John Nolan lived in Freeport, Long Island until he joined the US Air Force in the early ’50s.
“I started playing in the fourth grade and played all the way through high school, trombone. My brother played French horn, was older and already in the band, and I wanted to get there, too. I was classically trained, and played in small town symphony orchestras for thirty years.”
Like many members of Artistry in Jazz, John took a break in his music, during college. He went into the Air Force as a fighter pilot, flying F-80s in Korea, and F-105s in Viet Nam.
Asked how he liked flying the F-105 he easily breaks into a broad grin, “It was nifty, it was fast as hell, a Mach 2 airplane almost the size of a B-25.”
John returned to music, “I gave the Wilmington Symphony twenty years, and retired in 2000. I’d probably go back to classical music, but I’m having fun here.”
Paul Wood is a twin, and started playing, “Because of my brother. He started playing a year before me, clarinet, and I saw him having so much fun I went to the band director and said, “I want to play in the band with my brother next year,” and he said “I can give you some lessons but you’re going to have to practice your you know what off to be in the band,” and I did and made it into the band.”
Paul’s brother followed his band experience as music major and Masters Degree in Music, and into a career as music teacher. “I followed in his footsteps. I taught one time, at the Deaf and Blind School in Spartanburg, SC. I taught the blind to play music. It was one of the most important times in my life.”
“The kids were smart,” he adds, and after teaching them to read music in Braille they figured out if they could just hear it first, they could pick it up easier.
After graduation, from Wofford, he worked for an architectural firm and then Duke Power, promoting the use of electricity. “I got the job at Duke because the guy who interviewed me played trumpet,” he laughed.
Like most musicians, there were breaks, “When I went to Germany, in the service. But I called my mother and got her to send my saxophone, and I kept it in the back of my car and I played in a lot of clubs. You know, B♭sounds the same in Germany as America.”
“I really liked the sound of it. Living in Rhode Island, I was exposed to it at the Newport Jazz Festival when I was a young guy.
“I started taking lessons from a local guy here, Benny Hill. I had to learn the ABC’s and he made me feel comfortable, an adult learner.
“Benny asked me one day if I wanted to play in a band, the Cape Fear College, and I played in a couple of practices, but didn’t think I was ready yet. That was the first time I ever played with a band.
“A few months later I found out about the New Horizons Band, and that’s how i met Jerry. That really helped me progress.
“I’ve always enjoyed music, wished had started in school. Jerry opened up a new opportunity, to observe and learn, and incorporate it into my music.”
Ken Merritt comes from a long line of Merritts in the area. “I’m from the poor Merritts,” he laughs. “I started with Bill Adcock, my best friend and mentor in junior high, and he went on to New Hanover and I stayed under him then.
“I picked up the tuba, in Baton Rouge, LA, in 1957. I played the tuba because we couldn’t afford a trumpet. I finally got to where I could afford a trumpet, and then in high school, he showed me the fingerings for the first three frets on a string bass, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Ken went on to play lead trumpet and string bass with the Atlanta Blue Notes, for twenty-some years, then went to Durham and played with the Nostalgics for a while.
“I’ve also played in symphonic bands. I was a charter member of the UNCW Orchestra, if you can imagine.
“I would love to become a great trumpeter, but I’m a better bass player, so I stick to that and the electric bass.
Gary Alsup started playing in Fayetteville in the seventh grade, trumpet. “I was drawn to it, always enjoyed it, got introduced to it by a fellow named Ray Codrington, a trumpet professional jazz player in Fayetteville. He came to our school and talked about playing music. I played all the way though high school. He talked to us about teaching music, so I went to Campbell College.
His parents questioned why he would want to teach, “Because you wouldn’t make any money,” they said.
“I taught for thirty-five years, was Band Director for thirty-five years. I started in Columbus County, then went to Johnston County, then back to Cumberland County, then in Wilmington at D. C. Virgo and Williston, then Laney High School, then Duplin County and retired from Onslow County, Dixon Middle School, for fourteen years.
“I was Choir Director at Barlow Vista Baptist Church.
“I started the jazz bands at Dixon, and my concert bands and jazz bands performed at Disneyworld from 2004 until I retired.”
“I took some lessons in elementary school, piano, fifth grade, by one of the nuns in Philadelphia. Self taught myself more keyboard, and played a little bit of sax, and bass in a band I had in high school, and we continued through college.
John was a Navy pilot and flew the A-7 Corsair II from aircraft carriers.
“I went in the Navy for seven years, and when I got out, played three nights a week to help support my wife and three kids through medical school.”
“I’m learning to play a bit of jazz, big band stuff. Pretty much everything I’ve learned is self taught, so I’m having to get rid of some bad habits. I play popular music. I play by note, I read the chords, so don’t really read the whole transcription sheet. I pretty much make up my own arrangement.
“It’s a lot of fun to play with a bunch of aspiring amateurs, and some fellows who are professional, and put together a sound people enjoy, like a team sport instead of playing by themselves. It’s fun.”