The Last Interview: John Bryan Heath
Dale Clevenger (Principal Horn, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1966–2013) has been quoted as saying: “Nearly every brass player in America has studied with Arnold Jacobs, whether they know it or not.” (Frederickson, 1996) I am living proof that his statement was correct. In 1991, I was a fourteen-year-old freshman in a Kentucky high school and was enamored with music. I knew I wanted a life in music, but at the time I
thought that meant I was going to be a high-school band director. Over the next year, my musical goals changed.
My high-school band director, Dennis A. Noon (Director of Bands, Webster County High School, KY 1977-97), ignited the spark of my passion for music. He set up my first trombone lesson with Gary Kirtley (Director of Bands, Daviess County Public Schools, Owensboro, KY, 1975–2009). Mr. Kirtley was funny and kind, and he had a beautiful sound on the trombone. Many of his students have had careers in music. He showed me aspects of trombone playing that were new to me, including proper posture, intonation tendencies, and efficient slide techniques—all with a smile. Mr. Kirtley had a major impact on my development as a trombonist in my early life.
In 1992, I auditioned for and won a scholarship to attend Music at Maple Mount, a summer institute for young musicians in Owensboro, KY. James Douglas White (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, 1972–75) and his wife Julie (director, Kentucky Youth Chorale and Arts Coordinator for the Owensboro Public School System, 1974-2015) were the camp directors. While attending the camp, I met L. Eugene Montgomery (Bass Trombone, United States Air Force Academy Band, 1997–present), who was a dorm counselor, played bass trombone in the concert band and the jazz band, and sang in the festival choir. Eugene was only about six years older than I, but his influence on my life was permanent. With his full beard and robust bass voice he seemed professional to me and became an instant role model in my life. He took an interest in me, teaching me how to warm-up and demonstrating how to phrase musical lines. He helped me choose a mouthpiece and introduced me to the benefits of “mouthpiece buzzing,” a technique that Arnold Jacobs (Tuba, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1944–88) was known for promoting. Eugene was the first person I met who referred to himself as a performance major; he introduced me to the world of the performing arts. From that time forward there was only one thing that I wanted to have as a career, and that was to play the trombone in a professional symphony orchestra. A year later, I learned that Eugene had been a student of Charles G. Vernon (Bass Trombone, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1986–present), making him a second-generation “descendant” of Mr. Jacobs. I did not realize it at the time, but my encounters with Eugene initially made me a third-generation student of Mr. Jacobs.