Homegrown trumpeter to be seen on IPTV special
By ANDREW MCGINN
All great empires are partially built atop myth.
There’s no question that Jefferson’s high school jazz band under the direction of Jack Oatts was something to behold, one that could read just about anything and one that could swing harder than even most college bands.
But the myth is that Oatts brought jazz to Jefferson, a sort of Marco Polo with Lester Young and Dexter Gordon records in the cargo hold.
In truth, Robin Snyder, who preceded Oatts at Jefferson Community High School, led a hot band, too.
In fact, shortly before he left Iowa for Southern California in 1966, Snyder made a recording of the high school jazz band that he later used to show the kids out West “how good a high school jazz band can be,” said Al Naylor, who played lead trumpet on that recording his sophomore year.
The tape of the Jefferson band is rumored to have made an impression on one particular student of Snyder’s in the Bonita Unified School District in Los Angeles County.
His name? Gordon Goodwin, the future Grammy-winning leader of the Big Phat Band, a composer and arranger whose admirers include the likes of Quincy Jones and Johnny Mathis.
“I do remember Robin talking consistently about the excellent band he led while he taught in Iowa,” Goodwin confirmed in a recent email.
Goodwin doesn’t actually recall a specific recording, but Snyder’s influence on him is undeniable.
This past summer, Goodwin even tweeted out a photo of the two together, calling Snyder, who taught in Jefferson from 1952 to 1966, “a man who changed my life.”
“Can’t ever repay that guy for all he did for me,” Goodwin tweeted.
Naylor, who graduated from Jefferson High in 1968, had the incredible fortune to be molded by both Snyder and Oatts — the equivalent of having played in the bands of both Ellington and Basie.
Oatts ended up demoting Naylor in the trumpet section in favor of his own son, Jim, but after the passage of 50 years, that’s neither here nor there.
What matters most is that Naylor is still at it, and he feels his chops are better than ever.
“I can’t imagine putting the horn down,” Naylor, now 67, said recently from his home near Cedar Rapids. “I’m getting better. It’s not getting worse. Every time I play, I feel like it’s improving.”
“It defines me as a person,” he continued. “I’m a trumpet player. If I put the horn down, I think I’d be dead in six months.
“What would I have left?”
For almost a decade, Naylor has been the go-to trumpeter for legendary Iowa broadcaster Bob Dorr and his fabled Blue Band, a band inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Naylor will be seen on Iowa Public Television at 3 p.m. March 4 when the Blue Band stars in a new special, “Bob Dorr and the Blue Band: Encore,” as part of IPTV’s Festival 2018.
Recorded Jan. 20 at the IPTV studios, the special captures the Blue Band’s red-hot final performance, and proves to be a most satisfying climax to their “Last Goodbye” farewell tour that started in 2017.
Naylor arranged the horn parts.
“Everybody was on the whole time,” he said. “It was almost surreal. Everybody was just locked in.”
It seems they were determined to go out, guns blazing.
“You do something like that,” Naylor said, “you can’t really top it.”
Naylor was brought to Jefferson as a baby, adopted by a local couple who hoped he would one day take over the farm.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I was allergic to everything on the farm.”
But by sheer luck, he explained, he ended up in a place that allowed him to grow into what he wanted to be: a musician.
He left Jefferson for the University of Northern Iowa (getting his degree the second time around), playing in bands that aspired to be either the next Chicago or the next Tower of Power.
One of them, the Pages, a band that held almost every ballroom attendance record in eastern Iowa, was inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
He’s played everything from salsa to circus music, and his latest project is a Dixie band he said he would love to bring to his 50th high school reunion this summer.
For nearly 30 years, Naylor followed the example set for him in his hometown and built a strong jazz program in the Linn-Mar Community School District.
By the time he retired in 2007, Linn-Mar Schools boasted five high school jazz bands and four middle school jazz bands, with more than 200 students in the jazz program.
In 2013, Naylor joined Jack Oatts in the Jazz Educators of Iowa Hall of Fame.
“I had a fire,” he said. “I wanted my bands to be that good.”
“We got close,” he added.
His 2011 jazz album, “Legacy,” was recorded entirely with former students who have gone on to become professional musicians.
Naylor still teaches trumpet at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
As a performer, Naylor may have ended up as the second trumpet in high school behind Jim Oatts, but the crowd at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland didn’t know or care when he appeared there in 1985 on the main stage as a guest soloist with the UNI jazz band.
They gave him a standing ovation.
“Tell me that isn’t (expletive) cool,” Naylor said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Naylor returned to Montreux in the late ’90s with his salsa band, Orquesta Alto Maiz.
In more recent years, Naylor backed Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, and even got to take an extended solo on “Respect.”
So, yeah, once upon a time, Jefferson’s jazz program was so superb that even its second-chair trumpet wound up playing Montreux and backing Aretha.
Let that sink in.
On the other hand, had Robin Snyder not left Jefferson, Naylor would likely have remained lead trumpet for two more years.
“The only band that was better was the Earlham band,” Naylor said, “which is where Jack Oatts was at before he came to Jefferson.”
Of course, had Snyder stayed, then a California kid named Gordon Goodwin may never have started down his path to two Grammy Awards and three Emmys.
“I was jealous,” Naylor said of Jim Oatts. “But I got to do a lot of cool things, and he got to do a lot of cool things.
“It’s all worked out.”