CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He plays trumpet, saxophone and flute with the Esquires. He isn't flamboyant. He doesn't hog the limelight. He just stands there on the side of the stage and plays those horns for all he's worth.
That's who he is, how he sees himself, how he wants to be remembered. The title he chose for a recent resume says it all: "Biography of a Trumpet Player Named Bob Smith."
A serious musician and a veteran member of the popular oldies dance band, he spent much of his life in dogged pursuit of the elusive double C. Inspired by his idol, Maynard Ferguson, he eventually mastered the complex physiological nuances behind the high note.
He's 64, quiet and soft-spoken, a retired school music teacher, computer specialist and librarian. On stage with the Esquires, the passion behind his never-ending quest for perfection shines through.
On Feb. 4, he brings his horns to the Charleston Moose for the Esquires Super Bowl Saturday Dance, a benefit to raise funds for Gazette's Charities.
"I grew up in Belle. My dad worked as millwright at DuPont. I loved baseball. I loved throwing things. I got in a lot of trouble doing that. I delivered newspapers and would throw the paper and crack a window. I probably broke about half a dozen.
We won a state baseball championship when I was 14 and we went to Tennessee. I could throw real hard, which is why I was on the all-star team. But I couldn't hit. The last inning, coach says, 'OK, we are losing this game, and nobody can hit this guy, so you are up.' Me? The worst hitter on the team? I hit the ball over the second baseman's head and started around the bases, and we won the game.
"In grade school, a music teacher came by the school and said the school was going to start a band. I wanted to join the band. Dad put a banjo, violin and trumpet on the bed and told me to choose one. The band wouldn't take a violin or banjo, so I picked trumpet.
"I took lessons. The guy taught me everything he knew which, looking back, was pretty much all wrong. What I learned was that of all the teachers I had, about 1 percent knew about embouchures. An embouchure consists of the 13 muscles of the face and how you utilize them while playing.
"If you don't get those just right, you've got problems. A poor embouchure will get you a high C, but to go to double C, you need to be doing most things correctly. Most teachers don't know that because the teachers before them didn't know it.
"I picked up the saxophone and, in just a few months, I could play it and became very proficient with very little practice. Trumpet is a very tough instrument unless you are just a natural player.
"Trouble with trumpet is the harder you try to play a note, the worse it gets. The key is to relax. I got frustrated because I couldn't play the upper register. I was a pressure player. They burn out after 5 or 10 minutes.
"A salesman in one of the music stores told me about a teacher named Bill Carmichael. I told him, 'I don't care anything about slurring, tone, articulation or all that stuff. I just want to play high.' He said I was his first honest student. He said they all tell him they want to do this and that, but what they really want to do is play high.
"It starts with the diaphragm. Carmichael said the first thing you want to do is lie on the floor. He said to pretend he was an elephant. He started to stomp on my stomach. He said, 'You tightened your stomach muscles, and that's where the compression begins.'
"Teachers said over the years to tighten your diaphragm, but they didn't explain it like he did. You push the diaphragm out a little bit, then shove it in, and it's compressed. You use air from the diaphragm instead of the lungs. If you use air from the lungs, it creates an over-vibration of the lips. After doing that for 40-some years, it was tough to correct.
"When I got to seventh grade, I played in the high school band with guys who were way above me. When I was 17, I started with a band called the Escorts, and we played in local clubs like the Man-Tiki.
"The singer went to Cleveland and the band broke up, so we formed another band called the Showmen, and I played with them another year. I got drafted.