The Marine Dixieland Band had been dormant for a few years when I arrived in D.C. The Marine Band’s principal saxophone, Ron Hockett, decided to put some pieces together and restart the group. We played several concerts, a few White House jobs, and a national tour with the Marine Band before Ron retired from active duty. Ron is one of the finest jazz clarinet players I’ve ever known, and he’s known around the world. It came as no surprise to us, then, that almost as soon as he retired, the Jim Cullum band snatched him up to join their regular lineup at The Landing in San Antonio.
It would be years before the band traveled to San Antonio for a Texas Music Educators’ Association convention, giving Ron’s many friends in the Marine Band a chance to hear him in action again. He came to hear the Marine Band perform, invited us all down to The Landing, and told me to bring a horn. I’m very lucky there was an enormous music conference going on, because I had to borrow a tuba from a vendor on the exhibit floor to go sit in!
The guys couldn’t have been nicer, and Jim Cullum set me up with some solos on really nice songs. I sat right next to Ron and listened to him hit it out of the park on every tune. He doesn’t play wrong notes. They all belong right where they are. It’s almost not fair having that kind of player next to you. Totally worth it, though. I haven’t heard anyone who plays like Ron, and he gave me a wonderful chance to be a showoff in front of a lot of people. Cullum and the band got a kick out of the gangly nerd who could solo over changes on tuba.
I got a kick out of some of the newer Marine Band members there at The Landing that night. The Marine Dixieland Band had gone dormant again after Ron and a few other members had retired. The Marine Band had since added several new musicians, many of whom had come from conservatories and serious classical music programs. For a few of them, a tuba player who could improvise jazz might as well have been an alien coming out of a spaceship with a ray gun. They were cracking me up that night. Good times.