George Voland's Story: "Riff" Version
(Click here for the longer, "Full Score " Version)
I play valve trombone with happiness and heart because I was given great gifts during my growing up years. Those gifts included: a musical family; the ability to hear roots and changes even before I knew what those things were called; and a wise junior high band director who switched me from cornet to baritone horn.
Without lessons, but with radio and records as my teachers, I played jazz in the privacy and safety of my room. I taught myself piano. I didn't play out while in high school except during my senior year, thanks to an enterprising New Rochelle High School classmate of mine, Keith McClelland, who formed a band to play arrangements he'd taken off records. Alas, I was too shy to solo.
When I got to Middlebury College, another enterprising person, Randy McNamara, asked me to play in his college dance band, which also became the pit orchestra for the Broadway musicals put on by the community theater. As a musician at a college with no music school, I got to play everything from Bach to Stravinsky to Duke Ellington. My jazz improvising couldn't be stopped by my shyness any longer: As a member of Randy's band, I HAD to play, and my peers liked what I did and told me so.
Vermont jazz players started hiring me to play gigs while I was still in college. They were good musicians and they taught me tunes and the intricacies of improvisation on the band stand. I never had music to read from for the small combo gigs, but I surely had to have ears when leaders called tunes and a keys. I listened like a fiend and I learned from wonderful players with who lived in a universe of jazz surrounded by cows in rural Vermont.
For more than 40 years, that universe has been peopled by players who have inspired me. For many of those years, music was part-time. I had a great family to help support, and I taught high school English for 33 years because I loved it and teaching did allow me to pay the bills as well. I directed the high school jazz ensemble for many years and, thanks to the example of those who taught me jazz, I have been able to pass on the gift of jazz to many younger players and they've been my teachers as well.
I currently consider myself a fulltime jazz musician who happens also to be an innkeeper, a writer, a college teacher, and giver of lessons. With my first album, "Remember Beauty: George Voland and Friends," the gift of my friend Allen Johnson, I'm poised to play as much jazz as comes my way or as much as I can bring my way.
"Life is short," we often lament. But with so many good tunes to play and good people to play them with and for, it's not unusual for me to know in my heart of hearts that life isn't short at all. For at any moment on the bandstand, I can find myself in that space where music, played with joy, from the heart, brings me—and listeners, I hope—to a place that cannot be spoken of, but can certainly be felt as eternally alive and beautiful.