Acclaimed trumpet player Al Chez is just one of the incredible celebrity artists-in-residence at the Brad Schoener MusicMan Camp. Skilled in trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone, and percussion, Al Chez has been involved in musical performance since childhood. Throughout his extensive musical career, he has performed with Tower of Power, Sting, the Rolling Stones, and Bon Jovi, among others. He has also performed at multiple presidential inaugurations, over 25 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, and the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games Closing Ceremonies, to name a few. We sat down with Al Chez to talk about how he became connected with MusicMan Camp and his perpetual passion for music.
Q: How did you become involved with music and performance?
A: My older brothers were both trumpet players, and they were in the local drum and bugle corps that my father started. I was 7 years old, they were 9 and 11, and I was too young to be in it when I was a kid. I wanted to be as cool as I thought my older brothers were, so as soon as I turned 9, I went right into the drum and bugle corps activity. I still do that today.
Q: How have the arts shaped/impacted your life?
A: It’s everything. I’ve done this for years. I was always in the drum and bugle corps, and when I was 15 or 16 years old I was asked to join a local Asbury Park rock ‘n’ roll band doing cover music. We were called Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes; we played down by the Jersey Shore, and the lead singer of that band was John Bon Jovi. So when I was 15 years old in my first band, John Bon Jovi was the lead singer. David Bryan, who’s still in Bon Jovi and wrote the plays Memphis and Diana, was the keyboard player. So I’ve been doing this my entire life. When I graduated from high school, everybody else got a job. This is my job.
Q: How were you introduced to MusicMan Camp?
A: Jen Schoener asked me to join them, as simple as that. You never know unless you ask. I do clinics across the country now because I believe in looking back and paying it forward. Somebody came to my school when I was young and influenced me along with my brothers, and it’s good to have but it’s better to give back. We need to look behind us as well as looking forward. Looking forward to our own personal future is important, but looking back to make sure that we are making people better humans through the arts – that’s priceless. It’s kind of cliche, but it’s exactly what I believe in. Kids who are involved in music are just better humans; they treat each other better, they’re better in math & science, and they just create a great world to live in.
Q: What’s your favorite part of MusicMan Camp?
A: Any time I teach, I teach somebody something. Then getting to see the campers come back as Greenies, it’s a cycle of learning from and teaching one another. I think that’s called immortality, it’s the true fountain of youth. I’ve found the fountain of youth, and it’s in teaching. (The MusicMan Camp calls it their Greenie Apprentice program.)
Q: Any words of encouragement for aspiring musicians?
A: It’s a game. We play games on our phone or on our Xbox, and when we play the game and can’t figure out how to go through it, we find a way around it. That’s kind of what we do in life, we get obstacles and they can hit us hard, but we find ways around it. Music is a great way to teach that. It’s the same thing as those games, except you don’t typically play games for a living. So we do music. We find something and we realize we can’t play a part, so we find a way around it. We slow it down, subdivide it, find little pieces of it, etc. It’s all about problem solving, and working our way through music to find the problem so we can play the whole piece. We take that and move it to life, so when we run into those problems or we run into people who we don’t necessarily agree with, we know how to navigate them. Music builds a more tolerant and forgiving community.
Q: What does “uniting community through music” mean to you?
A: I think it all gets back to the whole reason why I’m here, which is to make better humans. If we can make better humans through music, then that’s making better citizens, and that’s making a better community. So if we can make everybody a little nicer to one another, a little more easygoing, I think it makes the world a better place. We can get there a little bit at a time, and we can start by teaching the kids that are young. That’s why I love this camp, because it’s for elementary and middle school kids.
You know, Coach K, who coaches Duke’s basketball team for years and years, was asked why he didn’t go to the pros where he could make more money than working with a college team. He responded that he’s a teacher, and that with college students he’s teaching students how to play basketball rather than teaching strategies to professional players in the NBA. We do the same thing here. We’re teaching elementary and middle school students the basics of how to play so that when they get to somebody else, they have a good understanding of what that is. If we start students in music young, they’re going to be better citizens and better people.
I love MusicMan; we need more of these camps. We need the community and corporations to invest their money so that these kids have an outlet and something to do that is positive. Idle kids fall into trouble, and when people in general don’t have something to do or something to look forward to, that’s when you run into problems. So let’s keep teaching music so that we have better people, better citizens, and a better community for everybody.