Biography Narrative
Dr. William Zurcher
A.K.A Dr. Zean W. Zurcher

Sioux City, Iowa (Before)

In 1941, and in the fourth grade at Hunt Elementary School in Sioux City, Iowa, I began taking private trumpet lessons from Elmer Disch—an extremely frustrating experience because my top front teeth overlapped a bit and cut unto my lip on high notes.  So, after three years of private lessons, I only had a range of about an octave and a half.  One day at East Junior High School, I picked up a beat-up, smelly old Eb Tuba in the storeroom, took a deep breath and punched out a three-octave scale.  Just as I was about to pass out from the sewer-like odor, I saw our band director, Douglas Reeder, running toward me with a big smile on his face.  The larger mouthpiece made all the difference.

Before long, I "graduated" to a smelly BBb Sousaphone, began studying privately with C.V. "Pappy" Sears and began playing in the Eagles Club Band, sitting between Jack Elton and John Kopecky (who was a virtuoso tuba, trumpet, violin and string bass player formerly with Stan Kenton).  What a wonderful and exciting learning experience that was!  Not long after that, I also began studying string bass with "Johnny."  By my high school junior year (1948-49), I was playing string bass in the Sioux City Symphony and sousaphone for summer concerts in Sioux City’s Grandview Park Band Shell with the Municipal Band (formerly known as the Monahan Post Band). During the rest of the year I also performed with the Eagles' Club Band, the South Sioux City, Nebraska Band (directed by Jack Elton) and the Farmers' Co-op Band—in addition, of course, with the East High School Band led by Dale Caris and in Orchestra led by Frank Van Der Maten.  While in high school I started my own dance band, the "Music Makers.” The group was in existence with various configurations (combo to big band) for about five years and played for school functions and in area clubs and ballrooms. We were also part of a March of Dimes Teen-Variety Show (The Forty-Niners) put together by Don Kelsey that performed in theaters in Sioux City and the surrounding area. In addition to backing up vocalists, dancers, comedians, etc., the band performed solo spots playing bebop tunes that always seemed to completely baffle the audience. My Music Makers Library was recently donated to Paul Butcher (the son of my trumpet player Allen K. Butcher), and will be used at Florida Southern College where he is Director of Jazz Studies. Click here for my memories of Allen that were posted on his remembrance page after his passing. While continuing to perform with my own band, I also began working with other local and territory groups (everything from jazz to polka bands to country and western). In one multi-week engagement in a Sioux City club, I was “Zeke” with Rod Morris and his Missourians. That stint included weekly broadcasts over KSCJ in Sioux City. Also, I was hired for a pick-up jazz group to provide background music for a nationally-televised crime show. And the territory bands took me on one-nighters all over a tri-state area. During this time I had NO idea how valuable these experiences would be later in my career.

In 1950 I enrolled in the Conservatory of Music at Morningside College as a Music Education major (in case a performance career didn’t work out). An aside—It was also in 1950 that I first heard jazz pianist George Shearing. His recording of "September in the Rain" was on the juke box in a local cafe. I fell in love with the sound and played it constantly, NEVER dreaming that nine years later I would be performing, touring and recording with him. While at Morningside, I began playing ice shows, circuses and trade shows at the Sioux City Auditorium plus a few vaudeville revival shows at the Orpheum Theater. Some of the shows and musicians I performed with were Holiday on Ice, Ice Capades, Ice Follies, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Clyde Beatty and Shrine Circuses, the Mills Brothers, the Ames Brothers and Clyde McCoy. In the 50s I also played string bass with pianist Dick Benton, with the Bob Hatch and Gus Hahn bands, performed often with Manny Ziegler at the Turin Inn and was a regular at the Chesterfield Club jam sessions. During this period of my life, I was completely unaware of the rich history of jazz (and corruption) in old Sioux City. It was many years after leaving Sioux City that I learned from Jon (Brad) Hittle that Sioux City was once known as “Little Chicago.” Please take a few moments to read Brad’s fascinating “Little Chicago Story” (Temporarily unavailable) on The Little Chicago Syncopators web site. NOTE: Until Hittle’s link becomes available again, see The Sioux City Weekender’s version of the Little Chicago moniker. I was very pleased to be eventually listed in the Little Chicago Hall of Fame, a list that honors several dozen Sioux Cityans who have gone on to perform and record with nationally-known bands and musicians.

I was drafted in 1953 and ended up in the 21st Army Band stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington where I picked up a young girl on the base who would soon become my wife.  Actually (I hasten to explain), Kay was there to play organ for a church service. In 1955 we both enrolled at Morningside College, and I purchased a brand new (odorless) tuba.  I also began string bass lessons with Leo Kucinski. Kay had three years to complete as an English major.  In my senior year I taught vocal and instrumental music two days a week at Homer, Nebraska. After graduating in 1956 I taught the entire music programs at both Homer and Winnebago for two years. A big surprise in 1957 was being named Principal String Bass in the Third Annual All-American Bandmasters’ Band in Chicago conducted by Glen Cliffe Bainum and John P. Paynter.

In 1957, members of the New York Philharmonic attended an American Orchestra League Workshop in Sioux City, and I participated in a tuba clinic with Bill Bell (Principal Tuba) who said he would accept me as a student if I ever moved to New York. So when Kay graduated in 1958, we shipped all of our belongings to New York City in 21 cardboard boxes and climbed aboard a Greyhound bus and headed east—stopping briefly in Pittsburgh to visit with Tony Bianco (Principal Bass, Pittsburgh Symphony) with whom I had worked that summer (along with a contingent from the Sioux City Symphony) at a workshop in Sewanee, TN sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra League (now the League of American Orchestras).

New York (After)

I began studying tuba with Bill Bell (New York Philharmonic) and enrolled at Teachers College, Columbia University in a Master of Arts program (“just in case the performance thing didn’t work out”).  It soon became apparent that NYC tuba players were a friendly, close-knit lot who enjoyed socializing—most often with Bill Bell holding court. Befriended by Jay McAllister (who performed with the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, Sauter-Finnegan, Thelonious Monk, etc.), Walter Sear, Robert Pownall (with Harry Belafonte, Guy Lombardo, Ernie Rudy and Flower Drum Song on Broadway) and Robert Eliason (Kansas City Philharmonic), my performance opportunities quickly grew as they began to steer work to me. At first, more often than not, it was as a substitute—usually with only one rehearsal and concert but occasionally performing a concert with no rehearsal. It was then that the realization began to sink in of the importance and influence of my Sioux City teachers and of my extensive performance experience there.

As I was growing up in Sioux City I can’t say it was ever a goal of mine, nor even a dream; there were just occasional thoughts about how incredible it would be to play tuba someday in Carnegie Hall with an orchestra like the NBC Symphony of the Air and a conductor like Arturo Toscanini.  It was a sad day for the world when Toscanini died in 1957, a year before I arrived in New York. But, it was a very heady day for me in 1959 when I was hired to perform at Carnegie Hall with the American Opera Society Orchestra (an augmented Symphony of the Air Orchestra as it turned out!) to be conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham in a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens featuring Regina Resnik and Eleanor Steber. The first rehearsal was certainly a memorable one for me. However, Beecham subsequently missed a number of rehearsals. Robert Lawrence then continued in his stead with rehearsals and the recorded performance, but this kid from Sioux City did get to record and perform in Carnegie Hall, in Town Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, many of the major concert halls around the country and New York’s famed Roseland Ballroom.

And then, thanks to a Jay McAllister recommendation, came a multi-week engagement at Basin Street East with George Shearing (his quintet plus eleven brass) featuring soloists Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nat Adderley. (Benny Goodman was in the opening night audience.) And after that there was a 1959 six-week Newport Jazz Festival Tour with Shearing and the Adderley brothers. For a new-comer from Sioux City to be on a bus socializing with Thelonious Monk (Well, okay, one doesn’t really “socialize” with Monk, but we did always nod a “Good Morning” when he sat down in the seat in front of me on the bus.), Anita O’Day, Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, the Adderleys (and many others) and to occasionally room with jazz horn player Julius Watkins was pretty amazing to me. [See Doctoral Dissertation on Julius Watkins] Following the tour, the entire Shearing group (also see George Shearing Biography) played two-weeks at the Red Hill Inn in New Jersey. Also in 1959 I recorded a Capitol Records album with Shearing entitled Satin Brass. ["Preview" soundtracks may be heard from a 1997 CD re-release of Satin Brass and Burnished Brass—another earlier album that was part of our repertoire]. At this point it's necessary to say something about my first name Zean, a name that has given me problems all of my life. It's a Scottish name similar to Sean, but outsiders never knew if it was a male or female name, very few could spell it correctly, and no one could get it right in print. Zene, Jean, Gene, Sean, and Leon were common misspellings. When my name appeared in Downbeat Magazine as Zine Zurcher, a decision was made to start using my middle name William (or Bill). But it was already too late. Both my first and last names were subsequently mangled as Zuke Zatcher (ARRGGGHHHH!) in the liner notes of two later Shearing albums The Best of George Shearing (Track 15 “A Ship Without a Sail” is the tune included from the Satin Brass album. Click "Details" for the personnel listing with the Zuke Zatcher attribution) and The Very Best of George Shearing. To hear the complete track of “A Ship Without a Sail,” click http://www.tuxjunction.net/jb43.htm, scroll down to #58 and click the play button. You might first want to boost your bass level a bit because the engineer had the mistaken notion that the trumpets were more important than the low brass. ;>) The tune may be downloaded as an MP3 file from Amazon.com. The file is compatible with MP3 Players (including iPod®), iTunes and Windows Media Player. It was with great sadness that we recently learned of the passing of Sir George Shearing on February 14, 2011 at age 91. The memorial service we attended at Saint Thomas Church in New York City was a wonderful tribute to an incredible musician and person. Click here to view an online Guestbook.

Another highlight for me in 1960 was a spectacular performance of the 1812 Overture with the Russian State Symphony conducted by Konstantin Ivanov in Madison Square Garden for an audience of 16,000. And, going from the sublime to the ridiculous, a six-week stint at Madison Square Garden playing a World Championship Rodeo featuring Rin-Tin-Tin provided me with the opportunity to play the fastest "Thunder and Blazes" ever performed. See page 53 of the October 5, 1959 Billboard for the review entitled “Gotham Rodeo Formula Okay for Talent.”

During our two years in the Big Apple, I was also playing bass on club dates with vibes legend-to-be Tommy Vig. With the Ernie Rudy (Rudisill) Band there were county and state fairs, ballroom dances and club dates plus dance jobs and shows at the Palisades Amusement Park. It was great to play at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel with the Lester Lanin Orchestra. I also enjoyed my time with the Sal Salvador Rehearsal Band (where arrangers like Gil Evans brought in their latest arrangements to critique), the Brooklyn Academy of Music Operas and Xavier Symphony Society with Vincent La Selva, the Little Orchestra Society under Thomas K. Scherman, a Manhattan School of Music Orchestra concert of American music hosted by Leopold Stokowski and conducted by Emerson Buckley, the Mannes College of Music brass ensembles with Simon Karasick, the Riverside Church Symphony Orchestra under Norval Church, the Springfield (Massachusetts) Symphony Orchestra and the Norwalk (Connecticut) Symphony. Other conductors with whom I performed in the 50s include David Blum, Frederick Fennell, Richard Franko Goldman, Karl King, Paul Lavalle, and Quinto Maganini.

After the birth of our first child Bob, I decided I needed to be a father rather than an itinerant musician and turned down a 1960 Tommy Vig gig in Las Vegas to become a high school band and orchestra director in Middletown, NY.  While there, I played tuba and/or string bass for three years in the Hudson Valley Philharmonic under Claude Monteux and then continued for another two years after moving to Long Island. Summers in Middletown were spent on string bass with the Roland Wiggins Quintet in the Catskills.  We loved the Middletown community and the surrounding scenery. Our daughter Linda was born there in 1961, and we would have liked to have stayed, but Middletown was constantly on an austerity budget. So in 1963 we moved to Baldwin, Long Island where music education was a high priority. I took a position as a junior high band director with terrific kids, parents, and administrators AND was back performing in the NYC area again. Twelve weeks a year doubling tuba and string bass with the Don Glasser Band at Roseland Ballroom included playing for dances six nights a week (plus two matinees) in addition to floor shows and CBS national and international radio broadcasts. Joseph Enroughty, President of the Guy Lombardo Society, has written that “Glasser broke the attendance record at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom when over 3000 people showed up one night to listen and dance to his orchestra. He was also the last big band to broadcast over the CBS Radio Network in 1971.” “Spanky” Davis was the lead trumpet player during this period. Some of my summers were spent with Glasser at the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, VA. I also performed with the Long Island Symphony (now the Long Island Philharmonic) conducted by Seymour Lipkin, and with various Long Island and NYC concert bands.

One of my joys at the junior high school was our award-winning jazz ensemble.  In addition to countless performances spanning the 20 years I was there, the Baldwin Harbor Junior High School Jazz Ensemble recorded five albums, won several trophies, appeared on television, presented a number of clinics at Columbia University and did numerous clinics with jazz artists such as Marian McPartland, Ray Copeland, Clark Terry and Billy Mitchell. Clem DeRosa, co-founder and former president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, wrote that the jazz ensemble “plays with a lot of fire” and that “the soloists play with a lot of confidence - a good musical sound." Internationally-known jazz trombonist Bill Watrous praised the band for its “mature sound and fine musicianship.” On June 12, 2009, a Jazz Ensemble reunion/performance was held in conjunction with Baldwin's annual Jazz Night Concert at the High School. For the program, list of participants, photos, audio and video files, click the Reunion button or click wzurcher.com/ReunionFiles.

By 1973, I had earned my doctorate (EdD) at Columbia and, under the tutelage of Professor R. Douglas Greer and Professor Clifford K. Madsen, began doing a good deal of research in music education. Then came invitations to present that research at state and national music conferences, some publications, and many citations in research literature—including a reference in Achieving Educational Excellence by Sulzer-Azaroff and Mayer and two pages (109-110) in An Operant Approach to Motivation and Affect: Ten Years of Research in Music Learning by R. Douglas Greer in the Documentary Report of the Ann Arbor Symposium: National Symposium on the Applications of Psychology to the Teaching and Learning of Music sponsored by Music Educators National Conference, National Committee on Instruction, Music Education Research Council, The University of Michigan School of Music, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the Theodore Presser Foundation, © 1981, Music Educators National Conference, Reston, Virginia.

After 20 years at the junior high school, I elected to move to Plaza School as an elementary instrumental music teacher and then retired after another 13 rewarding years—making a total of 40.  For 14 years I was Vice President of the Baldwin Teachers Association. My wife Kay and I live on the south shore of Long Island in Freeport, NY.

Honorary and Professional Organizations and Recognition

Teachers who taught me almost everything I know:

  • Edith Pollack, East High School English
  • C.V. "Pappy" Sears, Sioux City Tuba teacher
  • John Kopecky, Sioux City String Bass teacher
  • Leo Kucinski, Sioux City Symphony Conductor and String Teacher
  • Dr. Donald Morrison, Sioux City music theory and composition professor (See page 2 paragraph 2 in link.)
  • William Bell (New York Philharmonic), New York Tuba teacher
  • Dr. R. Douglas Greer, Columbia University education and research professor and my doctoral dissertation advisor
  • Dr. Clifford K. Madsen, Florida State University education and research professor. [Scroll to Lifetime Achievement Award]
  • Dr. Craig Timberlake, Columbia University music history professor and member of my dissertation committee
  • Dr. Bert Konowitz, Columbia University improvisation instructor
  • Dr. Charles Walton, Columbia University music theory professor and member of my dissertation committee
  • Dr. Howard A. Murphy, Columbia University music theory professor
  • Dr. Norval L. Church, Columbia University music education professor
  • Dr. Ernest E. Harris, Columbia University music education professor

Musicians who have helped me along the way:

Anthony (Tony) Bianco, Allen K. Butcher, Al Blemaster, Robert Eliason, Clark Gassman, Don Kelsey, Jay McAllister, Rex Peer, Harvey Phillips, Robert Pownall, Ward Swingle and Roland Wiggins.
Sioux City Teachers and Role Models (Photo with Karl King: Bob Lowry, John Kopecky, Karl King, Karl Rogosch and Rex Peer)

Conductors

Glen Cliffe Bainum, Sir Thomas Beecham, David Blum, Emerson Buckley, Dale Caris, Norval Church, James Cimarron, Frederick Fennell, Richard Franko Goldman, Konstantin Ivanov, Simon Karasick, Karl King, Leo Kucinski, Vincent LaSelva, Paul Lavalle, Robert Lawrence, Seymour Lipkin, Robert Lowry, Quinto Maganini, Claude Monteux, John Paynter, Thomas Scherman and Frank Van der Maten.

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