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Rob Birdwell

At heart, I'm just a tune-smith, writing the simplest of ditties - it's just something I do and I can't imagine it any other way. Been writing songs since I was a kid, even though I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time. Along my musical journey, I've learned to dress and undress my simple offerings up (the arranging and orchestration bit), and I enjoy that part of it too.

Everyone has a story - here's a condensed version of my (mostly) musical background which may explain where I come from, where I'm at, and where I'm going:

My family (I'm an only child) moved around quite a bit early on, but the three of us finally settled in the Pacific Northwest - on Mercer Island for a year, then finally inBellevue, Washington. My parents were (and still are) just the best! Bob and Christine. They loved and nurtured me, instilled in me a great sense of self-worth and confidence, drove at least a million miles to lessons and swim practices, and did a million other unsung things that parents do - I love them dearly.

At age 8, I took up Violin. I got pretty good in a short time, but I was the only boy in the Violin group and didn't really connect with the other girls at that age (that would come later!). So I gave that up, enjoyed the music on the radio (KJR Seattle!) and all the pop stuff of the day (Elton John especially, and still!). In 6th grade though, I started thinking about playing in band. My Dad played trumpet and was pretty good, so I decided I'd take a different path and play Clarinet. The problem with that was that I couldn't get a tone out of the dang thing (still can't!) - when I tried the Trumpet, Bill Wicker said "You're a natural" - and it felt electric too. And so Trumpet it would be.

I played Trumpet in the Tillicum Junior High band (Bill Wicker was the director - a great multi-instrumentalist and very encouraging of my playing - I'm grateful for that. Sure, he trampled through the flute section now and then to get after a rogue drummer or two, but hey, those guys had it coming and probably still do!). In 8th grade, me, John Tougaw and Rob Boose performed Bugler's Holiday for a talent show. We won $50. In 9th grade I played "Rainy Days On Mondays" in front of the entire school in the gym, with one of those Music-Minus-One tapes playing the backing track.

After a the first verse, some wise-ass through a quarter and it rolled and rolled on the gym floor, finally settling right in front of my feet. So I bent down, put the money in my pocket and resumed playing. Soon (and I'm not exaggerating), half the school were throwing their change on the court. Cliff Irwin, bless his heart, collected up the dough for me - I probably should have given him a cut.

I attended Sammamish High School, was a very competitive as a swimmer, played a bit of tennis, and continued my playing in Band and the Jazz Band under director Gary Walker who, again, was very encouraging of me, shared his own musical adventures, and remains a true inspiration. I made All Northwest Band as a Sophomore, All State (third chair as a Junior), and All Northwest again as a Senior (second chair). Under Gary Walker's leadership, our Band and Jazz Band consistently did well at festivals. I was featured on many nice ballads that I now realize just about every other Trumpet player was also featured on (Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, I Remember Clifford, Come Rain or Come Shine) and, like all of you who played 'em, I did too and did pretty well. I was even honored a few times with various solo awards which were nice of course.

I studied Trumpet privately with Del Hartman who could scare the hell out of me sometimes (he once started up a gas chain saw in his little room at theKennelly Keys music store - I'm not sure what the point was, but I think I learned a bit more about deep breathing that day! Do you know howfrickin ' loud a chain saw is indoors?) but mostly he was simply an exemplary model of all sorts of possibilities on the horn and in life. Del had an amazing range, facility, style and a certain pizazz - he walked big, talked big, but was sensitive too, and an amazing teacher. I was with him week after week off and on from age 12 to 18. So the "Del" runs deep within me still.

I also had the privilege to study with Roy Cummings, who taught Trumpet at the University of Washington as well. He led the summer High School All Star Jazz Band in Bellevue in the 80's and I was in summer band playing the Jazz book. Roy taught so many things in such a short time. After playing and etude I quipped, "I could have done that better" - well, Roy set me straight on that. (How can one do better at something that has already passed?) We talked about moments in time, philosophy, spirituality - everything and anything. And it all had everything to do with playing Trumpet, although I didn't quite know that at the time! I studied Piano with his wife too - I was a terrible piano player (some would say I still am!) but she was patient with me and I did actually get good enough, eventually, to play my own stuff.

I attended the University of Idaho in 1983 to 1985. Played in the Wind Ensemble, Marching Band, Jazz Band and sang in the Jazz Choir. RobertMcCurdy was my Trumpet teacher and boy was he able to take me to a new level! See, I thought I was pretty good by that time, but Bob new I had a long way to go (and probably still do!) and he was determined to push me. That was not an easy time, but I am so thankful for his perseverance. I still practice Bob's etudes daily and his approach to the Trumpet, love of Miles Davis and Corvettes pretty much say what a stylish guy he was and still is!

Another guy I should mention is Dan Bukvich, whom I studied composition with at Idaho for what seems like a very short time (it was!). I had the privilege to perform many of Dan's compositions and arrangements in the Vandal Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Jazz Choir. I was amazed at how much music he could write (and still does) and I was eager to learn more about composition. It was always such a mystery to me (I'd tried my hand at it in High School, but with much angst and frustration) and Dan pretty much cleared away the fog, demystified things and got me going in the right direction. His sly humor, combined with a steely eye and ear, made for compelling lessons, often disarming in their apparent simplicity - like a laser beam, Dan could cut to the chase and make even the most complex of musical problems seem simple.

One day (spring of 1985), Dan casually showed me a brochure from a music school in Los Angeles called the Dick Grove School of Music. I would end up leaving U of Idaho after my second year to move to California. It would be 8 years until I returned to the Pacific Northwest - but I would return with my wife, Christel (whom I met in L.A.) and our two children, Linnea and Maja. We also have a son, Frey, the only Oregonian among us.

I could write a book about my days at the Dick Grove school of music and the friends and experiences I had there (I probably should). In a nut shell, I met one of my dearest friends (Jeff Siri ) down in L.A. (we were roommates while at Grove and a year after), lost about one or two night's sleep per week (on average), wrote a chart a week for much of the year, conducted my pieces, hand copied everything (we're talking 1986 here!), met composing legends like Henry Mancini, Bill Conte , Billy Mays, Bill Holman, and many more. Best of all, I had the honor of studying with Dick Grove in a fairly small class of CAP (composing and arranging) students. These kids (and we really all were kids back then!) came from all over the world. As Dick would say, they'd come to L.A., learn their craft then return home and "take over". Dick chain smoked through every class he taught (if someone complained, he'd point out it was his f***ing school, but with a certain grace that made further arguing completely moot) and when he would play us tunes on the Piano were were almost always transfixed. He was simply brilliant and a damn good teacher. Funny too. He didn't always connect with everyone, but I sure did love the guy and I think he knew that.

I graduated from Grove (Dick said in a letter to me that I made the "Dean's List" which is pretty funny really!) and then went into the real world, which quite frankly could not care less about my musical prowess. Disney wanted me in their mail room. So did everyone else. I wrote music and played when I could, but it was obvious that my dream writing and performing music as a career would prove to be a long and interesting journey. So I worked various day gigs to pay the bills. Flunky at a Century City law firm, then for a personal injury attorney, then at a software company,yada, yada. Not exactly Bukowski "Factotum" stuff, but not really the work I wanted to do.

During a good portion of my L.A. days (from 1987 to 1991) I partnered with another Grove classmate, Wade Marsten. We wrote songs together by night. Wade played Bass, Guitar, Piano and sang. I sang, played Piano, was starting to get into MIDI stuff. Wade encouraged me to take up Bass. I did and in 6 months we played a club as "Plus 11" (my favorite dissonance) with another drummer. He became my best friend and together we wrote some wickedly awful songs and a rare dozen or so that are very, very good (if I do say so - and I do). Most of the good ones ended up on our "Two Voices" CD which was released in 1991. It would get airplay on college radio in Alaska (or so I heard) and Wade was eager to do the promotion thing. But my life was changing. Wade's was too. Both married, I had a young baby and after 3+ years of doing the game, the constant rejection, yada, yada, we went our separate ways. Wade and I are still in contact though and he remains a dear friend.

Around this time, Christel (my wife) asked me to play my Trumpet (she'd never heard me play since we lived in an apartment - she knew me musically as a Bass player and singer!). So we went to a park, laid out a blanket in the shade, and I played for her (she was quite pregnant at the time!). There was a family having a party near by and the guy (who had obviously heard me noodling around) asked me if I'd play happy birthday for his kid. I did. They clapped, gave my wife and me cake, and then the guy gave me his card and said he played in a working R&B band (he turned out to be a fantastic Tenor Sax player) and asked me to play Trumpet in the group. I did. I made a little money too. At that point, my wife requested that I keep playing the Trumpet - good things seemed to happen when I did. So I did.

In 1994 we escaped L.A. and made our home in Corvallis, Oregon, a university town of nearly 55,000 folks. After a bit of settling in, I got involved playing Trumpet, writing music, and even directing musical theatre productions once in a while. Dick Grove was right - learn your craft then go home and take over! Well, I wouldn't say I've taken over anything, but I've been pretty involved over the years and remain so: Corvallis Community Band (wrote a march for the group called "March of the Flower Children") the Community Jazz Band, the OSU Symphonic Band, Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra, Valley Brass Quintet, and a bunch of different jazz and jam groups.

These days my musical focus is mainly on writing and producing my own works (from simple songs to symphonic works), as well as performing and recording with an elite core of top notch players, namely: Sideways Portal (which includes myself, DaveStorrs, Page Hundemer, John Bliss, and often Ben Mutschler, and various others).

My Jazz/Go-Go/Swing group, The Blowholes, will hopefully play again soon someday; the XTET makes and appearance now and then; and The Svens even have me playing Tenor Sax for them (I'm "Saxy Sven" if you must know). It's all good and the music keeps going - and we're having fun.

I lead an Early Bird Jazz program (middle school students) and truly enjoy it. I will start an Early Bird Choir in 2009 as well. I seem to direct a musical theatre production every couple years and that's always so much fun and rewarding.

All told, I'm loving life and my family. As I hope you'll realize (and perhaps even hear!), music is a big part of my life. Naturally, the adventure continues, always in ways I never could have predicted or imagined. I always hope it will go one way - but it usually goes another, despite my most ambitious efforts. Ho hum. That doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for the art and craft. In fact, the more I see and experience in life, the more I realize I'm on the right path by writing my songs, jazz ditties, and symphonic works. It's all about the journey.

As Dick Grove said to me in a letter before he passed, "What more could a Trumpet player want out of life?" That's not only funny, it's very true! The simple things in life are so precious.

Well, if you've read this far into my bio, please listen to my musical offerings. They say more than I ever could here, long-winded as it may seem. The music matters so much to me...and I know it does for you too, so enjoy.

All the best to you!

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