Chapter 1 FB: Today with us is Mr. Al Natale, a long-standing member of the Boston musical community, a trumpet player, a band leader and, recently, a founder of a scholarship fund for Berklee brass students. Al, it's great to have you aboard here. I remember seeing you in the clubs, since I first started coming to Boston with a phony I.D. card. AN: Don't mention how many years ago. FB: But you were a regular fixture on the scene, sitting in the audience, chatting with the musicians between sets, maybe doing a little bit of police work, but mostly listening to musicians comments and complaints about the scene. We go back a long long way. AN: A long time, right. FB: And we were neighbors in Belmont for many many years, and we are again. AN: Yes, we are. Inseparable. FB: It's a real pleasure to have you come and talk about your career in Boston and your many many connections with the Boston musicians, Berklee musicians and the whole cultural scene. AN: Well, I am very fortunate, I guess, to say, I saw Berklee begin on Newbury Street. The very beginnings of it. I knew most of the teachers then and I know quite a few now. But of course it's expanded so beautifully, it's so incredible, the growth, watching it grow all these past years and internationally-known. I've considered myself fortunate to have a lot of the players who've worked for me or with me that teach at Berklee from the very beginning. So, I am very happy to say that. FB: Like me, you were never a Berklee student and never a Berklee professor, but we both observed the unfolding of this amazing institution with our respective careers, you as a performer and me as an observer and a scribbler. AN: Well, what's amazing about it is that the young musicians finally had somewhere to go to learn how to play jazz, get the schooling on it. We would buy an old 78 [rpm] record when we were kids, and play it, and spin it and spin it and listen, keep repeating, probably wear the record out and go out and buy another one to keep hearing how the musicians were improvising and try to learn how they would approach it. You were on your own. But Berklee just opened up a whole new field and made it get the schooling of it and techniques of it, the scales, how they used the scales, and the changes and so forth. So Mr. Berk, the creator, he really had outstanding forsight to create such an industry and it was terrifically accepted. FB: You might want to fill us in on some of your early career, when you were a kid and how you got your first trumpet. AN: Sure. Well, what happened was, I must have been about eleven or twelve years of age, I was attending a school at the North End of Boston, St. Anthony's, and one morning we get called down to assembly hall, we had no idea why. We all marched down in formal line, and one by one the music professor, Mr. (Trongoli), would have one of us go up on the stage and he would have a look at us and decide what instrument to give us. At the time they were beginning to organize a five-bugle and drum corps. So Mr. (Trongoli) looked at me and he handed me a bugle. I had no idea what it was. So he said, "Let's see what you can do with this, kid." So I picked it up, put it to my lips and got a hell of a good note out of it. A good BAAAAA, ya know. Fat tone. So that impressed them and he said, "Okay, you play bugle." I liked it with its limitation of notes. I practiced the different calls. So I guess I did pretty good with it because the following year he promoted me to the senior band but I had to play trumpet. So he presented me with the trumpet and that's how I got with playing the trumpet. It totally amazed me that there was so much more that I could do with the trumpet that I could not do with the bugle. 'Cause you had your three valves, you could play all your chromatic scales or any scales you want, which you can't do on the bugle. That was fascinating for me to get on the instrument and to see how much you could do with it. I practiced ever chance that I got because I really took to it, I really enjoyed it. And as time went on I kept improving and I finally graduated from school. And when I went to high school -- a very good thing back in those days, thirties -- practically every high school in Boston had a music department where they had school bands. In the morning we would play, the orchestra would get together and play some marches to start the school session, about 8:30. FB: Kind of like an entrance processional. AN: That's right. Kick 'em up and give them some enthusiasm to start your school work. FB: I love that. AN: And just about every school had that, which was great and it's a shame it's not active today the way it was then. It took a look of interest to a lot of young players. FB: You only get it at pep rallies now or half time. AN: I guess so. Just about. Well, that really fascinated me to keep playing the trumpet. And my dad decided when he realised I was taking to the trumpet that I should take private lessons, which I did. And the teacher I studied with, Mr. Ralph (Fuccillo), he was the principal trumpet player at the RKO Theatre here in Boston. At that time they played vaudeville shows. Like, if you remember the Ed Sullivan show, well, it was similar to that: different acts come in, you play dog acts, monkeys or whatever, tapdancers and ballet dances and jugglers and singers. A good variety show. That was a wonderful experience for me. So I worked at the theatre there for a while and then they decided to change the format and bring in the name bands of that era, this is like mid-40s. It was great. That created another new experience for me because when the orchestra would come in, sometimes one of the trumpet players would have to be called home 'cause his wife may be delivering a child or for whatever reason, so I would fill in. I was very grateful that my father taught me what is called solfege, the Italian interpretation of rhythmic dictation. FB: Your father taught you that? So he was a musician? AN: Ya, he was a musician but not as a profession, he was a barber. Not the Barber of Seville, but he was a barber. FB: He was a singing barber? AN: No, he played the clarinet and the guitar and all that but strictly as a hobby. His big forte was opera. That was it. He wouldn't listen to any jazz or anything like that. Opera was his religion.