I first heard John in 1969 when he came to play a Gary Olds piece for jazz quartet and orchestra when I was at Lowell High. We trumpet players had NEVER heard anything like that. His sound was more than loud, it was huge, rich, vibrant and filled our 1000 seat auditorium. We were all blown away.

I later studied with John while in college. Lessons often included a glass of red wine. He had all these cats (the feline kind) with cool names like Ace, Max, Burt, Rhoda, and he had a dog named Good Dog, who would sit in the room with us while we played and he'd sing along with us.

John spent a lot of time teaching and mentoring young players. He was always concerned about helping young players make better music. Classical teachers were always concerned about technique and playing every note just so. Many times I saw John take a phrase and help a young player simplify the lick in such a way that made it easier to play and thus swing so much better. The love of swing was at the very heart of who he was this whole lifetime. There are many, many trumpet players, and former players, who learned the love of swing from John.

John worked with a who's who of big band swing and show biz. In his day he was a major rock star. In 1950, John was playing lead trumpet with the Charlie Barnet band at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. In 1950, if you were playing at the Apollo and you were white, you'd better be amazing because that crowd wouldn't accept or respect anything less than that. John was more than amazing.

But playing trumpet wasn't his only amazing gift. John was also incredible in the kitchen. Dinner at John's house was always something to remember, even if Ace did have the run of the kitchen counter. I remember seeing Ace reach into John's Calphalon frying pan and hook a piece of sausage with a claw.

For me there was never anyone more wonderful and inspiring than John Coppola. But now it's our turn to pass on that love of music and swing to another generation. As the song says, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

Russ Button