Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chuck Maxon

I decided to do some online searching about the musical career of my father, Chuck Maxon. He was a trombone player. I never knew him because my mom and the rest of my mom's family never let him anywhere near me or my sister. Not because there was anything wrong with him, it just was what "they" wanted. In fact, in my entire life, no one ever said a bad word about my father. To the contrary, I was told all kinds of stories about what a great musician he was and how well liked and famous he was in the music world. Which, of course, begged the question of "why?" Why the fuck was I never allowed to see him or get to know him.

The only really famous person in my family was my uncle Sid. Sure, my aunt was in a few movies, made commercials, and toured in movie musical productions, and my cousins (the girls at least) all sang and wrote music. I was conveniently steered away from that lifestyle and encouraged to finish high school and go to college and forget a career in entertainment.


I was surprised, however, to find the extensive library of music that contained my father playing his 'bones, as they are called. I am in the process of trying to obtain as many recordings as I can. He played with everyone from Stan Getz to Jimmy Dorsey to the Duke, and to everyone in between. He was older than my uncle, so his era was mostly 1930/1940, while my uncle rose to fame 1950/1960 style.

This little tidbit caught my eye today:

It was not uncommon for a budding musician to take private lessons at home, and young Gene learned a great deal from professional musician and strict disciplinarian John Schreiber. He knew exactly what to say to motivate you to practice harder, Bockey said in a recent interview in his living room. He would take out a chart and say, The kid down the street was able to play this without a mistake. So naturally, you wanted to do better than that kid.

For the price of 35 cents, Bockey and his parents frequented the movie palaces in downtown San Diego, in particular the Orpheum and the Fox. The bills usually featured a film, a Movietone reel, a cartoon, a short subject, and an on-stage vaudeville act including a famous name band, wrote Bockey in his memoir On the Road with the Jimmy Dorsey Aggravation. The bands were led by American music icons Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Paul Whiteman.


During his two-year stint with the Jimmy Dorsey Aggravation, Bockey, who was the second alto saxophonist and clarinetist for the band, traveled, ate, and partied with a colorful assemblage of musicians that included drummer Ray 'Mother' Bauduc, trumpeter Charlie 'T' Teagarden (brother of bandleader Jack Teagarden), trombonists Brad Gowans and George Masso, and a 16-year trumpet prodigy from Canada, future bebop great Maynard Ferguson.

The touring itinerary of a big band in the 40s makes most contemporary musicians' concert dates seem lightweight by comparison. A December 1948 schedule compiled by Bockey showed that the band performed 28 nights, had four days 'off' for travel time, and once traveled 550 miles between two dates. And no plane rides either, just a temperamental bus prone to frequent breakdowns.


Although the Jimmy Dorsey Aggravation was a popular live group, recordings of the big band are rare. Through no fault of their own, the group (and many others) was subjected to a recording ban by the International Musicians' Union. Bockey said that while their recording sessions were sent to radio stations and played by deejays, the discs were not for sale in record stores.

Bockey wondered what became of those recordings until he received a pleasant surprise nearly 30 years later. Working in the orchestra pit for a 1978 musical revue called 4 Girls 4, starring Rosemary Clooney, Helen O'Connell, and Rosemarie and Margaret Whiting at the Fox Theater, a young musician informed Bockey that Tower Records on Sports Arena Boulevard stocked recently issued vinyl recordings of the old 1948-49 sessions. Now, more than 50 years later, it is a revelation to hear Bockey dueling with Ferguson and trombonist Chuck Maxon. Particularly worth tracking down in used record stores is the album Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra Featuring Maynard Ferguson: Diz Does Everything on the Big Bands Archives label out of Burbank.

Dizzy was a Baha'i. I knew him through uncle Sid. Sid also knew Maynard, which is again, how I knew him. I do find it strange that I never set out on my own to try and track my father down, or at least talk to the damn musicians that I knew growing up.


Bob said...

Worthy journey. Good luck.

Carrie said...

I already got a reply to my email to the magazine that printed the article I quoted, and they offered to check out and see if they still have contact information for me, so I can at least talk to the person that knew my dad and jammed with him and Maynard!