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Tribute to John Mahoney, Manny Albam, Rayburn Wright, Bill Dobbins

Posted on: 1/7/2007

John Mahoney is Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Loyola University of the South, where I studied jazz improvisation and writing with him. A trombonist, pianist, composer, educator, and sometimes-vocalist, his background is a large influence on those elements ending up in _my_ background. Despite my slow learning as an undergraduate jazz trombonist, John realized that I had some abilities as a jazz writer and told me so (as I had not recognized that avenue myself). With a little extra time, I was able to get my act together enough to get into Eastman as a graduate jazz-writing major.

Part of that extra time was a month at Eastman’s summer “Arranger’s Holiday” Institute, where I experienced the joy of surrounding myself with musicians who so intensely wanted to perform and write music--and on a tight schedule. My primary writing instructor there was Manny Albam, who exposed me to music and a means to write it that literally changed my life. Anytime he taught or conducted, he subliminally conveyed to everyone how happy this life of music made him and how much he wanted to share it with us, to bring the next generation into this great feast. And he did, year after year.

Once a full-time student at Eastman I had the opportunity to study under Rayburn Wright, the late Director of Jazz Studies at the Eastman School of Music. I had gotten a week or so with him a previous summer. What a mind! What ears! What leadership! What interpersonal skills! What organizational chops! What a visionary! What a teacher! What a nice guy! To say he taught by example is an incredibly unsatisfying understatement. He was wildly capable of anything musical and accomplished it with a calmness that belied his abilities and his enthusiasm. I could live, learn, and teach the rest of my life and never rise to Ray’s abilities as a mentor and person; but there’s good reason to try.

His colleague, Bill Dobbins, teaches there still. I had thought that John Mahoney was the picture of laid-back until I met Bill (who, along with Ray, had taught John). Bill’s determination and focus made any musical task achievable, and he expected his students to apply those same skills to the best of their abilities. His ears and notation accurate beyond any standard, it’s fair to say that the question “WWBD?” (“what would Bill do”) arises at least subconsciously every time I decide how best to write out some ridiculously intricate transcribed passage. His instructional and performance abilities alone were (and are) enough to make the Eastman experience worthwhile; but partnered with Ray, those two years were an unforgettable recipe for my learning how to write, (finally) how to improvise, and in what ways I wanted music to be in my life.

These people were of critical importance in bringing my abilities to flourish--especially as a writer, but also as a performer, and most certainly as a teacher.

Tribute submitted by:
Antonio García
Director of Jazz Studies
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia