Sullivan Jazz Band pictured at The Dayton Beach Music Festival in 1980
Sullivan Central High School Jazz Band

Earlier this afternoon, John Thompson came by my office so that we could work on his father’s obituary. Wayne Thompson passed away Saturday morning at the age of 78. On the way, he called and said he had a gift for me.

I wasn’t sure what he was referring to and couldn’t imagine what it might be considering the nature of our meeting. John has been left alone to arrange the services for his father’s funeral and was rightfully bruised by the loss.

When he arrived, the tall brother of my friend Steve Thompson (John’s brother who played a long role in my life) entered the office and passed along an 8×10 frame with a yellowed photograph taken my senior year at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, TN. The photograph had been hanging on the wall at his parents house and he asked, “Recognize anyone in this picture?”

The year was 1980. Our band director Bill Canny had signed his students in the Central Jazz Band to perform at the Daytona Beach Music festival. Bill was an inspiration to us all during those years and had a true love for jazz. He was an accomplished saxophone player and kindled a musical ember in my own soul that has yet to flicker.

As hard as it is to remember the details of the trip itself, the faces in this aged photograph are easy to recall. I find myself connected to several of these extraordinary players on Facebook and wondering where others have found themselves along the way.

As I look back, I’m reminded how ambitious it seemed at the time for a bunch of high school students to compete at this level, but I can easily say we had some of the most accomplished musicians that anyone could surround themselves with during this brief time in our lives. I recall we had a great time over the weekend, got in a lot of trouble (under the radar of our chaperones of course) and played a tight, professional set that included jazz standards from Basie to Buddy Rich.

This photograph is real treasure for a life of filled with rich musical experiences and will find a treasured place on my own wall. I hope that through the years some of my friends might help me add some details to this story, because my own are a little foggy after all those years.

My heart goes out to John as he faces the next several days and I am so thankful for your humble and generous gift that you shared with me today. I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Pictured on the far left: Band Director Bill Canny

Back row, left to right: Gary Haney (trumpet), David Blair (trumpet), Steve Bradley (trombone), David Martin (trombone), Brian Horne (trombone) and Ray Dobbs (trombone).

Second row, left to right: Steve Thompson (drums), Jim Thweatt (bass), Steve Cooper (trumpet), Pam Lewis (trumpet), Betty Tittle (trumpet) and Perry Tapp (trumpet).

Front row, left to right: Greg Taylor (drums), David Cate (piano), David Negrotto (baritone sax), Tommy Massingill (tenor sax), Gretchen Lauderback (alto sax), Joey Francis (alto sax) and Hunter Bradley (tenor sax).