Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hanging with Fred Mills

It was 1970 something, and our yearly tour to NY!  That meant that at the first free moment I was off to Giardinelli's Band Instruments to try every trumpet in the store.  My purpose was to pick a winner, (and also to impress everyone within earshot.  You know how brass players think, or don't.)

Something about that famous place invited a dangerous overload of all competitive juices.  Common sense had a way of disappearing as soon as you entered the building. There was more showing off at Giardinelli's than anything else, sadly. Anyway, it was worth all the blasting, for by the end of the day I had discovered a nice new prize to take home. 

Something else happened however that was more memorable than my new trumpet. Soon after I began trying instruments, the door to that tiny trial room opened, and in walked Fred Mills of the Canadian Brass.  He quietly said, "Hi, Phil. Mind if I listen?"   He sat in the corner for a long time observing intently as I proceeded to blow out both lips and brains.  I was pretty sure he was amazed, but not for the reasons I imagined.

After a while I began to tire, having sprayed the room with every excerpt and solo lick I knew.  He got to hear me plow through oft repeated strains of Heldenleben, Aida, Mahler 5, Don Juan, Hummel and Loeillet Concertos, and anything else I could possibly think of.

Finally I asked if he wanted to play.  He shrugged, picked up a horn and began to play soft, perfectly clean and totally controlled scales and arpeggios.  He only played briefly, but the finesse was amazing for me to hear.  Somehow I had neglected to test and practice those vital elements of music-making.

I was given a very valuable and free lesson that day.  In his own humble way Fred Mills had just taken me to school.  "Here, I think I like this one the best," he said.  He handed it back, grinned, and left.  Great playing is not so much about the boldest blaster, but about the most controlled and versatile musician.  And that was Fred to a tee.  Lesson learned.

(See other post on Fred Mills in blog dated September 8, 2009.) 

1 comment:

Chase Hawkins said...

Thank you Phil for posting this. Fred Mills was an incredible individual and a very fine and refined player.