Phone calls can often orchestrate unexpected news—news typically falling in the category of really good or really bad. One such call out of the blue a couple of weeks ago proved to be a little of both. While the news was a sad message, it stimulated many good memories.
“This is Steve Hubbard in Fort Worth,” the caller began. “I know that doesn’t mean a thing to you,” he said with a smile in his voice. “I just read a column you wrote for a newspaper in Mount Pleasant…I think it was…maybe a year or two ago,” he articulated hesitatingly. “…and in it, you mentioned Wallace Read.” With the mention of Wallace Read’s name, I instantly had a great deal in common with someone I had never met before I answered the phone.
“Yes sir,” I told him. “If I recall correctly, I think that was a column about the importance of music in my life, and there’s no way I can talk about my love for music without remembering or mentioning Wallace Read.”
“I’ve been a long-time friend of Wallace’s,” Mr. Hubbard continued. “And, I hate to have to tell you that Wallace passed away this morning.”
“Oh,” I sighed. “I’m really sorry to hear that. I haven’t heard anything about him in years, but have thought of him often. He was my band director at Kilgore College in ’66 and ’67.”
“He was 93,” Mr. Hubbard replied. “But, was in good health and still performing and playing trumpet until about six months ago.”
News of the former Kilgore College band director’s death opened the floodgates for memories of my high school and college band years. Without a doubt, memories that are among the best of my educational experience.
Lufkin, Texas, native Wallace “Wally” Read was a trumpet player at Lufkin High School who followed a love for music through his military service in World War II playing in USOs, to becoming a band director after graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. After high school jobs in East Texas at Beckville, Gaston, and White Oak, he went to Kilgore College to direct the Ranger Band where he remained until he retired. At Kilgore, he took the band program to a position of an award winning, internationally recognized band performing with the Rangerettes, earning invitations for events from the Cotton Bowl and Dallas Cowboy halftime shows to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, plus appearances in a number of events in countries around the world.
After a little research, I located the column Mr. Hubbard had read. It was published in May of 2015 in both the Center (Texas) Light and Champion, and the Mount Pleasant (Texas) Daily Tribune.
The specific paragraphs about Mr. Read were: “Wherever my appreciation of band music originated, it was forever ingrained in me at Kilgore College as a member of the Ranger band under the direction of Lufkin native Wallace ‘Wally’ Read. Stage performances were more prevalent in college band, and it was not uncommon for Read to join in for a chorus, or a solo. I still remember his trumpet solo on Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.”
“The crowning touch at KJC was the spring concert May 2, 1967. Read was friends with Tonight Show band leader ‘Doc’ Severinsen who started with NBC-TV’s Tonight Show in 1952 during Steve Allen’s tenure. Severinsen played trumpet in the band directed by Skitch Henderson, taking over as bandleader in 1967 for Johnny Carson, and continued until Carson and Severinsen’s band left the show in 1992. Under his direction, The Tonight Show NBC Orchestra became the most visible big band in America.”
“However, the Ranger band’s performance that night in East Texas was second to no other when the well-known bandleader walked on the stage to join the Ranger band and cap the evening with a signature solo in Concert for Trumpets.”
“The entire performance was recorded and a copy of that record still on my shelf serves as proof positive should anyone challenge my lighthearted, boastful claim to have once played on the same stage with legendary musicians Wallace Read and Doc Severinsen.”
The day after our phone conversation, Mr. Hubbard sent an email detailing his relationship with Wallace Read and his family. The professional musician, trumpet player and trumpet builder wrote:
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I grew up in the small Texas town of Keene, home of Southwestern Adventist University. In the early 1960s, Professor (later, Doctor) John Read and his family moved to Keene, where Dr. Read became the director of choral studies at the college. One of my earliest memories is when Dr. Read invited the Kilgore College Band to perform at the college, directed by his brother, Wallace Read.
As I grew older, and became more and more interested in music, I came to realize that Wallace Read was a legend among Texas college band directors. Although Kilgore College was a small two-year college, Wallace had developed a band program that was nationally famous. On several occasions, they were invited to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York, with all expenses paid. This honor was reserved for only the finest bands in the land.
After I began to learn the cornet and trumpet at age 10, I became aware that Wallace Read was also a world-class jazz and big-band trumpet player. He would come to Keene on occasion, to visit his family. Dr. Read saw to it that Wallace was available to coach me, as I worked to develop my abilities on the trumpet. Wallace took an interest in me, because of my association with the Read family, and went out of his way to mentor me.
In the many years since, I have had numerous opportunities to visit with Wallace, and to play trumpet duets with him. We would improvise solos, trade choruses on Dixieland tunes, and discuss the various trumpet players who had been our heroes. Doc Severinsen, Harry James, Bunny Berigan, Rafael Mendez, and many others. Doc was a personal friend of Wallace, and sent his daughter to attend Kilgore college, just so she could be in Wallace’s band. Doc made multiple visits to Kilgore, and appeared as a soloist with the band. One of Wallace’s prize possessions was a Getzen Doc Severinsen Model trumpet, given to him personally by Doc.
In 2012, I designed and built a custom sterling-silver trumpet, dedicated to Wallace, John, and Delbert “Sleepy” Read. John and Wallace were my musical mentors, and their older brother “Sleepy” gave me my first set of instrument repair tools. I had each of these brothers sign the bell of the trumpet with a felt marker. Then, I hand-engraved their signatures right into the sterling silver. I have a photograph of John, Wallace, and “Sleepy,” with Wallace holding the trumpet. John’s son, Clayton, now has that trumpet, and plays it on occasion.
I am sorry that Wallace has passed away. His insights into jazz trumpet stylings, breathing, range studies, and overall musicianship, have been invaluable to me in my professional career. I seldom pick up a trumpet, without thinking about Wallace. I will always treasure his memory, and the time that I was privileged to spend with him.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I’ve always considered myself privileged to have played in a college band under Wallace Read’s direction. He made a lasting impression on me, and was an influence on my love for music. To be fair, so did both high school band directors at Mount Pleasant High School—Max Murphy and Blanton McDonald. All three were completely different personalities with different directing styles.
Mr. Read’s style was animated. He moved around the band hall “zooming in” to direct individual sections, often emphasizing the tempo or inflection of the music with body language. He was never without a signature smile, and was the upbeat persona in the rehearsal hall, on the football field or visiting one-on-one in his office.
He also cared about his students as individuals, although it would be nearly 40 years before I realized that. Bass horn players are essential to a band, but seldom garner lots of recognition or become a stand out in anyone’s band memories.
However, in about ‘04 or ’05 when the “Sounds of Swing” East Texas big band orchestra performed in Center, I recognized the lead trumpet player as Wallace Read, just a few bars into the group’s first song. Catching up with him during the intermission, I introduced myself and said, “Mr. Read, I was in your band at Kilgore in ‘66-‘67.” He paused a few seconds, smiled and said, “Yes…bass player from Mount Pleasant, right?”
All very good memories. Wonderful memories recalled because someone I had never met read something I wrote about a man who obviously played an important role in both our lives, and contacted me not only to deliver a message, but also to share memories. That’s beautiful music in anyone’s memories.