Blowing his own horn, modestly The trumpet is Bernie Goodman's lifelong passion. At age 70, it's taking him back to school once more.


Bernie Goodman just keeps coming back. It's the theme of his life. Clearly he has a fine appreciation for the rewards of persistence.

Bernie plays the trumpet. It is the fixed idea of his life. In advertisements for himself that he prints up and sends out, he adds that he's also a loving husband and father. And though he is surely both of these, the focus of his existence has been and remains that bright and gleaming horn, his Vincent Bach trumpet.

So wedded is he to his instrument that one day nearly 30 years ago, he sold his uniform rental business and gave himself over to it entirely. He matriculated at Peabody Conservatory and finished the musical education he had begun more than two decades earlier. It had been interrupted when, after 1 1/2 years at Peabody, his parents ran out of money.

"I had to go to work at 18," Bernie glumly recalls.

So he returned, and in 1973, he performed his recital - a Haydn trumpet concerto, some pieces by Guy Ropartz, and a few big-band selections - and got his degree.

And that, one would have thought, should have been that.

It wasn't. Bernie went back to Peabody again in 1989. But this time his academic career was interrupted by a quadruple heart bypass.

So now, at age 70, Bernie is poised to enroll again at Peabody, in January. Why?

"I have one love other than my kids and family," he says, referring to his wife of 48 years, Goldye, his son Ricky and daughter Randi, and the five grandchildren they have given him. "It's my horn. It's tremendous fulfillment. It's the love of my life."

To which he adds, for reasons indecipherable, "I don't play golf."

You can tell right off Bernie Goodman wouldn't play golf. He's too energetic. He percolates with a no-time-to-lose wakefulness that most people never have, even in their young achieving years.

He is a determined trumpet player who wants to learn more and more, even as he realizes that the future holds only diminishing returns for him. The prospects of a "strain on my lip, the inability to focus the mind, or to be able to coordinate the brain with the fingering," always loom.

It happens to us all, but not everybody demands so much of himself as Bernie seems to. Life can be difficult for a 70-year-old musician, doubly so if his chosen instrument is one of the hardest in the orchestra to play. Of course it helps to have an ameliorating teacher like Wayne Cameron.

Cameron, a relaxed, bearded man, has spent many hours working with Bernie. "We sit and play, reminisce, talk shop," Cameron says, describing their sessions. "Bernie imparts wisdom to me, and I help him with his trumpet techniques."

Currently these include work on his breathing and lip techniques (his embouchure), the way to hold the lip when you play, "the double tonguing and triple tonguing."

All this is designed to strengthen the muscle control in the lip, the most vital piece of the trumpeter's anatomy, and one which, when it fails, just about ends the whole endeavor. It happened to Louis Armstrong and it happened to Harry James, and neither was ever the same afterward.

During his sessions with Cameron, Bernie plays classical pieces, but such serious music doesn't do much for him. "He does it as calisthenics," says coach Cameron.

Bernie Goodman has an oddly restricted taste for a person so in love with music. He doesn't care for classical; he doesn't like the blues. Jazz to him seems to begin and end with Tommy Dorsey or Count Basie.

No, Bernie likes the big-band sound, almost exclusively: "I like to listen to it; I like to play it best." His favorites are the Dorsey brothers, Tommy and Jimmy, Harry James, Basie and Ellington, and Glenn Miller.

Cameron tells a story about how he came to know of Bernie Goodman, which happened before he actually met him. Cameron arrived at Peabody in 1972 to take a master's degree in the trumpet and to teach, leaving the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra behind. No sooner had he established himself in Baltimore when Bernie knocked on his door. Cameron was certain he had seen this man before.

He had. One night after his orchestra had finished a concert, Cameron returned to his hotel room and flicked on the "Tonight Show." There was Johnny Carson interviewing a guy who looked like this man standing before him. It had, in fact, been Bernie Goodman, living his five minutes of fame.

This had been Bernie Goodman's shining moment, the committed amateur come into his glory. How did it come about?

After Bernie decided to sell his uniform rental business and devote himself to his horn, he thought that Doc Severinsen, the leader of the "Tonight Show" band and a trumpet player himself, might be interested in hearing about his decision.

So Bernie wrote Severinsen and told him of his intention to make this monkish decision. (Actually, Bernie wasn't putting himself into penury; he got an offer for his business that left him quite comfortable.) Even so, Severinsen was impressed. He invited Bernie up to New York. Bernie went like a shot. He was invited to play that night with the band, and even got interviewed by Carson on national television.

But it didn't end there. Being a charming guy, Bernie charmed the famous band leader. They became friends and Severinsen once even brought his entire band down to Baltimore to entertain in Pikesville at Bernie's son's bar mitzvah. Each time Severinsen plays Baltimore, Bernie looks in on him.

It's what he did last month when Severinsen was at the Meyerhoff. Bernie went down to see him, and took five trumpet students from his perpetual alma mater backstage to see the great man.

It must be emphasized that Bernie Goodman is an amateur, that he never was and never will be a trumpet player of Severinsen's caliber. Nor has he ever made any real money off his instrument. But he has performed in public, and once even had his own 16-piece band, the Melodiers, an aggregation that delighted Baltimore from 1948 to about 1955.

"We played everywhere: sororities, fraternities, corporation dances, like the McCormick Company," he recalled. "We only made maybe 8 or 10 dollars a night. We were nonunion."

He has photographs of his band taken during gigs at the Alcazar and in the Southern Hotel. They are a stiff-looking group of earnest, strictly-weekend musicians, with perhaps an over-fondness for hair tonic.

By 1955 Bernie had left the glamour of the Melodiers for the world of industrial uniforms and wiping cloths. But the artist in the man would not lie still: thus his decision 14 years later to reclaim his destiny by devoting himself wholly to the trumpet.

This is not to say that Bernie has no other interests, that he's one-dimensional or anything like that. He has something of an obsession with jigsaw puzzles, always has. To this date, by his own count, he has completed "300 or better." They are stacked all over his Pikesville home.

He collects comic books, about 11,000 of them, and is proud that he's never read a single one. He sees it as an investment.

Bernie's quest for musical perfection is never-ending, mainly because it is never-arriving. He practices two hours a day, and when he begins his classes next month he hopes to ratchet that up to four hours. What's it for? When comes the reward for all this effort?

Payday will probably come every other Tuesday evening, from 8 to 10, at an Episcopal church in Hamilton. That's when Emil Rusinko's rehearsal band usually comes together and jams, about 16 to 20 musicians between the ages of 40 and 80. Bernie intends to sit in with this ensemble.

It is called a rehearsal band because, except for a very infrequent paid gig, that's all it does. It rehearses.

"It's done for the players," says Bernie.

There's something pure in that.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad