I met Rafael Méndez  - Barry Olsan

I was sitting here at lunch listening to some oldies and a trumpet solo made me think about looking up the great Rafael Méndez on the net when I came upon your terrific web page.

He came to our band-o-rama at Montebello High School (Montebello, California) in 1962 as he had done hundreds or thousands of times at other schools. It was with great anticipation we awaited his arrival on Thursday evening as he was to perform with our concert and dance bands the next night. It was a great era for bands as other greats like Artie Shaw had been there a couple years earlier.

For about two hours he drilled us through his arragements and could pick out every mistake we made. After this seemeingly endless rehersal he finally got us as close as we could get to his standard and pulled his trumpet out. He had an experimental trumpet that was as thin as aluminum amd when it was moved by the airlines the bell got squashed. He simply took a drumstick and bent it back into shape.

I was the first clarinet and sat within a few feet of him. I recall we started playing Malaguena and when he joined in my clarinet simply dropped out of my mouth. I was totally mesmerized by his incredible talent and just sat there listening. All of the other messages about Méndez are accurate--he was the Heifetz of the Trumpet.

One of my best friends in the band was a talented Trumpet player who was already composing. Méndez invited him to his home and helped him get started in the music business with his insight and enthusiasm and he became a successful music composer and producer for 20 years.

We were seniors in 1962 and those two days of music with Méndez were the musical highlight of my life.

Warmest Regards,

Barry Olsan