Featured Musician - September 2011  

John Moak

Name:John Moak

Instrument: Trombone

Early Years/Education: I'm from the Oklahoma City area. My mother really liked music and wanted to be a singer, but she never got piano lessons. I was in a church where we did acapella singing, and I was in the choir at school, so I grew up doing a lot of singing. I was kind of a weird little kid and didn't like most of the pop music at the time; I just didn't listen to it. I'd go to garage sales and pick up strange things like used encyclopedias and collections of old LPs, like Glen Miller or Broadway show tunes. When I was in the third grade. Then baseball entered my life. I was the worst kid on the team, my dad decided to coach my team, so in the 6th grade, this great opportunity came along called band -- offered at the same time as baseball, so there was my out! I'd heard Phil Woods and thought that was the pinnacle of anything I had heard in my life. I decided I was going to be an alto sax player.

On the day of instrument picking, I said I wanted to play alto saxophone. The band director said no, your teeth are wrong, you should play trombone or baritone horn. I picked the trombone because my best friends played it. Many years later, I became good friends with that band director. He confessed that there was nothing wrong with my teeth, he just needed trombone players. I had a great teacher named Paul Brewer who had just come from North Texas State. He started me on jazz and gave me a list of players to listen to.

Around this time I got a copy of the LP, "J.J. In Person!" which I thought was the best thing I'd heard on the trombone up to that point. So by the end of the 7th grade, I learned to play all the solos that J. J. Johnson played on that record. As a consequence, I had to develop the technique in order to play those solos. Which is basically my entire methodology of teaching. Another influence was one of my school friends, who played the alto sax, was Vince Norman. He was the son of Ray Norman, a fantastic tenor and alto player who had been in the bands of Claude Thornhill and Charlie Barnett. He lived about six blocks from me. Once Vince and I both started playing jazz, Ray would go to the piano and comp chords for us and teach us tunes. Like in the old days, we learned from a master.

My junior high band program was great, and a lot of these kids went on to the high school (Del City High School), so we had this unstoppable big band that won every competition. We always played last just before the headliner, and one time it was the Basie Band. I was backstage when these two large black men picked me up by my arms. They were Dennis Wilson and Booty Wood, trombone players for the Basie Band. They said, "Young man, who are you?" After that, I'm sitting in the front row, five feet away from Mr. Basie, and he turned to me and said, "You're wonderful." At that point in my life, I was determined to keep playing this stuff.

[I was] recruited strongly by North Texas State but didn't want to study music in school; I wanted some kind of engineering. I started at Oklahoma Christian University but finished up at Central State, graduating with a physics degree. After an offer to help start a new jazz school at the University of North Florida while getting my master's degree, I sold all of my possessions and moved to Jacksonville, Florida. I would up teaching there for five years while holding down a day job using my engineering degree. I met and married my wife at that time. Three months after marrying, I got an offer to be in the Woody Herman Ghost Band, which I turned down, and a year later turned down another offer to tour with Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau.

We left Jacksonville in '94 and moved to Oklahoma City. Back home, I taught in three different colleges, had a jump/swing band that was busy, did studio work and held down a telecommunications job. During that time in the late '90s my wife and I started scouting the country for a place to relocate that had a good jazz scene. In '98, we visited Portland. People hold the door open for you here.

Portland: We moved here in '05 and bought a floating home at Jansen Beach that was 40 percent constructed, so for the first year I was building my house. I went to a few of Ron Steen's jams and ended up meeting a couple of people. I got a call from (trumpeter) Dick Titterington, who knew the music contractor in Florida through the show, "Cats," so he introduced himself and got my name out.

Bands: I have a trio with bassist Dan Schulte and guitarist Chris Woitach. I also work with David Evans and drummer Todd Strait. I'm in Chuck Israels projects — I went to one of his rehearsals and that was that. I'm in Ben Medler's Trombone 8, Andrew Oliver's Bridgetown Sextet, Devin Phillips' Black and Blue project, and I was in the Portland Jazz Orchestra. I had to give that up when I opened my restaurant.

Jazzy John's BBQ: I've been making barbecue since junior high school. Being from Oklahoma, it's my indigenous cuisine. I started cooking it here for the guys. People asked me to make it for various occasions. My wife and I wanted to do something new, so we thought, 'What can we do here in Hazel Dell (Washington)?' We realized, "There's no barbecue here." We've been open ten months now. We plan on presenting live music at the restaurant twice a month.

Musical Influences: Phil Woods, J.J. Johnson, Urbie Green, Woody Shaw, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, Clark Terry, Michael Brecker and Billl Watrous.

Most Satisfying Experience: I would like to say some great little intimate jazz gig, but it's got to be one of the more pop-type concert settings. Either a Johnny Mathis show or Frankie Vally and the Four Seasons playing for five or six thousand people, those are so much fun for me! My dream gig would be playing in the horn section of say Steely Dan, I love that kind of thing.

Favorite Recordings: Sonny Clark, "Sonny's Crib"; McCoy Tyner, "Infinity"; Michael Brecker, "Michael Brecker"; J.J. Johnson, "J.J. In Person!"; Donald Fagan, "The Nightfly"; Art Blakey Quintet, "A Night at Birdland"; Carl Fontana, "The Great Fontana"; Urbie Green, "21 Trombones"; Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans, "Know what I Mean"; Dexter Gordon, "Doin' Allright."

Discography: A couple of out-of-print recordings with The Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra and The St. John's River City Band; Portland Jazz Orchestra, "Good Morning Geek"; Gino Vannelli, "A Good Thing" and "The Best and Beyond"; Trombone 8, "Hairpins and Triggers"; and the Chuck Israels Orchestra - Recorded but not yet released

Gigs: 9/3 Bridgetown Sextet, Duff's Garage; 9/11 Half Pack Live! Big Band (Seattle), Clark County Fairground; 9/21, 10/19, 11/16, 12/14, Chuck Israels Orchestra, Vie de Boheme; 9/29 Bridgetown Sextet, PPPA; 9/30 Bridgetown Sextet, Blue Monk.

Future plans: I have an entire CD worth of quartet music that I commissioned Andrew Oliver to compose for me. It is modern jazz with kind of a world beat ala late Brecker idiom, which I have not heard a trombone player record before. Want to record this CD with my quartet and have it done for the Fall. Another project I want to get started on is sort of a Crusaders-style funky jazz band with a tenor and trombone lead. This will be designed for live performances.

Other: There's a very different way that time happens here (in Portland), especially in rhythm sections. Ideally, your drummer should keep forward motion going all the time. I've heard people say, "I can't play behind the beat like I want to because if I do, the rhythm section will go with me, which is a bad thing." You want to be able to pull the time back like Dexter Gordon, for example, creating tension. If they pull back with you, there's no tension.

-- by Rita Rega