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Extras from The Horn Call, October 2020

Additional Vince DeRosa Memories
Compiled by Paul Neuffer

My relationship with Mr. DeRosa wasn’t limited to the normal lesson topics; we would also have conversations about a wide variety of subjects. As a repair tech, then horn maker, I also had access to his judgement and opinions of different horns and equipment. I would take him a horn to try, not only to get his impression, but also to hear him play, which was my real secret agenda. Eventually I would bring him my own horns which he was always gracious to try and give feedback. Thankfully, his criticism was always incredibly positive and complimentary. He once told me that, “this is the horn everyone’s been looking for!”

One time, he asked me to try one of his 8Ds. It was in no way a good horn. As I played it, nervously in from of him, I wondered if somehow I was missing something? Then he asked me what I thought about it. Trying to be politically correct, I said, “Well, it’s not your best horn.” I was relieved when he agreed. Then he said that sometimes he would take a horn to work that wasn’t so good, as it helped him to concentrate. Another time, I brought him a brass Kruspe with a medium bell, that had a questionable high B-flat. He played it over and over and never came close to missing it. I said to him, “you certainly didn’t have a problem.” “Well,” he said, looking over his glasses, “it’s not that good!” He elaborated by saying, “what I do is to find the resistance of that note and put all my air right there.” This demonstrates extremely good control of the air to me and is pretty much the key to the kingdom related to playing the horn.

I designed a line of mouthpieces in the 1980s and after consulting with Vince about the particulars, brought him a few to try. He found one he liked and played it for a while, then really started to blow. He played numerous notes above the high C and then landed on the A above. He kept playing louder and louder and louder - it was an amazing sound. The incredible thing was that the timbre did not change when he played louder. The sound pressure in the house was immense, as if the windows might explode. When he handed the mouthpiece back, he merely said, “it holds together pretty good up there.”

Brian O’Connor told me a couple of stories about Vince. During a lesson, Brian was working on his high register. Vince was telling him, “you’ve got to relax to play high.” Brian was not quite getting it, so Vince took Brian’s horn and mouthpiece, then played a scale up to the high C. Then, Vince played the scale up another octave. The sound remained full, not the least bit brassy or thin. Then he gave the horn back to Brian and said, “see, play it like that.”

One time, Brian was working with Vince, when Vince fluffed a note. Not really missed it, it just didn’t come together at the attack. A slight issue, many times ignored. However, the whole orchestra stopped playing and turned around to look at him. This seemed very strange to Brian so during the next break, he asked the concertmaster what it meant. The reply was that it was an exceedingly rare event when Vince missed a note and when that happened, it was kind of an act of reverence to stop and give him another shot at his normal level of perfection.

Many Hollywood composers wanted to write more serious concert music, so an orchestra was formed to perform those pieces. Many famous composers took advantage of that opportunity, including Lalo Schifrin. During rehearsal, Schifrin indicated that there was a horn solo in a section and that Vince could play the solo, “as loudly as you can.” When they got to that section, Vince hammered it. He played so loud that the entire brass section stopped playing, dropped behind their stands and snickered. It was breathtakingly loud! Schifrin stopped the orchestra and addressed Vince. He said, in an understated tone, “well, maybe not quite so loud”.

The great jazz arranger, Johnny Richards, wanted to make a record for which he had written a significant horn part. When he called Vince to hire him for the sessions, Vince turned him down as he was booked for months in advance. Johnny had already had the other players, basically the Stan Kenton band, booked for the recording. He reiterated that he wanted Vince on the session and that they would work the session schedule around Vince’s schedule. Vince asked if it would be possible to do the sessions on his lunch break. They ended up making the album, which was a live, direct to disc recording, on Vince’s lunch break.

Jim Patterson
Owner, Patterson Hornworks

Truth be told, Vincent DeRosa is one of the primary reasons that I had a career as a horn player. It all started when a few circumstances converged, long before I ever met Vince. I was playing trumpet in my junior high school band when my parents brought home an album called A Mancini Christmas. Vincent DeRosa was the solo horn player on the album and I was enthralled with the sound of the instrument and Vince’s playing. Little did I know, at that time, that his sound was unique among horn players, but it became the seed for what I would emulate during my entire career. Also, around that same time, I saw the movie How the West was Won on which Vince played principal horn and the whole horn section just blew me away. So, when my band director announced that the school had just purchased a new French horn, my hand was the first to go up when asked who wanted to play it.

Later on, I was recruited by Sinclair Lott to UCLA. Mr. DeRosa hadn’t started teaching at USC yet, so after studying for four years with Sinclair, who was wonderful, I decided to try to reach Mr. DeRosa and ask him if he would take me on as a private student. This was while I was still at UCLA working on a secondary teaching credential. At that point, I had no idea what direction my career might take or if I had the talent to become a professional musician. Vince graciously offered to hear me but didn’t commit to full time lessons until after my first lesson (audition). Luckily, he agreed to take me on, and I was accepted to Juilliard a year later. He, of course, could have demanded any amount he wanted for lessons, but knowing that I was a student and let’s say “financially challenged” he charged me only $10! I couldn’t believe it, but I gratefully accepted. I believe, at that time, only his nephew Jeff DeRosa and Brian O’Connor were studying with him.

After completing my graduate studies, I came back to L.A. and continued taking lessons with Vince and also played with the San Diego Symphony for a season. I went to Las Vegas during that time and played two weeks with The Carpenters. The show was televised, and I earned nearly as much as I’d earned the entire season with the S.D. Symphony. So, I decided to move to Vegas to pay off some student loans and landed a job at the MGM. I hadn’t intended to stay for more than a year or so, but then I met my beautiful and talented wife Gaye, who was a featured singer at the MGM and we had our son, Erik. While working on the strip, I maintained my musical sanity by playing a lot of chamber music, touring with the New World (formerly Las Vegas) Brass Quintet, teaching at UNLV, playing principal horn in the Las Vegas Symphony, and commuting to LA for occasional lessons with Vince.

Eleven years later I got teaching jobs at Idyllwild Arts Academy and CalArts, and we moved back to L.A. where Vince helped me establish a freelance career. My first studio job happened when I got a call from Sandy DeCresent. Vince got sick and suggested she call me because he knew I would be sitting by the phone and available. He was right!  Needless to say, the heat was on, but I passed muster, and that one call launched an enjoyable and fruitful career for me in the studios. 

Of the movies where I played in Vince’s section, perhaps my favorite was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, scored by Michael Kamen. Vince had many beautiful solos throughout. I think by that time he was in his 70s, but he sounded just as astounding as ever.

Like so many, I can’t say enough about Vince. Not only his musicianship, but also his personality, integrity, and generosity. Suffice it to say, Vince was a huge influence on me and I will be forever grateful to him. I was incredibly lucky to have Vincent DeRosa as a mentor.

Kurt Snyder
Los Angeles freelance horn player (retired)
Horn instructor, Idyllwild Arts Academy

Vince’s mother was an accomplished opera singer who gave voice lessons and Vince used to be under the piano when his mom gave lessons. By the time he could do baby talk, he could do solfeggio. Vince credits her for his breathing. She must have had it really down to the point where she could pass that along to him, on horn. It was really interesting, you never saw Vince take a breath. I would try to talk to him about it every once in a while. I asked him, do you breathe through your nose or your mouth? He would give a vague answer. He never wanted to go into detail about how he took a breath. Now, that could be because he was very aware of the problems that Yehudi Menuhin had, when Menuhin really started to think about everything he was doing when he was playing, and it ruined him. Breathing was so natural to Vince. And he had the perfect physique for a brass player: short, stocky, barrel chested. But his mom would make him practice and she would listen to him and critique his playing, especially long tones.

I had private lessons with Vince which were wonderful, but when I worked with him, I really had the opportunity to see and hear what he was trying to teach me. I wish that everyone who studied with Vince would have had the chance to work with him, to hear how he did what he was trying to teach to his students. It could be the simplest of lines, but sometimes it could be something really challenging, and I would think to myself, thank God it’s him and not me doing that, because I sure couldn’t play it. There used to be an orchestra called THE Orchestra, which was made up of the top studio players. That horn section, Vince, Henry Sigismonti, Richard Perissi, and Art Maebe, was amazing. The sound they created was just unbelievable. I think a lot of horn players would go to those concerts just to hear Vince in a live situation. Now, these days, studios hire six to eight horn players to try to get the sound that those four guys got.

I remember doing the first Star Trek movie with him, around 1978. Vince had one of those big solos and they wanted it to sound different. So they told him the day before that they didn’t want it to sound like a normal horn, they wanted something a little lighter, a little brighter. At the time they didn’t know about the descant horn. Just before this session, Vince had received a silver Alexander double descant that Hermann Baumann had picked out for him and was shipped to him from Germany. Vince got it and played it a little bit but eventually put it away with all of his other horns. I don’t know how many horns he had, but he seemed to always have a lot of horns. So, he brought it to the session to see if he could get the different sound they wanted. Well, the valves weren’t working! They were all frozen. At the break, we were all working on the valves. I had a mallet and screwdriver with me and was tapping the bearings, putting oil on the valves. We came back from the ten-minute break and we got the valves working but the horn had valve oil coming out the bell and Vince had valve oil on his hand. So they start this cue and Vince had only played two or three notes on this horn and Vince plays this solo and hearing him play it; oh my Lord! So, they liked it but they said they weren't sure if they were going to use that take, so they were going to do it again and they wanted him to use the other horn. But what was so interesting was how quickly that Alexander double descant became the way he played, that it was just an extension of him. He never played that horn again. He sold it to a student of his that eventually went on to study with Baumann.

For the recording of Rocky III, Vince was principal, Henry Sigismonti was second, Rich Perissi was third, Art Maebe was fourth, Dave Duke was fifth, and I played sixth. It was an eight o’clock PM recording session. Those five guys had worked all day. We were at Capitol recording studios, Bill Conti was the conductor. There were four trumpets, some trombones, it was just a brass section recording session. The strings had already been recorded, so we heard the strings through the cans. We started off with the big horn solo and after he did this incredible horn solo, we were all just looking at each other. I mean it was just phenomenal. You could tell he was pacing himself, because that was just one run-through. We did a couple of run-throughs because they were trying to fit the music to the film. We did two or three run-throughs and each one was flawless, but each one was different. We started recording and as soon as the red light went on, you could hear that there was something extra special. He was that comfortable with the red light on, recording. In a way, you could tell that he was experimenting during those run-throughs with what he wanted to do. The first time we recorded it, it was absolutely gorgeous, flawless! Bill Conti and the producer and the director were all in the booth listening to the playback and there were certain things that they wanted to line up with the film. This was all “free time,” there was no click track. So we did it again, and again it was flawless, but different. Vince’s thing was, don’t get yourself in a rut and try to play it the same way every time. The second time fit better with the things they wanted to line up. Vince seemed very happy with it each take, and Bill Conti did too. But they decided to record it a third time and you could tell that the way Conti was conducting, Vince could take a little more time, have a little more freedom. And I will always remember how everyone in the room looked around at each other, being just amazed. Vince played that solo at least five times that night, after he had been working all day. And he did it all on his 8D, with an old Giardinelli 1 bore. I felt so privileged to be there for that. I would have been happy to just have been in the booth listening.

Jim Atkinson
Los Angeles Opera Orchestra
Los Angeles freelance horn performer/recording artist
Adjunct Horn Professor, CSU Long Beach, Retired

Lessons with Vince were wonderful. He was an extraordinarily supportive teacher who celebrated any growth, no matter how small. He was a great mentor who believed in students completely. He listened deeply and with his full attention to my lesson material and also to my concerns and even about life in general. His unwavering belief in me eventually developed into a faith in myself that served me well and helped me through some difficult times in my career. We would occasionally have lessons at Vince’s house in La Cañada. We would work in his big lovely den that was next to the kitchen. Vince had a pet bird that was quite vocal, it had an impressively large vocabulary. The bird was also quite loud and it would sometimes comment on lessons. Once as I was finishing a phrase I missed a note really loudly. The bird began to laugh and laugh. Vince had to tell it to be quiet so that we could go on with the lesson. We both thought it was very funny. I spent four years studying with Vince and would consider him one of the greatest influences on my development as a performer and as an instructor. I bought his 300,000 series 8D and use it for special performances. He will always be a part of me in concerts, lessons and in the practice room. I will forever be grateful to have been his student.

Kristy Morrell
Instructor of Horn, Baylor University
Member, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Former Instructor of Horn and Chamber Music, USC Flora Thornton School of Music and The Colburn School of Performing Arts

I remember one particular session we did at Warner Brothers, now called the Clint Eastwood recording stage. For the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we had to record some “source” music. In a movie scene, there might be a radio or television playing in the background, so we would record something for that. I wanted to do something other than a pop song or something playing in the background. I had a sixty-piece orchestra in front of me, so, I decided to do the first movement of the Mozart D Major Horn concerto with Vince playing the solo. And Vince did what Vince does. He was wonderful.

Roger Kellaway, composer/pianist