Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'In Memoriam: Prof Fielder,' '...first trumpet player in history to play classical and jazz at the highest level.'

[Prof Fielder. Photo by Anja Christin Nielsen]

“In Memoriam: Prof Fielder” is an article written for CBMR Digest, published by the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. The author is the poet, composer and educator Regina Harris Baiocchi. She has made it available to AfriClassical:

'In Memoriam: Prof Fielder' by Regina Harris Baiocchi

Trumpeter and educator William Butler Fielder (1938-2009) was a Meridian, Mississippi, native and a musical king maker. “Prof,” as he was affectionately known, hailed from a musical family. His mom, a Fisk Jubilee Singer, played violin and piano; his dad played cornet; his older brother, Alvin, plays drums.

Al recalls, “At age 9, Bill studied piano and soon switched to my dad's 1920 CG Conn cornet. Mother made sure Bill had private lessons with William Davis, a Jackson State professor who played in Cab Calloway's band with Dizzy. Bill attended Toogaloo Prep, a private boarding school, where the good habits he learned from his parents and Davis were reinforced. Dad wanted Bill to be a physician, but Mother supported Bill's desires. Bill was a dedicated master musician.”

Prof briefly attended Tennessee State University (TSU) then transferred to Chicago's American Conservatory of Music, where he earned a master's degree. His goal was to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). In 1957, he arrived at Orchestra Hall, introduced himself to Adolf Herseth, CSO's principal trumpet, and played the Haydn concerto from memory.

Herseth fondly remembers, “Bill was a very advanced student with an open mind who worked diligently and consistently absorbed as much as he could mentally, physically, and spiritually to create the best music possible.” Prof's audition landed him in the first chair of CSO's Civic Orchestra's trumpet section. Prof spent his college days learning the “Chicago sound” from Herseth; from Vincent Cichowicz – his primary teacher and CSO's assistant principal trumpet; and from Arnold Jacobs, CSO's principal tuba.
After graduating, Prof taught in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, and Alabama. His students at Alabama State included percussionist Michael Adams and trumpeter Dr. George Shaw. Prof was Adams' percussion ensemble director. Adams observes that:

“A few rehearsals were devoted to the downbeat of the first measure in a composition. Prof was not satisfied with the sloppy attack of the first note. He was determined to make us sound like an ensemble. As a result, Prof made lifelong enemies and friends. Often Prof came to our dorm room and woke us up to listen to CSO recordings of Mahler. He taught me how to listen, exposed me to orchestral and jazz literature, and made me a better musician and drummer."
Shaw University colleague, Professor Larry Ridley, persuaded Prof to move with him to Rutgers, where he spent thirty years teaching students who are forging careers as jazz and classical musicians.
Prof performed with Duke Ellington, B. B. King, Mulgrew Miller, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Philly Joe Jones, Frank Foster, Charlie Rouse, and others, as well as with CSO's Chicago Civic Orchestra and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Prof served multiple duty teaching jazz trumpet, classical trumpet, jazz history, and harmony at Rutgers.

Rutgers music department vice chair and chair of brass Dr. Scott Whitener holds Prof in the highest esteem: “He was my best friend: a great artist and wonderful teacher whom I knew twenty-eight years. Life will never be the same without him.” “Prof never received credit for being the first trumpet player in history to play classical and jazz at the highest level. He was a pioneer who showed this could be done. A brilliant line of students will carry Prof's example forward, showing and telling their students what he gave them, 'You may be gratified, but never satisfied.'” [Duke Ellington (1899-1974) is profiled at AfriClassical.com]


thara said...


JDubz said...

I remember Professor Fielder from when I was at Mississippi Valley State University ('75-'76). He was there with Dr. Branch.

I will always remember him and Dr. Branch trading "Bop licks" (as in Bebop solos) in the hallway of the music building. One time he lowered his horn and said sort of in jest, "I sound just like Clifford Brown don't I." Well, he did, for he was one extraordinary trumpet player.

It is also said that he was one of Wilton Marsalis' trumpet teachers.