John Wheatley

My dad had a band in the 1920ís. During the depression the band broke up and dad quit playing.   Fortunately for me he stored a couple of his old saxophones in our attic. What a treasure for a young boy with a vivid imagination to find, saxophones your dad played! The year was 1955 I was in the 4th grade and eager to play.  I pestered my parents, as only a 10 year old on a mission can, to have the old Martin Alto Saxophone reconditioned so I could learn to play. They could not stand the pressure and one day my dad gave me his old sax. It was newly padded, adjusted and ready to go.  So was I.

I went to Mt. Washington Elementary School in Cincinnati and learned to play in the school band.  One of dadís old friends was a saxophone player and owned the local music store. Joe Tonge taught me how to pick out a good reed (like good people, they have a good heart) and he kept my horn in good playable condition. I developed a passion for music at a fairly early age.

Through high school, I played in the school band and hooked up with the Dave Chapman Band playing combo charts of big band swing music. In the summer between my junior and senior year, I decided I wanted to really study music in college; but being basically self taught I had doubts about the audition. That summer I took my first private lessons from a local studio musician and much to my (and my parents) surprise, I was accepted by the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.

At the University, I met John DeFore (a trumpet player, composer, and arranger) who played with Maynard Fergusonís Big Band after Maynard split with Stan Kenton. John, as a graduate student, directed the stage band program and basically developed the early program at the University. It was through John I began to learn chord progressions and arranging. I changed my major from saxophone performance to composition at the University.  By that time, my passions turned to jazz. We would spend Sunday afternoons at Johnís house listening to records of the big bands and small groups of the time. I developed an interest in tenor saxophone and idolized Stan Getz. I played with local jazz and rhythm & blues groups, including Michael and the Jesters, in the Tri-State area. My fondest memory was playing a jam session with a bunch of the musicians from Count Basieís band. I almost exclusively played tenor sax from 1964 until I quit playing music in 1969.

Yep, I quit playing in 1969 to pursue a career in the insurance and surety industry. I managed surety and insurance operations for various national insurance companies and insurance brokerage firms. My career took me all around the country including; Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Houston and finally in 1983 to Alaska (both Fairbanks and Anchorage). While I enjoyed my career, the music fire continued to burn.

The music fire smoldered for about 30 years until it rekindled in 2000. I found that my skills returned fairly quickly and have had the opportunity to play with excellent musicians around the city. I have played at Cyranoís, Sullivans, Tony Romas and various festivals including Augustfest 2003.


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