Interview with versatile trumpeter, Perry Sutton

Trumpeter Perry Sutton

Perry Sutton, baroque trumpet, leads a musically diverse life, performing in baroque, orchestral, chamber music, and commercial music settings with equal dexterity. Recent early music credits include: Apollo’s Fire, Washington Bach Consort, Trinity Baroque, Clarion Music Society, and The Portland Bach Experience. Perry has degrees from both Mason Gross School of the Arts: Rutgers University, and Rowan University College of Fine and Performing Arts, having studied with William Fielder, Peter Bond, Kevin Cobb, Bryan Appleby-Wineberg, and Robert Earley.
Perry lives in New Jersey, halfway between New York and Philadelphia. During the times that he leaves the trumpet in the case, Perry enjoys seeking out local craft beer coffee, and tinkering with his golf game.

Baroque: Egger 4 hole long form trumpet with Ehe, Haas, and Bauer bells
Bb trumpet: SE Shires CVLA-ML (Custom Vintage Los Angeles)
C trumpet: SE Shires 4S8 large bore (prototype)
Eb: Schilke E3L
Piccolo: Yamaha YTR-9820
Flugelhorn: Yamaha 731
Cornet: Schilke XA1
I also have a collection of vintage Bach, Benge, and Conn trumpets.

Baroque: Pickett “Hudson 2” similar to an of S7 Egger
Bb/C/Eb: Parke 640-275-24 and Pickett Ingram series
Piccolo: Yamaha 11A4
Flugelhorn: Giardinelli 7F
Cornet: K&G 3B

Interview with trumpeter Perry Sutton

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: Perry, it’s great to chat with you about your trumpet playing and your career! I wonder if you could tell us about your early interest in music? Why the trumpet?

PS: Hi Stanley! I think like many musicians, my roots in music are principally simple, starting off as just a love of music. I grew up in a house where music was constantly present, either on the radio or listening to my father and/or brother practicing. My father, Frank Sutton, is a four string, plectrum banjo player and my brother, Clay, plays clarinet, saxophones and flute. My father has some of the best ears I’ve ever known and would play everything from Cole Porter and Jerome Kern to Brahms. Clay is also tremendously talented, you give him a little bit of knowledge and five minutes and BANG!, he’s way better at something than you could ever have hoped to be. Decades later, and I still can’t help but be amazed by it. My mother, Peggy, never really played an instrument, but is one of the biggest music lovers and listeners I’ve ever met, her father having been a trumpet player in his younger days. With all of that going on around the house, picking up an instrument was a no-brainer!

I started off playing in the church bell choir around age four or five, and learned to read music before I could actually read English, though the bell choir didn’t last particularly long….

I was always drawn to the trumpet and could not wait to get started as soon as we were allowed to sign up in school.

SC: Who were some of your teachers as you were growing up? How did they motivate you?

PS: Throughout the years, I feel incredibly lucky to have had great teachers both in terms of technique and music, but also the business side of things as well. My very first teacher, with whom I studied for my first ten years of playing the trumpet, was Joe Cataldo, a Philadelphia/Atlantic City freelancer.

Joe Cataldo, Jon Ashcraft, Joe Mosello, Perry Sutton, Jim Stieber (bass trombone) (2009)

Joe was a very special person for me, almost like a second father at times. Anytime I was having chop issues (of which I’ve had plenty over the years), needed advice on anything trumpet, music, or non-trumpet related, he was always the phone call that got me back on track. He was also, like so many of us, a bit of a gear junkie and instilled in me a healthy does of “equipment nerd.” (This would prove very helpful later on in life, both in my trumpet playing career and for my daily work at Dillon Music.) In addition to about a decade’s worth of trumpet lessons, Mr. Cataldo was also my high school band director.

I never really had to be motivated to practice or work hard through school. I would routinely get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning to practice, much to the chagrin of my parents, because I just loved playing so much. I have never really loved school as much as I loved learning, so using my own private time to transcribe and practice etudes was my favorite part of the day! I’m not sure that my brother or I ever had to be told to practice so much as we had to be told to STOP practicing so family members or neighbors could go to sleep.

SC: 4:00 in the morning! Wow! What was your college experience like? Did you feel like this time was transformational for you?

PS: My collegiate experience was probably more complicated than it ought have been. When I left for college, I principally had designs on being a jazz/commercial trumpet player, like all of my heroes growing up. I left home to study with William “Prof” Fielder, got to school at Rutgers University, and happened to show up at the same time as Sean Jones, Lee Hogans, and Melvin Jones. Talk about a reality check! I quickly realized that I was in over my head. That, combined with a “chop” injury and I was left figuring out where to go from there.

(l-r) Peter Bond, Bryan Appleby-Wineberg, George Rabbai, Perry Sutton (2015)

The age-old adage of “better to be lucky than good” comes in to play here. I was fortunate to land on my feet in the studio of Peter Bond, of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Looking back, I must have been endlessly frustrating as a student for Pete, but ultimately, he is one of the first people push me out of my comfort zone and get me to ask myself tough questions about how to improve and teach myself. Goals became more specific intentional endeavors and the means of achieving them became more tangible. It was all up to me and how intelligently I wanted to work and how honest I wanted to be with myself. If I’m being fair, I probably owe Pete more pints and “You told me so”’s than either of us would ever admit.

Perry with Roger Ingram and George Rabbai (2013)

Upon finishing my Bachelors Degree, I returned home to South Jersey to pursue a Masters Degree at Rowan University to study with Bryan Appleby-Wineberg and Bob Earley (Philadelphia Orchestra). It was a great studio to be in between Bryan, Bob, and George Rabbai. There was a lot of playing to do, between playing principal in the orchestra, the wind ensemble, several chamber groups, the big band, all while working on my own projects and freelancing in Philadelphia, South Jersey and the Jersey Shore…I occasionally made it to my academic classes. Thankfully, there weren’t TOO many of those to miss.

One of the great advantages for me from attending Rowan was learning how to balance and pace all of that playing. The trumpet was basically on my face from 10:30 every morning until 11pm or midnight each night! To this day, it’s still nice to know that a heavy day of playing doesn’t have to wipe you out, and how to be smart about pacing myself on days with two concerts, or the all too common practice of an afternoon soundcheck that turns into a de facto dress rehearsal. Those two years were a lot of work, but gave me the chance to really push myself and become more conscious of my limitations and how to expand them.

SC: How did you get started in jazz? Who are your influences?

Click to see video link of Perry Sutton, sizzling on lead trumpet

PS: My grandfather was my very first influence on the trumpet and I still remember his admiration for Harry James. For me, years later; I still can remember the very first times that I heard Clark Terry, Jack Sheldon, and Maynard Ferguson listening to LP’s in Joe Cataldo’s living room as an eight or nine year old waiting for me trumpet lessons. Still three of my absolute favorites.

Joe Cataldo Tribute Big Band: trumpet section is Tony DeSantis, Perry Sutton, Kevin Rodgers, Steve Ubiel, Jon Vanore (2017)

Could any trumpet player listen to “Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One” or “Spanish Rice” and NOT want to be a jazz trumpet player? That would have to be impossible! Jack Sheldon’s ballad playing and singing has always really spoken to me, and the Maynard Ferguson “Birdland Dreamband” and “Roulette Years”, what a force of nature!

SC: Tell me about your work at Dillons. How did you get that job? What do you get to do there?

Perry at the Bach Factory, play-testing trumpets

PS: Growing up in New Jersey, Dillion Music was always the Mecca. My teachers always spoke of it with a reverence. It was THE place to go to try gear, meet people, get supplies, and make the hang. I started shopping vicariously through other people probably around the time I was in middle school.

I absolutely ended up there at least once a week in college just to tinker, get custom work done on my horns and mouthpieces, and to geek out a bit while I was in school. Rutgers University was about 15 minute away, luckily for me!

Perry with Claudio Roditi (2013)

I started working for Steve Dillon in the fall of 2008. September 2, 2008 to be exact. I was teaching approximately 30 private students in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, while attempting to balance that with a freelancing career and was completely burnt out.
Having shopped there for years, I was lucky (again) to have good relationships with a few of the employees at Dillon Music, who would become my colleagues. I had no sales experience, no retail experience, and minimal “people skills” and despite all of that, Steve Dillon took a chance and gave me a job. I can’t ever fully express my gratitude.

Joe Mosello, Perry Sutton, Earl Gardner and Mike Spengler (2017)

Having a father who was both a musician and a machinist and a mother who was a teacher with a great analytical mind, technical specifications and numbers have always made sense to me. Couple that with having a teacher as a child who was, to say the least, a bit of a gear head…I’ve always had a keen knowledge of fitting equipment for players. I still really love solving the puzzle of “what mouthpiece/horn/etc will help this player achieve their goals” regardless of ability level, or application. Nothing at work makes me happier than the A-HA! moment of a player finding something that helps them improve, be it equipment or ideas.

I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that it is really cool to have so much cool stuff at my finger tips and to be able to try new gear as soon as it comes out. On a similar front, I’ve also been very fortunate to do some R&D work here and play testing for manufacturers and come up with a few horns that really suit me, my needs, and my skill set along the way.

SC: You have made a name for yourself as a baroque trumpeter. How did that come about? What are some of your most memorable gigs in early music?

PS: Back in the first year or two of my bachelors degree, the brass department at Rutgers brought in Kris Kwapis, a fantastic baroque trumpet player, to give a master class and lecture on the baroque trumpet and how to make more informed decisions as a modern player. I was immediately fascinated by tone and timbre of the instrument and wanted to give it a try. The university had just purchased a set of Frank Tomes trumpets, but for whatever the reason, I was not permitted to try one. In one of the few times in my life that discouragement didn’t make me openly defiant and double my efforts, I tabled the idea for close to a decade. But I never lost my love for the instrument, the sound, or the repertoire.

Enter my friend, Phil Baughman, current brand manager for EK Blessing. At the time, Phil was the Sales Manager for Schilke Music/Naumann trumpets. At a few trade shows, Phil noticed me “kicking the tires” on a few of the baroque trumpets during a lull in exhibit traffic and we got to chatting about the baroque trumpet. I knew basically nothing and just starting raining questions at him. Phil was such a pleasure to deal with and before I knew it, I had ordered an Eklund model, 3 hole trumpet with a Haas bell.

Once the horn arrived, I couldn’t put it down! I started playing anything that I could think of, making up exercises, learning excerpts and solos, playing along with recordings, etc. I was hooked! At the time, I had a roommate who is a talented singer, organist, and continuo player, named Ben Berman, who encouraged me to play a recital on his churches concert series, which probably went better than it should have. HA!

Perry soloing with La Fiocco (2013)

Through Ben, I was able to meet a few new early music people and quickly got in over my head playing a BWV 51 and Torelli Sonata with an early music group, La Fiocco in Pennsylvania. Looking back, that was another concert that probably had no business going as well as it did. Being so new to the instrument, but being a competent modern player, it never occurred to me that the program was supposed to be as difficult as I would now view it.

Perry with baroque solo trumpeter Friedemann Immer (2014)

Feeling as though I had scratched the baroque trumpet itch, but too scared to take the next step, I went back to my regularly scheduled modern playing for the next few years until early 2015, where I again found myself restless and somewhat wanting for a change of pace, despite doing some interesting projects and gigs that I thought I “should” be doing. One particular week was a week long gig in NY playing 6 nights with a band where I reached a tipping point. I realized that I couldn’t really go on doing the work that I was doing and maintain a quality of life or sanity. The notion of not enjoying my work, or viewing the trumpet as some kind of chore every time I picked it up was no longer tenable. I spent every night of the gig thinking, on the bandstand, “What would I rather be doing?” “What would make me happy?” Every night, I kept coming back to the baroque trumpet and how I never pursued it to the extent that I should have. I decided that last night that I was done “playing scared” and wanted to jump in with both feet, play for some people, find out what I needed to do to make myself employable, and get to work! It was very empowering.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to have friends and colleagues that were willing to take chances on me, and this situation is no different. I called a friend who is very involved in the early music community and asked who I should reach out to. She responded almost immediately, “It’s about time. Email John Thiessen.” I set up a lesson with John, who is equally a great trumpet player, teacher, and now, friend and colleague.

After a 2016 performance of Bach’s B-minor Mass with Caleb Hudson and Chris Coletti

In terms of memorable early music gigs, I enjoy the scene so much that there are so many now that I can recall fondly. Some of the more noteworthy experiences would have to be: a New Year’s Ever performance of BWV 248 “Weihnachtsoratorium” in Philadelphia playing section trumpet under John Thiessen and Timothy Will, a very enjoyable semi-staged production of Purcell’s “Fairy Queen” in Pittsburgh playing alongside Steven Marquardt, my first time playing principal trumpet on Handel’s “Occasional Oratorio” with the brilliant trumpet writing in that piece, my first B Minor Mass on baroque trumpet, playing between Caleb Hudson and Chris Coletti, and you and I had a blast playing BWV 248 last December with Josh Cohen for Washington Bach Consort, didn’t we?!?

Like most other things for me personally, the music and the work are beautiful, but it’s the people and the colleagues that make the experiences truly memorable.

SC: It was a lot of fun to play with you and Josh last December! But now I want to talk about a more serious subject–You had a concussion that impacted you for quite a while. Tell us about that. Do you feel that you have gotten past it?

PS: Thanks so much for bringing this up. Back in September 2017, I suffered a Grade 3 concussion following an accident at my apartment. Bar none, this was the most frustrating experience of my life. Over the weeks/months that followed, I experienced memory loss, speech loss, insomnia, was unable to drive my car for a time and had to miss quite a bit of work. Most frustrating of all was having to take approximately four weeks off from playing the trumpet. The silver lining through the first few weeks of recovery was that the weather was gorgeous and I was able to play a lot of golf. Reality began to set in when I had gigs coming up that I wasn’t totally able to prepare for.

Apollo’s Fire brass for Handel’s Israel in Egypt: Steven Marquardt, Greg Ingels, Erik Schmalz, Mack Ramsey and Perry Sutton (2017)

I wasn’t medically cleared to begin playing trumpet again until 36 hours before I had to travel to Cleveland for a concert cycle with Apollo’s Fire. Playing the trumpet with a traumatic brain injury is not something I would recommend to anyone. The first few days back on the horn and the start of the rehearsal schedule were incredibly stressful. My chops themselves actually felt fine, but every time I played the trumpet, I would would suffer some memory loss and confusion. As someone who has always had a good memory and generally felt as though I had my faculties about me, this was nothing short of terrifying and depressing, much like the first few days after my accident. I was beyond frustrated, but somehow I didn’t feel beaten. There was a new challenge and hopefully a way to turn the negative into a positive.

My thinking was, if there is a way to remove some physicality and “effort” from my approach and technique, it would take a lot of the pressure off of my head, and help me to be more efficient. I went back to my old lesson notes from my studies with Pete Bond during college that I had saved in my email and realized that a lot of the concepts and thoughts that Pete had been telling me a decade and a half earlier. As it turns out, I just needed to get hit in the head to realize how to get better! I spent 2-3 hours every morning for the rest of the trip working on making a few tweaks to my approach and setup and by the end of the tour, things had never felt better. Keeping up with that after getting home has given me an extra fifth on my range, eliminated my “break” in the upper register and I have much more control over my tone than I did before.

I wish I could say that my recovery has been all golfing and getting better at the trumpet, but that wouldn’t be at all honest. It is, however, what I choose to focus on. I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have such supportive friends, family and colleagues (especially from that first trip back on the horn) to lean on for support over the last few months. My memory spanning from September to late January is foggy at best, and my recovery hasn’t been at all linear. I think as trumpet players and musicians, we can all relate to putting in concerted and thoughtful practice and hard work and seeing progress. The hardest part of this experience has been how much this injury can have its “Ups and Downs.” Good Days and Bad Days.
As of current date, it has been a year, and it’s been within the last five months that I’ve actually started to consistently feel like myself. I still am dealing with some minor hyperacusis (a type of sound sensitivity) and occasional short term memory issues, but nothing like it had been.

SC: What would you like to be doing five years from now? 

PS: I’m not entirely sure that I have a good answer for that. Lately, I’ve been in a really good place right now and enjoy what I am doing. I love my job, and am doing more and more gigs that I enjoy all the time. I get to spend time with my friends and family and get to travel to some cool places!

SC: What do you like doing when you’re not playing trumpet? 

Golfing with trombonists Adam Machaskee and Conrad Herwig (2017)

PS: As I’ve likely mentioned ad nauseam, I love playing golf any chance I get. I love solving the puzzle of what my game looks like every time I go out to play. Golfing is so much like the trumpet, but there is nothing riding on it for me, so the element of stress doesn’t exist! I also enjoy good coffee (to the extent of having an espresso machine in my bedroom and a coffee maker on my nightstand to have a nice cup in bed while I watch SportsCenter every morning and do a crossword puzzle in bed. I’m a huge Philadelphia 76ers fan, as well as the rest of the Philly sports scene.

Beers after performance of Bach’s Cantata 11 with Brandon Bergeron and Hugo Moreno (2018)


I enjoy good craft beer and spend time seeking out local craft breweries both at home and when I’m on the road. I also enjoy frequenting art museums. Notable favorites include: Salvador Dali, William Hogarth, Dutch Golden Age, Da Vinci, and Italian Renaissance painting. I am love seeking out great seafood and am in constant search for the best ramen and fried chicken that I can find!


SC: Thanks so much for sitting down to chat about trumpet stuff with me, Perry. I think your story will resonate with a lot of readers!

PS: Thank YOU, my friend; this was a lot of fun. I hope to get to see you and work with you again sooner rather than later!

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Interview with Dennis Monk, a trumpeter turned academic

Dennis Monk

Interviewer’s note: unlike most interviews on Trumpet Journey, there is no preliminary bio or equipment list for Dennis Monk. His interview is, essentially, his bio.

The date of this live interview was February 20, 2018. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis, who was a student of Dennis in the 1980s at the University of Alabama.

SC: Dennis, thanks for agreeing to sit with me and talk about music, your life, your career—and maybe a little about the trumpet along the way!

DM: It’s my pleasure! I often think of my career in terms of the story of the Fox and the Hedgehog from the fragment attributed to the Ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.” Me? I could never be the hedgehog, but I was a pretty good fox.

SC: Tell me about your childhood. How did you get interested in music? What was it like growing up in South Dakota?

DM: I grew up the descendants of homesteaders in a little town called Olivet in S.D.—population of about 500, mostly Norwegian-Americans. I was the child of immigrants, who were recruited by the railroad from countries like Denmark, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Germany.

My father’s family had a home orchestra. He played several instruments, including the trumpet, and my mother played the piano and saxophone. And every village in SD had a good-quality town band. My grandfather had become an owner of a bank. He closed it every afternoon at 3pm to conduct the local high school band. My grandparents so loved music that they would walk five miles to a railroad spur and take the train to the nearest city (50 miles away) to hear a touring opera star or an orchestra or a band, and then after the concert and get back on the train and back home in the morning.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression destroyed the family bank. My father had to do something, so he became, without any degree in music education, the high school band director, choral director, basketball coach and principal. In a band in those days, the most important person was the first-chair cornet. I say cornet, because the trumpet might as well have not been invented, yet—they were considered pea-shooters! My father began grooming me to be the first chair cornet player starting when I was in Fifth Grade. I played a Reynolds cornet with a Bach 7C mouthpiece. Starting in the Sixth Grade, I was his first cornet player for 6 years. I thought I was pretty great. I played in a polka band in high school, playing “dawn dances” (in the summer), so-called because they started at midnight and went to sunrise.

But the “Fox” of Archilochus took over. I began to be interested in theater, debate, choir and “original oratory,” which is a competitive event. I was one of three democrats in the school. Outspoken doesn’t come close to what I was!

SC: What did you do after high school?

DM: I eventually came to realize that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was on the cornet.

Dennis Monk’s trumpet during his Navy Years: a Chicago Benge, serial #2212 from the late 1940s. He bought it used for $25 and played it for 50 years (using a Purviance mouthpiece). 

I had to decide between going to college at Michigan State (I had been offered a little scholarship there) or joining the Navy. In 1955, you either did your obligatory military service before went to college or after you went to college. If you got drafted after college, you might become an Army grunt and sleep in foxholes and get shot. Whereas the Navy offered me the opportunity of hot meals, sheets, and expanding my musical experience (there was a school of music in the Navy). So, at 17, I enlisted, and spent two and a half years in the Navy. I became the director of a 30-member boot camp band, at age 17, in Great Lakes. We played the “Star Spangled Banner” at morning colors and “Anchors Aweigh” marching back to the band room. That was the total repertoire of the boot camp band. Before going to boot camp, I had seen only one black growing up in South Dakota. That all changed with my experience with the Navy Band program.

After boot camp, I spent a year in Navy School of Music at Anacostia Naval Station, in Southeast D.C. I was smart, and I could type, so they kept me on the staff.

Dennis Monk (far left) with the band of the USS Bennington

Then I was shipped out to sea for the remainder of my enlistment. In the Navy, I played in a big band on the USS Bennington. On this ship I went to Sydney, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Hawaii. There was a jazz trumpeter named Jerry van Blair, who went on to play with Bill Chase. The band on the Bennington was made up of draftees. Many were college music majors.

SC: After your time in the Navy, what did you do?

DM: I discovered after a year at sea, I wasn’t getting any better, and I was discouraged. So, when I was discharged in 1958, I decided I would study music education. The best college at the time in music education was San Francisco State. My tuition was $37 a semester.

I set foot on a college campus and thought I had died and gone to heaven. I decided that I would never leave a college campus, and, as it turns out, I never did. I took courses in English, Art and Philosophy, but I remember my advisor eventually said to me, “You know, Dennis, if you’re a music major, at some point you’re expected to take classes in music.” So, I started studying conducting, and I decided I wanted to be an opera conductor. I finished my degree without going to many of the classes, because they were so easy. Then, I got a job starting a band and a jazz band at a Jesuit prep school in San Francisco. I conducted musical shows. Then they hired me at the University of San Francisco (also a Jesuit school). There, I started conducting musical shows. That’s when I discovered that going to college was one thing, and teaching was entirely different. I was more excited to teach. “Music Man” was the first show. At the same time, I was taking graduate courses at San Francisco State in music history, because I needed to know more about classical music, since I wanted to be a conductor. True to the “Fox”, I discovered I really liked music history. And I liked the idea of teaching in a college.

SC: What did you do after you graduated from San Francisco State?

DM: I got married in 1962—my bride, Kay, and I eloped. Soon she was pregnant. Even though I was really busy and sleep-deprived, we packed up and moved to Los Angeles. There I started working toward my Ph.D. at UCLA. I studied conducting with Zubin Mehta’s dad, Mehli Mehta. I was the assistant conductor of the UCLA symphony and the UCLA opera, and soon became a father. Because UCLA didn’t have a doctorate in conducting, I got my Ph.D. in musicology as an alternative to conducting—my residency lasting only two and a half years.

SC: What did you do then?

DM: I accepted a job at a junior college in Washington State. Now I had a family to support. But then I heard about Fulbright Fellowships. The “Fox” came calling once again. I could not resist the temptation of applying for a Fulbright to Vienna.

SC: Had you already learned German?

DM: I had already learned how to read German, but I couldn’t speak it. Much to my astonishment, I received the Fulbright award. I rescinded my teaching position, before I got there. I moved to Vienna with my family (my three-year-old daughter, Kimberly, learned to speak German almost immediately and could translate for my wife during shopping trips). I began doing my dissertation research on the 18th-century symphony: how the style had changed between Bach and Haydn. I felt that up to this time there was the lack of scores to help in this research. So, I went to archives in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and photographed orchestral parts, in order to re-compile them later into a score for study. I got my Fulbright extended by a year, and by this time, I was moving my focus away from the symphony to the quartet, because it was easier to collect only four parts for a quartet.

When I returned to the U.S., after I made scores from the parts, I could analyze them to see how the style changed between Bach and Haydn. I looked at about a dozen composers, such as Johann Baptist Vanhal and Franz Asplmayr. I published some of my editions.

After I got my doctoral degree in 1972, I got a phone call from dean of Oberlin (a UCLA grad), he had a temporary position, so I began teaching musicology. As this temporary job was about to disappear, I took a job at Central Michigan University. There I started an early music ensemble. I got a chance to conduct Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea.” I was their first music historian. But, like many times before, the “Fox” showed up in my door again. I got invited to take a year’s internship in the Vice President’s office, followed by being appointed Chair of Music Department. It was a really good music school. I liked the place and it was growing. I even helped to design a new building there.

Dennis Monk, early 70s

But the damned “Fox” showed up again. I got very active with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). I had the reputation of being very active but a little weird. I gave a lot of papers to them that were quite visionary.

SC: But you didn’t stay there, did you?

DM: No. I was sitting at my desk at CMU, when the Dean at the University of Alabama rang me up. , He said, “We’re doing a chairman search and we have stalled. We’re on the 2nd year and the faculty won’t agree.” I told him, “Let me think who might be a good person for Alabama.” “No, you don’t understand. We want you!” I told him I didn’t want to go, but I went anyway to interview there.

After visiting the Alabama campus and still being undecided, I flew back to Michigan, flying over the last dirty snow of the year. It was cold and ugly, so I walked through the door and told my wife to pack!

SC: I knew you when I was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama. You were, by then, the music director of the school of music there. Was it easy to lead this music school at that time? How did you find Alabama?

DM: I had challenges right away. Because the dean of the college of Arts and Sciences didn’t want to fire anybody, he had simply removed three positions from the school because of budget cutting. This affected me: I didn’t have these positions in the School of Music, and I had thought I did. When it dawned on me what had transpired, I barged into the dean’s office with my hair on fire. He sat there smoking his pipe. “Well, we lied a little”. He told me that I would just have to work through it. So, I did as best as I could.

Dennis Monk with Itzhak Perlman in front of Dreamland Barbecue restaurant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

I had also been promised that there were plans and money set aside for a new music building. I finally asked President (Joab) Thomas how much money had they set aside. He finally confessed that it was only $7 million. Well, you can’t build for that little—especially with a concert hall in the design! Joab (Thomas, the president) was only too glad to pull the plug on the project, but I saved the building. I started going to trustee meetings. The chancellor finally stepped in and, with his help, the building was finally funded and built.

Dennis Monk (center right) enjoying University of Alabama football with the Million Dollar Band

I stayed on as director for about eleven years. Then I went to work in the Chancellor’s office for a few years, but I didn’t enjoy it. Sooner or later, you’re libel to run afoul your boss. With a personality like mine, it came. The dean took an almost instant dislike to me. The law of jungle is that if you’re chairman and dean doesn’t like you, you have to resign. I resigned. I spent the last 10 years just teaching. And they were the most pleasurable of my entire career.

Now, I enjoy connecting with many of my students on social media, following their lives. It’s been a real pleasure. I just got an email from one of my students from the time I was teaching in San Francisco. He told me that he had recently named me as a music teacher that changed his life.

SC: What advice do you have for the younger generation? How can we improve our musical world?

Dennis Monk enjoying retirement in 2018.

DM: Be ready for change. Follow the fox. There are books out now that say that knowledge is useless. Because everything is changing. I have become very interested in the stoic philosophy of people like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. It has been a new interest. In a nutshell: the past is the past and there is nothing you can do about. The future you have no idea about. So, you must live for the present. In neuroscience, we have come to learn that decisions aren’t made consciously, but subconsciously. And the conscious mind simply recognizes the decisions. I trusted intuition, opportunity and danger. I think that was the right thing to do, and I would suggest that’s an important lesson for young people today. Over the years, I’ve come to embrace two favorite expressions: “I don’t know” and “I don’t know.” Both are very helpful.

Dennis Monk and his late wife, Kay.

SC: What kind of projects are you looking forward to in the future?

DM: Just recently, when my wife, Kay, died, I got an opportunity to work again on the scores that I had compiled in my doctorate research.


CD jacket for quartet project of Vanhal’s music, manuscripts of which were supplied to quartet by Dennis Monk


Someone in Canada who works with Tafelmusik and in a string quartet, asked me to help with some quartets that he was interested in. After he mentioned to me they were going to record some quartets by Asplmayr that I had edited, I was able to show him some later works that are even more interesting. Now his quartet is planning to do another CD. I’m past 80, and my work still seems relevant, and this makes me very happy.

SC: Dennis, your journey has certainly been an adventure, and I’m sure that some young trumpeters out there will find some inspiration from the paths that you took.

DM: I hope so. It was great to chat with you!






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