Featured Musician - September 2005
Name: Derek Sims
Early Years: When I was four, my folks took me to visit an aunt. She had a small organ keyboard on the floor near the TV set. After I heard a tune on the TV, I sat down at the keyboard, and figured out how to play it back exactly. They gave me the keyboard, and I learned all I could, playing by ear. Since so many of my relatives, on both sides of the family, were professional musicians, they recognized that I should be given lessons. I started studying with Sylvia Killman at age 11 through 18. I played all classical music then. At age 11, I also started studying the trumpet. I attended lots of music camps in Jr. and Sr. high school. In 1988, I won a piano competition playing Mendelssohn's Capriccio Brilliante and got to play it with the Oregon Symphonetta at Warner Pacific College. I went to Reynolds High School. Thomas Lauderdale, founder of Pink Martini, was also a student of Killman's at the same time, and we became friends.
I was awarded a full ride Music scholarship to the University of Arizona. After two years, I was seeking bigger challenges. My band instructor at U of A, Eric Becher, had studied with Armando Ghitalla at the University of Michigan, and told me I should transfer and work with him. Ghitalla was principal trumpet in the Boston Symphony. Since I didn't receive as generous a scholarship at U of M, I decided to work for a year in the computer center, and try applying again. Becher arranged a meeting with Ghitalla who had requested I send him an audition tape. Ghitalla invited me to dinner and invited me to become one of his few private students. I was floored because I was just not expecting the invitation! I traded cleaning his house for two years, for one year of trumpet lessons.
I earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in Trumpet Performance from the U of Michigan in 1994, and then moved back to Portland. I stopped into the Candelight Lounge and sat in with Dave Stewart. I started playing with Andy Stokes in 1995. About then, I also spent time with Thomas Lauderdale, working out the first music Pink Martini
I then got an eight-month cruise ship gig with Princess Lines. We toured all around Asia, Western Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. We played Broadway show tunes for singers and dancers, seven nights per week, for three hours each night. The rest of the time we could enjoy the many fascinating and exotic ports of call.
After the cruise, I came back to Portland and started playing with Body & Soul, Bobby Torres, and in 70's and 80's cover bands. I worked days at Great Harvest Bakery until I got my second cruise ship gig. We sailed down the coast of Mexico, through the Panama Canal and all over the Caribbean, and to many ports in South America.
On the way home, I stopped a Borders Book Store in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. on Valentine's Day. I ended up marrying the clerk who helped me, one year later, in Portland, on Valentine's Day!
When I got home, I accepted an offer from Linda Hornbuckle to join her band. It was one of the best bands I have played in. I was with them for two years.
In 2000, I made the move to Jazz, started experimenting with arranging, and formed my own quintet with players such as Rob Davis on tenor, Steve Christofferson, piano, Dan Schulte on bass and Alan Jones on drums. Ben Fowler and Charlie Doggett also played with us. I was amazed that such high caliber musicians like these would want
to play with me!
I have also played with Pepe and the Bottle Blondes, Canason, a Cuban Band, Mel Brown and Thara Memory at Jimmy Mak's on Tuesdays. I also played in the Carlton Jackson and Dave Mills Big Band, Soul Vaccination, Andre St. James Nonette, and the Alan Jones Sextet. I also play in the 15 piece Big Horn Brass Band. They play classical, jazz and pop music.
I have begun arranging a lot of their music that was originally written for full orchestra, but I reduce it down for the group We play holiday concerts.
Current Work: I am starting a new project of all original music with cellist, Skip von Kuske, and pianist Clay Giberson. We will be performing every Monday night at Imbibe from 8-10pm.
I also do a lot of teaching. I have 18-20 students that come to my home every week. On Saturday mornings, I am the Director of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. I teach jazz and music theory. We rehearse at Beaumont Middle School. Students are middle and high school age. We have two big bands, soon to be three, and several smaller combos. We also offer improvisation classes to these students.
Future: I am really excited about starting a weekly jam session for students only. It will be held in the Union Hall on 20th and NE Sandy. If we don't give the kids the chance to play together like this, there won't be many players to continue the tradition. That's why Tuesday nights at Jimmy Mak's are so great because minors
are welcome until 9pm.
We try to give the kids a place to experiment and get a taste of being a real artist. We also encourage them to bring and play their own compositions, many written with computer programs. My goal is to have lots of private group classes where they can play, and get in depth instruction in improvisation and arranging. I am also interested in composing electronic music.
Influences: Miles Davis for the way he played and helped evolve the music; Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsallis, Ingrid Jensen, Tom Harrell, and Mark Isham, who plays with guitar and pedals, for his futuristic development of the sound of the trumpet and what is possible to do
with it, and of course, Thara Memory.
Most Satisfying Experience: I met former Oregon Symphony Pops conductor, Norman Leyden, as a result of helping Pepe Raphael get his charts organized for his performance with the symphony. Leyden invited me to do some copying for the Oregon Symphony Pops, which eventually led to my writing three full orchestra arrangements. They were "That's Amore," "Time to Say Goodbye," (Con Te Partiro),
and "Santa Lucia." I can't describe the joy I felt hearing them play my arrangements!! They were recorded at Clackamas CC, with a full orchestra, conducted by Stephan Minde, and will be presented at a CD release event in October at the Portland Art Museum.
Being an instructor at Mel Brown's Jazz Camp for the 5th year. I taught Master Classes, and conducted a Big Band, and a smaller band. This was the biggest year yet, 155 students, 15 faculty. They had to turn many students away this year. (Watch Notes and Chords column for news of year-round camps, coming soon.)
Favorite Recordings: John Coltrane, "Lush Life;" organist Larry Young's "Unity," in the hard bop style of the '60s with Woody Shaw, Elvin Jones, and Joe Henderson; "Song Book" by Kenny Garrett; Chris Potter, "Gratitude;" and Dave Douglas, "The Infinite."
Discography: None as leader yet, but I've played on 25 demos and albums. "Astroturf" with Jeff Trott, who is Sheryl Crow's guitarist, writer and composer; Keith Schreiner's Auditory Sculpture band, "That Might Be You,""Ambient Electronica," 2 CD's by Dahlia, "Emotion Cycles" and "Vases;" and with bassist, Lee T. Ball, "Father
Where Currently Playing: Monday's at Imbibe with cellist, Skip von Kuske, and usually the second set at Jimmy Mak's on Tuesdays. With my sextet, when I have enough compositions ready to fill an evening. Weddings when I can.
Gigs Coming Up: Imbibe, 8-10pm Mondays.
Other Comments: "As long as I maintain my integrity with my teaching and playing, and keep my goals constantly in front of me, I am living my "Bliss," and try to inspire my students to find their own bliss in their music."
Interviewer's Note: My biggest challenge was to distill the essence of Sims' incredible accomplishments and jam-packed musical life into this tiny space. We were only able to hit the highlights. With his grounded and passionate attitude he will go far; indeed, at age 34, he has "only just begun"!
-- Interviewed by Rita Rega