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Donald Kilpatrick
November 2009
Jazz Giants
posted:
A few weeks back my wife travelled out to California to help her mother with her move, and packed up a bunch of our things that we had forgotten in our move eastward three years ago. There were some keepsakes of Kate’s, some old letters of mine, and a few books. These boxes arrived in the mail yesterday.

One of these books is “Jazz Giants”, and was lent to me in 1991 by my high school band instructor. I always meant to get this book back to him, but I never did.  In high school I looked at this book all the time, sometimes to try and replicate the fashion sense of the musicians in the book, sometimes copying the photos with my drawing. I wish I could find the drawings I did from this book as a sophomore in high school, maybe it would only be interesting for me.

Well I never got the chance to get this book back to my instructor; he passed away after a courageous fight with stomach cancer a few years ago. Steve Richins is perhaps one of the most influential figures from that time in my life, and he forever changed the trajectory of where my life was going.

I had signed up to play in our school’s jazz band, and we met early in the morning. I was terrified going into class each morning, and was even more terrified thinking of what I would do if I was called upon by Steve to answer one of his questions on reading music or something like it. You wouldn’t really know it, but I was painfully shy at the time.  I had never had an instructor to that point in my life that had challenged me, someone who wasn’t going to be satisfied with a mediocre effort from me.  He would get so frustrated with how we played (more like butchered…) standards like “Sweet Georgia Brown”, and “So What”. Looking at this now, it must have been torture for someone like Steve to hear the songs he so loved played in such a manner. If I am not mistaken he had played as a studio musician in San Francisco in the late sixties and early seventies, and imagine it must have been difficult for him at times to be teaching a 15 year old dorky kid like me how to play Jazz music on the trumpet.  He would stop us during rehearsal and talk about how important having passion is, how so many people live life without it, and how he couldn’t understand how that was.  These speeches, and the conversations I had with him have been like the glue that has held me together when I have doubted myself as an artist. Steve was the first adult other than my parents that took me seriously when I told him that I wanted to be an artist and illustrator.

I am a teacher now, and I often reflect on why his example is so important to me. The great thing that Steve did was let me be myself, and truly listen to what I had to say. He wasn’t concerned with the fact that I wasn’t going to become a trumpet player in some orchestra or something. He was concerned with me as a person.  He wanted to me to understand how important it is to have true passion for what you do in life, and to focus that passion with diligent work.

We all need someone like Steve in our lives that scares us, demands the best from us, but is also in our cheering section.


Steve Richins on the right in his signature overalls.
Kate's first cookbook. I love how this was actually used like her cookbooks she uses now... I know it is unrelated, but it was in the box with the other stuff...
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