Significant Figures is a periodic feature on my blog of those who have shaped, influenced, and impacted me along the way.
Wayne Stubbs retired in 2014 as the superintendent of Concord Community Schools in Elkhart, Indiana. In the 1980s, when I was in middle and high school, Mr. Stubbs was a band director and I first encountered him in 8th grade.
Band was the thread that held my teenage years together. I began with clarinet in 5th grade and was soon encouraged to add bass clarinet. Over the years, and largely with the permission and guidance of Mr. Stubbs, I added baritone, tenor saxophone, and bass drum to my instruments. He directed concert band and jazz band and was assistant director for our high school marching band.
He had a fiery temper, especially in his earlier years. I can vividly remember him yelling at a percussionist in 8th grade who had been leaning on his stick on the snare drum. The stick punctured the head of the drum with a loud retort.
In my sophomore year, the kid who played our largest marching bass drum moved and I was recruited to replace him. I retained that position for the next three years during marching season. We were a mess to start with—three freshman and me—but by the end of the season, the four of us won the “most improved” award.
My favorite memories of Mr. Stubbs were in jazz band. I started in my sophomore year on baritone saxophone. Eventually, in my desire to be “cooler,” I persuaded him to let me move to tenor, though I’m still not sure it was such a great move. It must have been difficult trying to steer our teenage egos. (He used to have blond hair and a few of those grays are probably my fault.)
I came into jazz band with some appreciation for jazz already. My dad had a soft spot for the big band music of the 30s and 40s. I can remember listening to “The Swingin’ Years” hosted by Chuck Cecil on WTRC 1340 AM in our Chevy Malibu as we waited for my mom to get off her shift at Carson’s.
Under Mr. Stubbs, I was introduced to Count Basie and others. Sammy Nestico was a favorite composer. Drummer Jeff Hamilton, who is Mr. Stubbs’ cousin, came with his friend and bassist, John Clayton, to lead a clinic for us and perform with us. I still have autographed LPs of “All in the Family” and “Indiana.”
Sometime after I graduated high school, Mr. Stubbs moved on to school administration, and Clayton and Hamilton became some of the best known names in contemporary jazz. Clayton’s “Blues for Stephanie” is one of my all time favorite numbers. We played it high school and I still enjoy listening to it today.
Through band competitions and traveling together, we were introduced to other musicians as well. Maynard Ferguson gave a concert at one of our competitions. We saw Northern Illinois University Jazz Band at another. We hosted concerts by the Blue Wisp Big Band and the Army Jazz band. We were scheduled to host Buddy Rich, but he had a heart attack and died instead of coming.
High school can be a tumultuous time, and it certainly was for me, but I knew that every second period I would be playing great music directed by a man passionate about it. I still enjoy that music today, and for that legacy, I’m thankful to Mr. Stubbs.