Sunday, September 25, 2011
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Philadelphia, raised in Orlando, Fla., and began my musical studies in junior high school. Until then I had no interest in anything other than skateboarding.
In junior high I was told that I would be a good candidate for the band program. I had seen a commercial for a big band era record collection and loved the sound of Benny Goodman's clarinet on his theme song, "Let's Dance." My mom and I went to the band director and asked for a clarinet but all that was left was an alto clarinet, so this became my first instrument. Soon after I discovered the limited playing and employment opportunities for an alto clarinet player and became disillusioned with the instrument. I was getting ready to quit when a trumpet player friend invited me over to his house to hear a Maynard Ferguson record. What really caught my ear was a baritone sax player named Bruce Johnstone and his solo on "Stay Loose with Bruce." Hearing him play on that tune changed my life and I knew at that moment that I had to be a musician. On Monday morning I went to the band director and asked for a baritone sax. We went back to the storage room and he pulled out an old silver plated Conn baritone sax.
I loved it and practiced ALL OF THE TIME. During high school I performed with the Florida all-state and all-county bands. While I had no interest in going to college, I did go to the local community college for a year but soon realized that all I really wanted to do was to practice and play music. I was hired for a full time job playing in the Kids of the Kingdom band and the World Band at Disney World in Orlando. I freelanced in the Orlando area playing for some really great performers and shows. This became my college education. I was able to sit next to some fantastic musicians and I learned while making a good income.
In 1990 I saw that there was an opening in the Navy Band Commodores jazz ensemble for a tenor sax player. At that time there were a lot of retired Navy Band musicians living in central Florida and they all encouraged me to audition. I flew to Washington, D.C., auditioned, and flew back to Orlando. The next day I received a call from Master Chief Musician Jerry Ascione asking me if I wanted the job. I said yes and here I am, 20 years later!
What led you to become an arranger with the band?
I had an interest in arranging and wrote some arrangements while working at Disney. When I came to the Navy Band, I saw it as a great opportunity to work on my skills and began arranging as much as I could for the Commodores. I was young and single and I would spend all of my free time arranging or practicing. In 1992 I met Manny Albam, a well-known arranger who agreed to take me as a student. In a very short time he completely changed my skill level and I became very serious about arranging. In 1998 there was an opening on the band’s arranging staff and I decided to audition. To my surprise I was accepted. I felt then and still do that I had more to contribute to the Navy Band as a writer than as a performer.
Can you give us a job description of the position?
My job as an arranger requires a lot of flexibility. I write for all of the band’s performing ensembles and any combination of the groups. A majority of my work is with the productions staff on major concerts that the band performs every year. This includes the holiday concert, birthday concert, Concerts on the Avenue, the International Saxophone Symposium and for national concert tours. I also write arrangements for all of the groups when something special is needed.
Tell us about working with the productions team.
The productions team is led by Senior Chief Musician Keith Hinton. He and the team members will come up with a show concept and script, and discuss what music will be needed for the production. My job as an arranger is to write all the music needed for the show for each performing group. Depending on the number of arrangements, this work can take anywhere from two to six months. That not only includes writing, arranging and orchestrating the music, but also preparing all of the parts for the musicians as well as the score for the conductor. Sometimes I will write new arrangements based on whatever tune is needed but many times I "transcribe" arrangements off of a recording. This requires listening to a recorded arrangement and literally picking out the notes that are being played and writing them into a score. The goal in writing transcriptions is to get my finished arrangement to sound as much as possible like the original recording. When required I send this information to our copyright coordinator to secure arrangement permission or license permission for any recordings.
The most remarkable feature of the band's musicians is their talent. They are required to perform several musical genres and they do it very well. As an arranger I've had to write everything from big band jazz, contemporary, Broadway, pop music and everything in between. It makes my job much easier knowing that what I write will be performed at such a high level.
The greatest aspect of my job is that I am learning something new every day. It is a constant challenge but very fulfilling.
Do you have any career highlights?
There have been many, but three that stand out are:
Arranging and conducting for the wonderful jazz vocalist, Jane Monheit, for the 2010 Fourth of July concert in Washington, D.C. That was a thrill!
The Sea Chanters' performance at the Sept. 11 Memorial Concert made me very proud.
Performing with the Commodores in Ireland in 1998 was wonderful.
What's in your iPod right now?
I don't have an iPod. I'm still using my turntable and listening to records. I tend to be pretty eclectic in my listening. Lately I've been spending time with anything by the Beatles, Igor Stravinsky, Ben Webster and Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. It's all good!
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Most of my time is taken up with my love of music and my family, although I am an avid movie watcher. My wife and I operate a bed and breakfast so some of my free time is spent as an innkeeper.
Senior Chief Juan Vasquez is principal percussionist in the Concert Band.