SARATOGA SPRINGS – A 95-year-old trumpet player who is still playing trumpet has got to be a rarity.
But don’t tell that to Doc Severinsen.
On Saturday, he and the San Miguel 5 will present a concert at the Universal Preservation Hall in what is being billed as “The Final Roundup — Doc Severinsen Last Show.”
As it turns out, it may just be that and it’s already sold out.
“It’s the last tour, last show. This is it,” said Kevin S. Bright, the show’s producer.
Most people know Severinsen from his 30 years as the band leader for the “Tonight Show” orchestra with host Johnny Carson. During those evenings, Severinsen was known for his wild outfits and frequent badinage with Carson. But their last show was in May 1992.
“Doc made a lot of in-person appearances, guest conducted with orchestras after that,” Bright said. “He has a classical background and could play anything from Gershwin to Mozart.”
And that’s partly how Bright himself got involved. Bright is one of the original producers for the television sitcom “Friends.”
“For thirty years I watched him on TV with my dad. He and Carson were part of our daily lives,” he said. “Then, a few years ago, I met his daughter at a party and told her I hadn’t heard anything about him. She said he was still playing. He was 90 then. That’s when I became interested.”
One thing led to another and together they created a documentary : “Never Too Late: the Doc Severinsen Story.” Released in April, it’s available on Peacock streaming and on Vermont Public Television to password members.
One of the things Severinsen did after he left the “Tonight Show” was to move for awhile to Mexico. While there, he drifted into a club one night where a small combo was playing called the San Miguel 5. Bright said Severinsen asked the guitarist, Gil Gutierrez, if he could sit in.
“Gutierrez didn’t know who he was but he quickly found out once he started to play,” Bright said laughing.
The group, which also included violinist Charlie Bisharat, percussionist Jimmy Branly and bassist Kevin Thomas, hit it off so well they began touring regularly together.
“They’ve become inseparable,” Bright said.
Over the last decade they’ve played club dates, festivals, but not Las Vegas. That Severinsen can still play amazes Bright.
“To have the core to blow let alone the lip and that he can still connect with an audience is incredible,” he said.
Bright has also learned a lot from working with the trumpeter over the last few years.
“The wisdom of the guy who’s been all through the ups and downs and to get great advice on how to proceed,” he said. “The mature DS is incredible. The young DS was a wild guy with all the wild clothing, but now he enjoys the quiet.”
Bright said he was also impressed with Severinsen’s health and work ethic.
“He’s an avid gym rat and works out three times a week. His workout would put me under the table. And he practices trumpet four hours daily. If he doesn’t do that he says he thinks he’s in trouble,” Bright said.
The pandemic kept him a prisoner and to protect “our national treasure” Bright and others “kept him in hibernation and getting ready for this show.”
But after the Saratoga Springs show, Severinsen might step back a bit and play a gig here and there but it’s too much to do a show.
“He is, after all, 95,” Bright said.
Most of the year now, Severinsen lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.