was freaking out. Showtime came on a hot summer day and I was late, got lost, and was the last to set up. I was sweating bullets when it was time for Popeye. Once I started playing it felt like I was watching a movie of myself playing. I wasn’t even sure of some of the notes but it came out sounding like Popeye and I had been eating spinach together for decades. My grandfather was in the audience and as my mom recalled, he was always smiling when he saw me play more aggressively and over the other kids. Leading the way. Even today, in free Jazz situations I end up sometimes forcing everybody into cohesion.

Eventually I would end up in the all-county band where I played 3rd trumpet on a record that played “March of the three Oranges”. My stellar career would soon spiral downwards however, as my parents divorced, my grandfather died, and I would gain 50 pounds or so. A lot for a kid. My next teacher in middle school was a Mr. Sherman. I bristle at the mention of his name. Sherman made fun of me in front of the whole orchestra saying I was always “making love to my mouthpiece.” He switched me to the- Tuba, making my typecast as the fat kid so much worse. I sucked on Tuba and eventually gave up playing and switched to art, where I ended up drawing pictures of trumpets all the time.

It wasn’t then until 1986 or 87 that I played again, when the legendary music educator Bert Hughes found out I used to play was in need of a trumpet to go to Russia! I spent a summer with Bert getting my chops back. Bert introduced me to the blues scales, which would open the door between me and myself. Later on the late Bill Garbinski would become my teacher. I upgraded to a super Olds trumpet that I really miss. Soon my mentorship with Sir Hildred Humphries would begin. Hildred had played with Count Basie, Billie Hoilday, and Roy Eldridge. My path was clear.   
 
I wrote a piece about Hildred once and it seems lost. To be continued here at Fat Eb.

It all comes back to seeing my grandfather in the audience. I have never had more respect for a human being. His being an artist resonated with me on a profound level, even as a kid. His approval meant everything to me. I’ll never forget showing him my painting of the solar system which was so so at best. As he looked at it, I saw him switch from critique to support, and tell me it was good with a slight restraint. He would soon teach me how to play Chess and then allow me to checkmate him in order to build my confidence.

My grandfather’s art was everywhere in my life. His paintings adorned the walls both where we lived and also at my Uncle Fred’s house. I would watch him work on his sculptured head busts (seen below) of Beethoven and Dr. Martin Luther King. I’ll never forget watching them cook in his Kiln!

My Grandfather was a devout catholic and his artistic and spiritual worlds were linked. I would go to church with him during the week and sit in the front row praying louder than everyone else. One of our greatest moments together was when the sermon was about the kid in the front row who was more dedicated to God than all the adults present. My grandfather gave me a big hug when the priest pointed at me during the highlight of the sermon. I’m still testifying in my own way these days with a trumpet in my hand, in an endless tribute to my grandfather Fritz.

Dark times were ahead as ominous storm clouds gathered, turning the Sun dark as night. Just where did the Sun go?

Liver Cancer had arrived to tell my grandfather it was time to head home.

In his final days I would witness him leave his death bed to help my grandmother walk to the bathroom, as she was ravaged by Parkinson’s disease. Strength beyond strength.

He would call me to his side the night before he died and whisper that I was now the man of the house. I was only 13 but I told him I would handle the responsibility.

At his wake a couple of days later one of the defining moments of my life would take place as I would witness the priest openly weeping in sorrow at my grandfathers transition. Tears streamed down his face in a profound sadness. That a man of God would be so touched by my grandfathers life had a profound effect on me. This memory has been sealed in my soul as perhaps the most important of all.

Moving on my friends. At some point in our lives the past must be undone so that we may live into the future.

There’s music to be made, art to be created.

But I’m taking this moment here to pause in reflection and call a special tune. . .

Blues for Fritz.

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Dedicated to Fritz Klueber.

                                                       

                                             Hildred and Frank “Fat man” Humphries
                                                     

    

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  1. says

    Wow, Matt, very deep, thoughtful, touching. Your description of your grandfather makes folks wish they had a Granpa Fritz, too. Good for you—what a gift and what a special pool of memories and influences to draw from.