I write with deep sadness that our listmate Tommy Loy lost his valiant fight against pancreatic cancer this morning.
I know that many of you knew Tommy only through TPIN. His comments were always wise and even tempered (that’s a hint for some of y’all--wink). I regret that more of you did not know him personally. And I truly regret that many of you were not ever able to play music with him. It was always fun and definitely an honor. Beside being a great player, Tommy was a master sound engineer who worked in the jingle industry in Dallas for years. As we say, he had real big ears.
A few memories:
I am a comeback player after a 30 year hiatus. I picked up my horn again after the 50th anniversary celebration at UNT in 1997. Many fine players were very supportive and encouraged me in my return, offering advice about practice regimens, demonstrating playing techniques, and just helping me stay focused while not losing direction or my sense of humor. Principal among those have been Pops (whose latest book is definitely worth the money) Marvin Stamm, and Tommy Loy.
Every time Marvin comes to play at UNT in Denton, a group of us drive up from Dallas to hear him. Every time, Marvin augments his wonderful playing with solid advice and instruction to the NT students. He mentions that he is always finding exceptional musicians throughout the world in his travels. And they’re not all just in NYC, or LA, or Vegas, or Nashville. He always tells the students to get out and listen to the good local players in Dallas/Ft. Worth. And he would always single out Tommy in the audience for recognition. Tommy had such a wonderful little boy smile, and he would beam like a six-year-old when the kids applauded. It was, of course, a gracious thing for Marv to do, but it was also instructive and accurate: Tommy was a great player. As he aged, his playing lost a little of its fire but seem to gain musically. Tommy could play in many idioms well, but when he played the traditional jazz he loved so well, I always heard Bix and Bobby and Warren. Marvin once told me that he didn’t think that Tommy knew how good he really was. I agree. Marvin also got Tommy to come to a sound check for his small group concert at IAJE in New Orleans in 2000. And he acted on Tommy’s suggestions and improved the setup.
I play in a couple of big bands in Dallas, and Tommy would sub in those bands regularly. One is a rehearsal band (Swingtime) that Bob Strickland started and ran until he moved to the Portland area recently. That book has some tricky older arrangements that are always a challenge--stuff like Billy May charts. The joke line to our good lead player, Rob Jonas, is “just play it like Gozzo”; his response is an ironic “sure”. Tommy would always play the solos in the idiom of the specific chart, and the lines would be lyrical and sweet. He’d play hot when needed or cool if more appropriate. He played great plunger, and got the most interesting effects using an empty orange juice can in and out of the bell I’ve ever heard.
The other band is more of a society band (Celebration Orchestra) that
plays weddings and country club dances and such. (Aside: we recently played
for a reunion of a WWII infantry unit! We played every Miller chart in
the book, and they knew how to dance to them. It was a blast.) When Tommy
subbed with us, I saw the same thing happen in that band. Many of the younger
players wouldn’t know who Tommy was at first, but when he played that first
(especially on a swing number), they’d crank their heads around and look at him after a few bars. Then they’d turn back around and I swear you could see them physically hunker down a little and start play more focused, in effect saying we’d better straighten up if we’ve got to play with “that old guy”. He simply raised the musical bar for the rest of us. Thane Tolle (a bassist of Tommy’s generation) is the founder and semi-retired leader of that band. When he was still leading us and Tommy would play Bobby’s solo on String of Pearls, Thane would look up at him with a very bright twinkle in his eye. During the break, he’d say, “he sure knows how to play those triplets, doesn’t he?” And I’d reply, “he surely does.” Now many of us can play that solo in our sleep because you never should improvise there—the audience thinks that solo is a part of the chart (and maybe it is). But you never heard it played better. He punched the accents in those triplets exactly like the original. And he played just as evocatively on In the Mood.
Some of you may also know that Tommy played in the Dallas Cowboys football band for 22 years (when Tom Landry was coach). For every home game, Tommy stepped down to the 50 yard line and played the National Anthem. Try that for a little pressure! John Haynie once told me he went to a home game when it was so cold you could barely feel your fingers. Professor Haynie said something like, “I don’t even know how he felt the mouthpiece, yet he played solid and pure with a real big sound. I think he’s a great player.”
We’re all excited that ITG will be in Fort Worth next year, and it’s a real shame that Tommy Loy won’t be there so many of you could meet him or hear him play. I don’t know where it is exactly that we go in the next realm, but somebody just got a hellava trumpet and cornet player, and their band is swingin’ harder. You can take that to the bank.
Hope all are well.