MUSICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
DON SCHAMBER |
RGM is sad to report that Don Schamber passed away on March 7, 2011. We will miss him. His music lives on.
1950 - My father, a career military doctor was either sent to Stuttgart, Germanyor requested a duty transfer? Around 1950, my parents thought it a good idea that I take classical piano lessons, which I totally hated. The poor German lady who was the wife of the conductor of the Stuttgart Symphony was my teacher. She was to be commended for putting up with me and to this day, I really wish I had paid more attention.
1953 - We returned to the US from Germany and my father was off to the Korean War and my mother and my two brothers moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. My oldest brother was going to attend the University of Minnesota Medical School; just as my father had in the late 1920’s. Her philosophy was to provide housing, food and utilities for any son that was attending school on a full time basis. While in St. Paul, she had made arrangements with a Charlie Thompson for me to take
pop piano lessons. It was more jazz oriented than anything and it took me about two lessons to realize that this was interesting and fun and I continued with him for about a year. He then told me to go out and play and when I was ready, come back for more study. It was also at this time that I became interested in playing either trumpet or trombone. I never returned to Mr. Thompson because we moved to Japan where my father was stationed after the Korean War.
1955 - I managed to struggle through the music program at Menlo-Atherton High School in Menlo Park, California. It seems there was always a better pianist in the jazz band so I ended up playing trombone. As all musicians know, there are never enough trombone players. A drummer from the band and I used to make trips to San Francisco to listen to the Rudy Salvini big band play what radio station KJAZ called dance concerts. This is the first time I was “introduced” to a composer/arranger by the name of Gerry Cournoyer.
1959 - I was released from active duty in the US Marine Corps and returned to my parents home in Atherton, California with the expressed purpose of attending the College of San Mateo, a two year California community college located just South of San Francisco. The school had an excellent academic reputation in addition to having an outstanding music department and an award winning jazz big band program. I wanted to be part of the program and band. It was during this time that I took a great interest in writing and arranging for jazz groups, especially the big bands. I studied composition and arranging from Gerry Cournoyer, a San Francisco based writer who was himself attending San Francisco State College as a music student. As stated above, I first heard Gerry’s works through the big band of Rudy Salvini and was told that Gerry had written about 60% of the charts for Rudy. I was “bitten by the writing bug!”
1962 - I entered into a marriage after completing my AA degree at the College of San Mateo and took a year off from school to work full-time in a drug warehouse
in South San Francisco. We had one child and were living in San Mateo close to the in-laws. This came in handy for baby sitting. I was working, playing piano in clubs and doing casuals up and down the San Francisco Peninsula. It was at this time that I became a member of Musicians Union Local 6.
1963 - We moved to San Jose so that I could attend San Jose State College with the intent of majoring in composition and began to realize that a teaching credential would probably come to be very handy. While at San Jose State, I took over the duties of directing the jazz band, which was not a formal class but simply a group of students that wanted to play jazz. Many of the members would
bring in composition/arrangements, myself included, for the band to read and perform. In 1964, a fellow student and I thought up the idea of having a big band jazz festival on campus, using the music department facilities. We hired 4 outstanding musicians to be the adjudicators and had 22 bands entered into competition. The event was a total success and the following year, 1965, the final concert was held at the downtown San Jose Civic Auditorium which seated about 3300 people. We had an audience of around 1500 for the judges concert. Because of the success of the “Day of Jazz”, Gibson Walters, head of the SJS music department hired a full-time brass instructor by the name of Dwight Cannon to take over the operation of the jazz band and fledgling jazz program.
1965 - I accepted a full-time music teaching position in the San Jose Unified School District having received my BA and teaching credentials.
1966- I remained at Markham Junior High School for 4 years and during this time started work on a master’s degree from San Jose State which I finally obtained in 1969. In November of this year, I met the future Mrs. Schamber while working at a club in Sunnyvale called the Tonic Room. We have been together over 41 years and together we have one daughter named Christine. It was also during this time that a percussion instructor was hired to complete the required percussion classes since the regular instructor had died from cancer. His name was Gene Graves and at his suggestion, we started a music publishing business called Mission Music Publishers. We had no idea at the time but it seems that Mission created a new “world” for writers who were not really known and realized they too could also publish their own works without having to deal with the large, known publishers who were next to impossible to deal with in any matter regarding publishing, especially jazz! I had done a great chart of ON GREEN DOLLPHIN STREET and I called and talked to someone in New York who owned the rights to the song. He told me that if an arrangement of the tune is needed, they will have someone do it for them. Mission Music took off like a “big bird”!
1969 - I applied for and was accepted for a teaching position at a small Arizona community college. I realized that teaching at the junior high school level was not what I wanted to do and it was necessary to get a college position in order to
be able to move to other positions in higher education. My principal was a great backer of what I wanted to do because he knew I was at the wrong level of education. The Arizona job was interesting because I was a one man department. I did it all, vocal, instrumental, theory, music history and I started a small jazz band. One problem was that the local high school music teachers did not accept the fact that the college would hire people who were not local. This caused friction and was difficult to overcome. I learned much about teaching at the college level in these two years, especially from the division chair, a man named Joe Gilliland, a scholar, a teacher and friend to this day.
1971 I was called at our home in Bisbee, Arizona and asked if I would be interested in the jazz position at Monterey Peninsula College. The answer was a resounding YES and we came here for an interview. It was on a Friday in June and on that weekend, MPC was the location for the first high school jazz festival sponsored by the Monterey Jazz Festival. I met with several department heads and deans and was told to come back on the following Monday to be interviewed by the then president, Bob Faul. It took a week but I was offered the position which then presented another unknown problem, finding an affordable place to live! We rented a small house in Pacific Grove which finally led to the purchase of a house about two blocks from the rental. Best thing we ever did!
1972- Any jazz instructor at Monterey Peninsula College finds himself eventually involved with the Monterey Jazz Festival. It is a non-profit organization that donates money and equipment to secondary schools within Monterey County.
MPC was and continued through the 70’s to receive scholarship money from the festival. In return, they wanted the use of college rooms and equipment for the September event and we gladly helped them in any way we could.
1979 - It was this year that I started what I called the 13 piece jazz band. Proposition 13 had passed in the state and education knew that “it” was going to The band consisted of 3 reeds, 5 brass and 5 rhythm and I did most of the writing/arranging for the group. Eventually more and more of the local pros wanted to be a part of the program and I started what I called the “alumni band” which was the full complement of players, 5 reeds, 10 brass and 4 rhythm. This lead to me doing a series of arrangements showcasing the band and soloists within the band. We had some very good players and I did the charts the way I wanted to do them. Taking the group off campus once a month to perform in local clubs, I knew that we couldn’t perform original works for three hours so I did arrangements of well known standards. Eventually other directors, leaders and teachers began to hear these arrangements and many were and still are being recorded.
1995 - I was a full-time instructor at MPC for 25 years and saw retirement looming on the horizon but I did not anticipate it coming this soon. In the summer of that year I suffered a massive heart attack and with much nudging from Valerie, I decided to follow the statement that “no one on their death bed has ever said I wish I had spent more time at the office!” I gave my final concert on November 19th, 1995 and we used the Music Hall as the venue.
1996 - I started teaching two part-time classes at the school, one of them being a jazz appreciation course and the other being a class dealing with the music from Broadway musicals.
2008 - I am still involved with my two classes and planning on doing them until I can no longer do them or the administration feels that my time is “up” I have given up writing and there are a few times when I still hear a tune in my head but the world has moved on and I am no longer in front of a band. Do I miss it, every once and
awhile I think about it and that’s as far as it goes!