Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Barbria Honors Jazz Trumpeter and All City Band Director Dr. Willie A. Naylor.

My heart is very heavy right now. This hasn’t been a good couple of weeks for me. Yet another one of my musical mentors has passed away. I find myself in a very nostalgic mood and yet very grateful to have crossed paths with Dr. Willie Naylor.

Dr. Naylor was the band director for CVS high school and an excellent trumpeter who once worked with the Jackson 5. However, it was Dr. Curtis Prince that introduced us.

As the story goes. When I was in grade school my sisters would take me out of school to perform with them at their high school talent shows (Carver). By the time I was in high school I became a member of the All City Vocal Ensemble and Choral and was reunited with Dr. Prince who was the co-director of the All City Jazz Ensemble along with Dr. Willie Naylor.

Dr. Willie Naylor and Dr. Curtis Prince
Dr. Prince invited me to come up and sing with the band and meet Dr. Naylor. At the time I thought it was weird because the jazz band was all instruments they never had a singer before. However, I agreed and after my vocal rehearsal I went over to meet them.  Venoris Cates was not having any interruptions to her vocal rehearsals.

I sang Misty and Dr. Naylor looked at me as if he was looking through me to see a new direction and new potential. And that was the beginning, I was in. I became the youngest Jazz singer in the City of Chicago to sing with a 30+ piece orchestra at Orchestra Hall 3 years in a row.

Dr. Naylor had his discovery and wrote special vocal arrangements with me in mind. I continue to recall and re-quote what he told me to get me over my shyness.

Dr. Naylor had put together a smaller band and we would perform around Chicago. The first performance was at Marshall Fields during the Christmas Holiday. The band played a few songs then Dr. Naylor looked back at me and said “you’re up.” Shaking and sweating I looked at him as if he was crazy. Looking at the people walking back and forth shopping with crazed looks on their faces, I was terrified. I said to Dr. Naylor, “these people don’t want to hear me, they’re shopping.” Dr. Naylor pulled me to the side and told me words that I will never forget. He said, “You do what you do and they will stop. Just do your job.” I said a slow “okaay.”

His words seemed simple enough. Yet I was still terrified. I had sang my whole life with a choir or a group, this was my first time out front. I still thought he was crazy, but I began singing my song. Before I could get out the first verse, people had stopped in the isles of Marshall Fields and had stopped shopping to listen to what I was doing. I looked back at Dr. Naylor, as if to say, well, I be damned. He looked back at me, as if to say, I told you so.

In that moment I found my power. A new power in a God given talent. I always knew I was blessed with a voice, yet Dr. Naylor’s simple words helped me find the power in that voice.

I think of those words every single time I sing, rather I sing in a night club, concert venue, party or where ever. I even thought of those words on Mother’s day at a performance before I learned of Dr. Naylor’s passing. Furthermore I think of those words when other singers demand quiet or will shush their audience. I think, how unprofessional and then I think how sad they didn’t have a Dr. Naylor in their life to simply tell them to do their job.

Dr. Naylor helped me find my voice and the power that lies within that voice and I am forever grateful.

Following is a small snippet of our Orchestra Hall Performance taken from my documentary, Life and the Love of Music. Nervous that I didn’t have a chance to attend full rehearsals for the performance, due to strep throat, Dr. Naylor had bitten his nails down to a bloody nub. I kept trying to reassure him that it would be okay, however, I was nervous too. Backstage I had a scarf around my neck, and was sipping tea with honey and had taken antibiotics to try to get through this performance. Didn’t count on forgetting the words, which I mixed them up a bit. Yet the show must go on and it did.

When we hugged at the end of the performance, it was truly a sigh of relief for the both of us.

Rest in Heavenly Peace, Dr. Naylor, I will carry you with me forever. I truly Thank you for everything.