Live every day as though it were going to be your last. As a musician, the saying would change to: each time I pick up my horn, play as if it were going to be the last time I ever play in my life. I learned this from a music teacher I had in Jamaica Queens, NY, Jeffrey Sheloff, a great NYC musician.
I now live in Florida, however, I was born in New York and moved to LA when I was in my late 20’s. When I arrived in LA, I tried to establish myself as an R&B and jazz trombonist, so I attended countless jam sessions trying to get known. One Sunday evening, I went to a jam at the Venice Saloon, in the Venice section of LA. This was a funky bar on Lincoln Boulevard. The house band was phenomenal. The leader of the band was a sax player was named Sonny Boyer. Someone at the bar said Sonny had toured with Albert Collins for many years. There was another great sax player and vocalist sitting in as well. I could not believe the quality I music in this funky bar.
Sonny eventually invited me on stage to jam. I felt excited about jamming with such quality musicians. During the last song, which was a swing blues, Sonny looked over at the other sax player and myself and said, “follow me.” With three of us jamming our horns New Orleans style, we followed Sonny though the bar. This was a new musical experience for me. The crowd went wild. Then Sonny actually climbed on a bar stool, and onto the bar itself. I could not believe what I was about to do. The other sax player and I dutifully followed Sonny on top of the bar. As we slowly walked the bar, we played our hearts out. The crowd cheered us on. Sonny knew how to have fun with music.
After I got to know Sonny, he even inspired me to get my own band together. He became my musical mentor. He made me realize that music is serious fun. You need to work hard at music, but it always needed to be fun.
One night several years later, I received a call from Sonny. He said a friend was performing at the Irish Rover in Santa Monica, and we could jam with them. Sonny picked me up and was in good spirits as usual. When we arrived at the Irish Rover the place was packed.
The band leader was excited to see Sonny and invited us to jam with them. We jammed as hard as we could. Sonny was on that night. His playing always inspired me to play as hard as I could. We jammed the entire set, and had big fun. After the set we packed up our horns and left.
We walked to Sonny’s truck, put our horns away, and as Sonny walked around to get in, he stopped and grabbed the side of his truck. I asked him if he felt O.K., and he said he felt dizzy. Those were the last words Sonny ever spoke. He collapsed, lying lifeless in the street. I was in shock. I ran back to the club and called 911. Waiting for the ambulance seemed like eternity. The paramedics gave him electric shocks to the chest and then transported him to St. John’s hospital, where Miles Davis had recently died. During the short ambulance ride I knew Sonny’s life was over.
Just like Jeff, my New York teacher had always taught me: every time you play your horn, play as if it’s going to be the last time you ever play in your life. Sonny’s last hour on earth brought to life these words of wisdom.
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