Grammy-nominated rock and roll organist John Ginty has recorded and toured with the likes of Robert Randolph, Sheryl Crow, Lou Reed, Santana and the Dixie Chicks.
But one name towers above the rest: John Schumacher.
“He pretty much gave me everything I have,” Ginty, Morristown High School Class of ’90, said of his former music teacher.
“Schu” is retiring this month. But his proteges won’t let him go quietly. Ginty will join other alums in a special tribute on June 4, 2014, at the silver anniversary of Jazz Night at the high school.
During his MHS days, Ginty was a drummer in Spectrum, the school jazz band; he also drummed with the jazz chorus, and the Colonials marching band.
Before every show, Ginty said, Schu would dangle a keychain that proclaimed: “Just go for it!”
Ginty remembers a big drum solo in his senior year.
“I was out of breath, out of oxygen, sweating bullets. And he came up to me and said: ‘Come on, man, give it to me!’ He always would take me to that extra place that I didn’t think I had. He would get you to that place.”
Schu could do that because he was “a real cat”: A musician who gigged on weekends, the principal trumpeter with the Hanover Wind Symphony.
“If he picked up the trumpet to show you how something went, he could do it,” Ginty said. With a huge soul patch, the teacher even looked hip.
“He taught me how to feel music. You could tell he could feel music. He was so passionate about it. That was the most important thing,” said Ginty, who returned recently from a southern tour to promote his solo album, Bad News Travels.
‘HEY BABE…THE KID NEEDS A NEW HORN’
Derek Vintschger (Class of ’99), who is organizing Wednesday’s tribute, credits much of his success as an audio engineer–he has done sound for VH1 and concerts at the White House–to Schumacher, who started an audio technology program at MHS.
“I understand how ensembles play, I understand how songs are put together. When I edit, I understand the formula,” said Vintschger, who gleaned much of this knowledge while playing percussion in the marching band under Schumacher.
“There was a lot of pride. Kids didn’t goof off in rehearsal. They would get scolded by fellow band members.”
Schumacher’s love for music was infectious; the Roxbury resident even brought the great Wynton Marsalis to teach a master class with the jazz band in the late ’90s, Vintschger recalled.
Schu really understood kids, too.
“He paid attention to who was going out with who, he knew who was having trouble at home. He knew sometimes you have a bad day. But he also really challenged people. He made you care, and he would see the potential in people and groups, and was able to make them rise to the occasion,” Vintschger said.
“To escape the wrath of Schu, which can sometimes cause humiliation, you wanted to practice. You wanted to be good. You did not want to let him down,” said H. Justin Sobers, Class of ’99. “Schu was exceptionally good at making students do things they thought they could never do, and dare I say, things they didn’t even want to do.”
Sobers, a Morris Township resident, composes music and designs sound for video games on smartphones. He traces his musical roots to Schumacher, who interceded to get him a decent trumpet back in grade school.
“Hey babe,” Schu greeted Sobers’ mom over the phone. “I got the kid here. He needs a new horn.”
Schumacher then drove them to a music shop and spent a Saturday helping Sobers select the right trumpet.
“It was a great day, and a wonderful investment. I did start taking practicing and playing more seriously since I had a beautiful, new instrument. All of my best memories of playing trumpet are with that horn. I remember I wouldn’t even let anyone touch it because I didn’t want their fingerprints on it,” Sobers said.
When months of begging got Sobers nowhere, Schu picked up the phone again and convinced the youth’s parents to buy a digital keyboard for their son to compose with.
“Schu has made an immeasurable difference in my life,” Sobers said.
Doug Rutan, who co-founded Jazz Night with Schumacher a quarter-century ago, swapped roles with him several years back in a district-wide reorganization that sent Schu to Frelinghuysen Middle School and Rutan to MHS.
They remain close; Schu was best man at Rutan’s wedding and is godfather of his daughter.
“He’s one of those guys, if it’s pouring rain at 3 in the morning, and I have a flat, and I call and ask, ‘Can you help me out?,’ he’s there,” Rutan said.
“A lot of people don’t like him because he speaks the truth. But he’s a fine educator who turns out great kids. His groups over the years always sounded fantastic.”
Another Schumacher success story, Ben Sesar, Class of ’89, drums for country star Brad Paisley. Sesar sat in as a special guest at one of John Ginty’s recent tour gigs.
But he has not seen John Schumacher for years.
Ginty said he can hardly wait for Wednesday to roll around, so he can roll out his 1969 Hammond B-3 organ. He plays it in a percussive style reminiscent of his drumming days.
“People always ask me, ‘Where does all that violence come from in your playing?'” Ginty said.
“And I tell them, ‘I had a band director in high school, Mr. Schumacher, who had this keychain…'”
Jazz Night, showcasing ensembles from Morristown High School and Frelinghuysen Middle School, starts at 7 pm on June 4, 2014, in the MHS auditorium. The public is invited; admission is free. The high school is at 50 Early St.