Music teacher’s ‘kids’ coming from near and far for tribute, fundraiser

Dave Bournazian is striking up the band one more time.
Dave Bournazian sits next to music stands inside the living room of his Albany home. (Photo by Jeff Wilkin)
Dave Bournazian sits next to music stands inside the living room of his Albany home. (Photo by Jeff Wilkin)

Dave Bournazian described his upcoming play list with an almost evil delight.

Buddy Rich’s “Groovin’ Hard” is in the mix. So is Neal Hefti’s “Splanky” and Count Basie’s “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.”

“That’s the Quincy Jones arrangement,” Bournazian said of the latter piece. “We’re not fooling around, man.”

Bournazian is striking up the band one more time. The 85-year-old Albany resident, who spent 40 years as a music teacher and band director at Mohonasen High School in Rotterdam and 52 years total as a music instructor, will conduct 19 of his former “kids” next Saturday at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady.

The “kids” left Mohonasen decades ago. Some are now in their 30s, others are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. They’re all packing trumpets and trombones and traveling from places such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Kansas City and Minneapolis, to jam with their favorite maestro.

“Mr. B’s Tribute Concert and Fundraiser” will benefit the Bournazian scholarship at Mohonasen and the Schenectady Band Booster Organization. General admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids and students under 17. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Delayed a year

Bournazian, who built a reputation as a cool teacher with teenagers during his years at Mohonasen, said the tribute originally was planned for last year.

“I ended up in the hospital, man, it was surgery upside-down and sideways,” he said, talking in the living room of his Albany home. “I look up and say, ‘Thank you, good Lord, another day.’ That’s really where I’m at now.”

Bournazian, who was known for his goatee, said the concert is happening at the right time. He said March is “Music in Our Schools Month” and April is “Jazz Appreciation Month.” He’ll try to teach his former players a few new things next weekend.

“We’ll rehearse Friday night,” Bournazian said. “I shouldn’t even call it a rehearsal. It’s getting together and meeting the guys. We’re going to rehearse Saturday from 11 o’clock until 3, then we’ll have some kind of lunch.”

Three Bournazian troupers — saxophone player Paul Simmons, tuba player Dave Margison and trumpeter Joel Servant — are now running their own high school bands. Simmons works in Williamsville (near Buffalo), Margison conducts at Queensbury High School and Servant leads the music outfit at Schenectady High School.

The guys won’t be coming in completely cold. They’ve received music for some of Bournazian’s selections.

“They email me every day, ‘Do you have more music? Send it, send it all,’ ” said Nadine Bournazian, Dave’s daughter. “They say, ‘Even if we have to read it on the planes coming in.’”

Long distance

Andy Zahurak will be on one of those planes with his saxophone.

“I don’t think there’s any way I wouldn’t be a part of it,” said Zahurak, 33, who graduated from Mohonasen in 1998 and works in San Diego as an environmental consultant. Zahurak has stayed in touch with Bournazian since he left his hometown.

“I think that if you speak with former students, those still playing music, and even those that do not, they will indicate that Mr. Bournazian has undoubtedly had a positive influence in their life,” Zahurak said. “That may be in the form of a formal education, career advice or personal life direction — certainly something that began in high school, and likely something that has been with them later in life as well.”

Craig Lawless, 55, from Mohonasen’s class of 1976, will fly in, with trumpet, from Minneapolis, where he works as an accountant.

“We’re pretty loyal to the guy,” Lawless said. “He was a great mentor as well as a teacher, . . . a pretty sage guy with real-life experience. He really gave a damn about basically everybody who was on his watch. He gave you room to screw up and he was there to catch you when you fell.”

Lawless, like others in the Bournazian bunch, has kept a hand in the brass world. He’s with the Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, which has released nine CDs.

Gary Hess, 60, will be on drums. He left Mohonasen with the class of 1971.

Hess, who lives in Granada Hills, Calif., teaches music at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He’s looking forward to the first “B” notes.

“It’s going to be great, it’s going to be a laugh a minute,” Hess said. “I can hardly wait. It’s going to be like jumping into a time machine, I think.”

Mentor to many

Hess remembers what Bournazian was like as a 40-something teacher during the early 1970s.

“He was just so much cooler and so much more understanding of teens than other teachers were,” Hess said. “He took a lot of students under his wing. He was a mentor to a lot of people, including me.”

Trumpeter Gary Lausier leads his own 17-piece jazz outfit, “FMO” — “For Musicians Only” — in the Kansas City area. At 74, Lausier may be the oldest “kid” player. He was with Bournazian during the mid-1950s, when “B” was teaching in Pittsfield, Mass.

“Dave got me interested in jazz,” Lausier said. “That’s been my love in music for a lifetime.”

Bournazian, who played saxophone with the Neal Hefti big band in his younger days, misses the music of another era. “Big bands were a big deal then,” he said. “People danced and they had ballrooms and everything,” he said. “That doesn’t exist anymore. That’s when the big bands folded, after that guy came with the guitar, man.”

“Elvis,” added Nadine.

And while Bournazian is polishing his stern disciplinarian routine, he’s also touched so many old friends who are happy to sit in for one more concert. “It’s keeping me alive, man,” he said.

The teacher has been in touch with the guys more than usual lately.

“I don’t have time to do anything else,” he said. “The phone rings and you’ve got to yak with them for 15, 20 minutes, an hour.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment

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