He gave them the gift of music, and that is how they repaid him.
Morristown High School alumni capped Wednesday’s silver anniversary Jazz Night by giving retiring music teacher John Schumacher a rousing, emotional sendoff that Hollywood would have been hard-pressed to top.
“It means a lot, because it’s always been about the kids, and the music,” said Schumacher, choked up after a full-speed-ahead mini-concert by former students who packed some star power.
The band included Grammy-nominated organist John Ginty, MHS ’90; piano wizard Devone Allison ,’02; and red-hot drummer Camille Olivier, ’02.
“I’m a working musician for 25 years. I’m in the business. I owe every ounce of that to this man right here,” said Ginty, who has recorded and performed with acts such as the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow and Santana.
“He taught me how to feel music. You can read notes all you want, you can be as talented as you want, you can practice all you want. But if you don’t feel music, you’re missing out.”
There was plenty of feeling in the MHS auditorium, where Schumacher, a teacher for 29 years, heard testimonials from proteges and fans of all ages.
“I love that man,” said Ann Sobers, who at first was taken aback when Schumacher called years ago to cajole her to buy a better trumpet for her son. (“Hey babe. I got the kid here. He needs a new horn.”)
Justin Sobers, ’99, blossomed into a composer, conducting the alumni on Wednesday in a medley he arranged for the occasion.
Photos by Scott Schlosser & Kevin Coughlin. Please click icon below for captions.
“When I was in the sixth grade, he kept telling me, go out there, go for it, try your best,” said MHS junior Peter Bacas, recounting how Schumacher kept encouraging him a year later when he failed to qualify for regional honors.
After soloing brilliantly on saxophone with the Spectrum Jazz Ensemble on Wednesday night, Bacas learned he had won the high school’s Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, emblematic of superior musicianship, character and creativity.
Many of the evening’s Schumacher stories transcended music.
“He’s more than a band teacher. He really teaches you a lot of life lessons,” said Carlo Zahl, an eighth-grade drummer in the Frelinghuysen Middle School Jazz Band, conducted by Schumacher.
“I’ve learned …how to take a comment from someone and not bluster into tears. How to just be a better person, really.”
Mike Eberhardt, MHS class of ’94, played sax for Schu and was inspired to open a music store in Randolph. Their school relationship had been difficult, Eberhardt said.
“He drove us hard,” he recounted. “He didn’t make it easy. He pushed us to play better.”
But Schumacher always cared about the person as well as the player, stressing fellowship, “taking responsibility for your actions,” and doing the right thing, Eberhardt added.
That’s why “a lot of people were crying backstage” during Wednesday’s program, he said.
A quarter-century ago, Schumacher and Doug Rutan, now a music teacher and band leader at MHS, started Jazz Night to showcase student talent.The two men remained close friends after swapping schools and roles in a district reshuffling a dozen or so years back.
Rutan organized Wednesday’s sendoff with help from Derek Vintschger, ’99 –an audio engineer who has done sound for Paul McCartney among others–and said it was interesting to see so many former students together again.
“It’s a little like having your own kids. You never know how they’ll turn out,” Rutan said.
Schumacher ranked bringing jazz legend Wynton Marsalis to his classroom in the late ’90s as his fondest teaching memory. Among many thank you’s, he cited his late sister Joanie for driving him to trumpet lessons “week in and week out” in his youth. Today, he is the principal trumpet for the Hanover Wind Symphony.
“Schu,” as students call him, also remembered his late mother, who insisted that he “always listen to people and do the right thing.”
“I hope in all my years I’ve been here I have given the children a little taste of what the right thing is, to help you, because you have done a helluva job raising your kids,” Schumacher told parents in the audience.
He challenged his young students to keep Jazz Night going far into the future, even as far as a golden anniversary.
“It’s been a great 29 years…over all, I’ve had a ball,” said Schumacher, who believes everyone can make music.
“It’s built into the human existence, it surely is. Some, better than others. But everybody can do it.”
MORE TO COME…
MHS ALUMNI ALL-STAR BAND:
Drums – Camille Olivier ’02
Bass – Jake Miller-Hoesly ’04
Guitar – JP Gilbert ’01
Piano – Devone Allison ’02
Organ – John Ginty ’90
Alto & Soprano Sax – Mike Brown ’97
Alto Sax – Artie Ayres ’00
Alto Sax & Flute – Steve Voelker – Frelinghuysen Band Director
Tenor Sax & Flute – David Gallagher ’10
Tenor Sax – Ryan Gallagher ’12
Baritone Sax – Nika Belcastro ’01
Trumpet – Danny Reardon ’12
Trumpet – Casey Carroll ’10
Trumpet – Skip Yingling ’02
Trumpet – Jason Berlinsky ’10
Trumpet – Annabel Walter ’13
Trumpet – Brian Lenat ’02
Trombone – Mike Santoro ’10
Trombone – Craig Perkins ’10
Trombone – Mike Renga ’10
Trombone – Mark Bishop ’02
Trombone – Doug Rutan – MHS Band Director
Arrangements – H. Justin Sobers ’99
Recording – Derek Vintschger ’99
Recording – Lee Bender ’03