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Maine jazz legend Don Stratton to be honored Nov. 4 at Hampden Academy

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HAMPDEN - Hampden Academy’s state of the art Performing Arts Center will come alive with music associated with late Maine jazz legend Don Stratton during its Fall Jazz Night concert, scheduled for Monday, November 4, at 7 p.m.

As part of the tribute, several guest artists connected to both Don Stratton and Hampden Academy will take part in the concert, according to Pat Michaud, director of bands and instructor of Music Industry and Music Theory for R.S.U. #22.

“Don Stratton influenced many of us greatly,” Michaud said of the jazz great, formerly a resident of Bangor and Augusta and a Professor of Music at the University of Maine in Orono and Augusta. “Next to my father, Don was the most influential person in my life.”

Stratton was part of the jazz heritage of Boston and New York City. He recorded and performed with numerous greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, The Glenn Miller Orchestra with Tex Beneke, Herbie Mann, Lester Young, and many more.

Stratton performed in storied venues including Birdland, Radio City Music Hall and on Broadway in historic shows, including “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Hello Dolly” and “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Don Stratton was instrumental in developing the jazz program at the Manhattan School of Music, where he had received his BA and MA in Music Theory. “MSM is now recognized as having one of the foremost jazz programs in the world,” Pat Michaud says.

Michaud studied trumpet with Stratton for a number of years and had previously honored the musician with similar tributes during his lifetime. “Don would perform with the students and share his gift with them,” he said.

Michaud recalls a special tribute concert held during Homecoming Weekend in 1995, which also involved David Demsey – Director of Jazz Studies at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, and a former professor at the University of Maine in Orono and Augusta.

“Dave came in and led that group and Don was with us, and he played along on a number of pieces that we associated with him. I’ll never forget the moment when Don said ‘Thanks for doing this before I die.’ It was a special night. Dave Demsey will return for this special concert to serve as our guest conductor for all Hampden Academy jazz groups.”

An impressive array of musicians – each with a connection to Don Stratton - will perform with the students during the Fall Jazz Night concert at Hampden Academy.

Musicians scheduled to appear include jazz clarinetist Brad Terry, pianist Gerry Wright, bassist Bob Roman, trombonists Jim Winters and Dan Barrett of the University of Maine, saxophonist John Cooper from College of the Atlantic, composers Terry White and Craig Skeffington and Hampden Academy alumni Jake Michaud, Bailey Giles and Alex Batey.

Those artists will be featured with the Hampden Academy R&B project, jazz combo, jazz band and jazz ensemble. The jazz band will premiere Terry White’s “And Stay Out,” a blues piece dedicated to Don Stratton. The jazz ensemble will premiere Craig Skeffington’s “Buy a Ticket,” another blues dedicated to Stratton.

I asked Michaud to describe what Don Stratton was like as a person and as a professor.

“When I first arrived as a student at the University of Maine, I had some issues to overcome with my trumpet playing,” Michaud said. “Don had the ability to see potential in students that others might not have spotted. In me, he saw a desire to overcome my obstacles and he agreed to take me on.”

One summer during a period when he was a student at the University of Maine in Orono, Michaud arranged a series of lessons with Stratton as a way to continue learning when school wasn’t in session.

“He wouldn’t charge me because I drove from Madawaska, which is where I’m from,” Michaud recalled. “One summer I was living in Bangor and working a couple of part-time jobs. Don would have me take care of odd jobs around his house because he knew I needed the money. He kept me honest, he would even have me spreading manure. He was like my second father and we always kept in touch after I graduated.”

As a professor, Michaud says Stratton was famous for thinking outside the box.

“He had very creative ways of describing how he wanted you to play a piece,” he said. “He would say things in a very obscure way that translated very well. He used very specific images that he knew we would understand.”

As a composer, Michaud says Stratton would write with specific people in mind, in a fashion similar to how Duke Ellington composed. “He would always find a way to feature people based on their interests,” he said. “He was a very prolific composer and extremely unique. He wrote a piece for a former teacher of mine.”

The selection was titled “A Suite for 7 Undependable Trumpet Players” which involved each musician doing something different throughout the piece, according to Michaud, who describes how the surreal scene unfolded.

“One of my roles involved me going out and messing with a transistor radio. Another had to play a pinball machine. Another musician had to read a book throughout the piece and the sound of that book closing provided the closing note for the piece. Don Stratton was an incredibly unique person – truly one of a kind.”

(Admission to Hampden Academy’s “Fall Jazz Night” tribute concert to Don Stratton on November 4 at 7 p.m. will be by donation. All donations received will be earmarked for the Hampden Academy Music Association.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 October 2019 06:37

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