The World’s Most Dangerous Trumpet Player

By Al Carlos Hernandez on October 14, 2012

Herald De Paris
Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez
Edited by Susan Aceves

Al Chez, trumpet player extraordinaire, has been seen and heard every night on the Late Show with David Letterman for 15 years as the featured trumpet player, Al has been doing the gig since 1997. Al said, “I have left the late show after a 15 year run,It was the to move on and do my own thing instead of being a background musician, the time was right”.
Chez was born in Jersey City, N.J.  Getting his start in his father’s drum corps at age nine, his career has spanned more than twenty years with stints in a number of rock, funk and blues bands.
As a teenager in 1979, Chez and some fellow New Jersey musicians (including Jon Bon Jovi) started The Atlantic City Expressway, which played locally for five years before disbanding. A few years later, Chez met Paul Shaffer and was invited to tour with The World’s Most Dangerous Band.
A veteran of the clubs around New York City and New Jersey, Chez branched out to California to join the soul/funk band Tower of Power in 1988. He also played trumpet for the band of blues master Robert Cray for a short time in the mid 90’s. Chez has played a number of high-profile tours and events, from Bon Jovi’s 1987Slippery When Wet tour to the closing ceremonies of the 1996 centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta with Stevie Wonder and B.B. King. You will find him performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, John Lennon’s 50th Birthday Celebration, the Concert of the Century, the Concert for New York (after 911), and the Very Special Christmas Concert. Al was also in the famous New Jersey shore band, La Bamba and the Hubcaps. He has performed with The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Maynard Ferguson. Chez has played for Presidential Inaugurations and in the Rock and Rock Roll Hall of fame band every year since 1986. In 1997, Shaffer asked Chez to be a full-time member of the CBS Orchestra and Chez has been performing on The Late Show with David Letterman ever since. He first met Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra’s Will Lee at a club in New York in 1986 and was asked to tour with Shaffer’s band. As ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Band’ they performed at such venues as the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Summer Fest in Wisconsin, and the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Winter Olympics. He maintains a presence as an instructor for a number of drum corps and is a staff member for the University of Virginia Cavalier Marching Band.
He formed Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk Big Band with two Rochester-area music teachers, Jimmy Steele and Jarred Streiff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arFxDrVepXg
He and his wife, Cat, continue to live in New Jersey.
Herald De Paris Deputy Managing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had a coast to coast sit down with the ‘Worlds Most Dangerous Trumpet Player.’
AC: Tell us about getting your start with your fathers drums corps. How was it growing up in a musical family? What instruments do you play? When and why did you decide on the trumpet as your main instrument?
Chez: My dad grew up in Jersey City, NJ. When he was sixteen, he and his friends skulked into a drum corp show just to see what it was – and probably not with such good intentions. His friends, seeing what was going on, left after a while for other endeavors. Dad really liked it and stayed and watched the whole show. When he married my mom he took her to the drum corps show and when my brothers and I were born, we followed suit.
By 1968 my dad had three boys. Dad was aware that we lived in an area that needed something for young people to do to stay out of trouble. He started the Saints Drum and Bugle Corps in Woodbridge NJ.
I was a little too young, but my brothers Michael and Peter both joined as charter members. I had to wait until I was nine, which I did, and off I went in my journey with the drum corps. I wanted to be like my older brothers and play the horn. I was too small (nine years old) to play anything but the bugle. All our friends were in the corps and now some of my closest friends are still from those drum corps days. It’s quite a bond.

AC: What kinds of music did you listen to around the house and what kind of stuff did you take a personal liking too?

Chez: I listened to all kinds of music. Everything from movie soundtracks to funk to classical to rock .My wife Cat is a karaoke DJ so I’m also hearing tunes from everywhere on her Wednesday and Friday night gigs. Emotional music is probably my favorite. Music that makes you think, feel, and remember. It’s not a style; it’s a feeling.

AC: Who are your musical influences?

Chez: I’m a Louis Armstrong fan. There was never a guy that sounded like Louie and to this day there is not a copy. He taught me to be myself; don’t try to sound like this guy or that guy. Sound like you! There is no right and wrong with music; there is only personal good and bad.

AC: Many folks don’t know that you were in a band called The Atlantic City Expressway with a cat name Jon Bon Jovi.  What kind of music did you play back then?

Chez: When I was sixteen I was contacted by the band Atlantic City Expressway. Went down to a basement in Sayreville NJ with Jon Bon Jovi, who was also sixteen, David Bryan (fifteen), Rick Cyr (sixteen) and others. We played the Jersey shore together for years, always working The Stone Pony and The Fast Lane in Asbury park.
We were fifteen and sixteen years old, playing on Wednesday nights and warming up for the national acts, but we always had the main dressing room. It had a door that led to an alley in case the liquor board came in. We were not old enough to be in the club – never mind working it. Playing R&B covers, Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen songs down the shore in 1978-1982 was a blast.
The hard part was having to get up and go to high school the next morning. It was the high of the Jersey shore scene. There were some great bands down there: Bruce, Southside, Beaver Brown, Norman Nardini, Gary US Bonds . . . so many great bands.

AC: Did you turn your back on rock and move towards R&B?

Chez: Never. I always loved rock. It was 1978. It was cool to listen to rock and then, playing R&B, created quite a repertoire of music in my head.

AC: How did growing up in New Jersey influence your music style? And what about Bruce?

Chez: Jersey music is a cross between Motown and Memphis soul. It also helped me create that feeling that I love in music. To see and play with a young Bruce Springsteen in 1978? He was a god down here and rightfully so. Rolling Stone magazine cover from 1978 states: I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce. To be in that scene was a very special time. We were just being kids. We didn’t even realize it.

AC: San Franciscans believe that Oakland is the New Jersey of the West Coast. How did you end up playing with the seminal horn band Tower of Power? What were the days with TOP like?

Chez: I was playing the Summerfest in Milwakee with the World’s Most Dangerous Band. Tower was doing the same stage the next night so they came to check us out. The hang between Greg Adams and Mimi was instantaneous. Mimi looked, loved the way I played and we hung. When they need a sub for Lee I, fortunately, was their first choice. Played with Tower for a few years and yes! I see the connection between Jersey and Oakland. Man, I LOVE those tunes. Still do. Whenever Tower comes to town I’m there jamming. Greg Adams horn parts are sooooo fun to play. They create that feeling again. Part of the reason I started Al Chez and The Brothers of Funk was to get that feeling I had with Tower. Just in a different vane.

AC: You have worked with the biggest names in the business. Tell us about working with The Stones, Clapton and Bon Jovi on the ’87 Slippery When Wet tour.

Chez: It’s all relevant. Do your best, hang like it’s your last days, take no prisoners and play your butt off. Rehearsal with the stones was more, “Are you kidding me? That’s the Stones!”
When you’re working a prestige gig, initially you may be flustered for the first three minutes. Then it’s okay, let’s go to work. Bon Jovi was different. It was great to see them really take off and it was a bit crazy. We were not fifteen anymore and the world was going nuts over them. A very exciting time. The horns were on the platform above and behind the drum riser. It was about eight inches wide. I was looking down at the front of the board and wondering what are all these little tubes were for. Then POW!!! PYRO TECHNICS! Thanks for the warning guys. That was Bruce Kapler, Rick Cyr, Pete Mauer and myself as the horn section.
We tried to play the Bottom Line in NYC with Bon Jovi during that time. We lasted about four songs before the crowd rushed the stage and management got us out of there. The nice thing about being in the horn section for those gigs was that I could walk to the front door and be cool. Those other guys have to hide.

AC: Are rockers more fun to hang out with than soul bands?

Chez: People are people. Music is music. It’s not the person or the style of music – it’s the connection you have with them or the style of music you’re playing. It’s all so cool.

AC: You have performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gig since its inception. What are some of the memories of that experience?

Chez: Inducting Louie Armstrong was special. There was Bruce Springsteen, Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross giving me a blues solo by pointing at me saying, “You!” Seeing Phil Spector try to pick up my wife every year was funny. We always got to bring the wives so they hung hard as we played. Always a great night. Best time is Billy Joel, after Paul McCartney was inducted, playing the opening piano part to Let It Be and not stopping till Paul came up and sang it. This made the third Beatle I’d played with. Never got to play with John Lennon.

AC: Tell us how you landed the best horn gig ever with Paul Shaffer and Late Night with Dave Letterman. What is that like? Do people recognize you from TV?

Chez: I was jamming in a club in NYC. Being an old Jersey shore /drum core guy I could play for hours. And I always want to rip everybodys head off when I play. That’s either playing soft and sweet, or high and mighty. Will Lee and Paul had seen me play in the club along with Bruce Kapler. They said the two of us sounded like a five piece horn section. We were hired to do Letterman on NBC whenever they needed horns and we did the Worlds Most Dangerous Band live shows when they used to do them. That’s how I met Tower of Power.
I am recognized for being in TV for fifteen years. It’s those friends who could care less that I love the most.
I get asked a lot if I meet celebrities on Letterman. It’s all the same. They are people. Some are nice, some not so nice. Some are cool, some are not. Fame is only skin deep.

AC: How is it to work with Paul, Dave and the other cats in the band?

Chez: Years ago when we used to do live shows with The Worlds Most Dangerous Band it was a blast. Playing festivals in the summer was a lot of fun. Playing A Concert for NY after 911 was special. We played at the White House a few times as well. But I guess everyone gets older. NOT ME OF COURSE. I have the secret. When Will, Sid, Anton, Paul, Bruce and I did those gigs, as well as playing with other bands on the show, it was phenomenal! Those day are far and few between over the last few years. I guess it’s just Dave and Paul winding down to retirement. But back the day? WOW!

AC: Does fame enhance your credibility as an educator?

Chez: I would hope not. I would hope my credibility comes from my experiences and knowledge, not fame. I pick up something on every gig and try to pass it along in my teaching. Every teacher I have worked with? There is always something to incorporate into your own style. Never stop learning.

AC: Tell us about your work as a staff member for the University of Virginia Cavalier Marching Band. What are your responsibilities?

Chez; Bill Peace was a drum corps friend of mine. I go down to UVA and work with the marching band and the brass students. I usually play with them at a concert or halftime show. I love it. Whenever my services are needed I am there. I love spreading the word and giving back.
I love doing high school and college clinics and concerts. I usually do a clinic for the students, some hands-on, some just talking, meeting them and talking to them to form a different standpoint. Then I do a concert with them at night. Sometimes with the Brothers of Funk. I always end the night with ALL students playing together with the band. I have received many letters and messages from parents saying their kids were really inspired and touched by the concert. AND THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!

AC: We understand that you maintain a presence as an instructor for many drum corps. Why is this work important to you?

Chez: It’s important to give back. Because of the drum corps activity giving me my start I feel I still owe them as the people who taught me my values in music. I work with The Crossmen, The Empire Statesmen, and Fusion Core from NJ. Love them all. I help design the programs and teach the brass lines. I see myself in every one of them. Told you I had the secret! I HAVE FOUND THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH AND IT’S WORKING WITH KIDS!!!!

AC: Why do you think young people learning music can help make society a better place?

Chez: There is nothing better than young people learning music and expressing themselves. It does not have to be in music – it could be in any art form. But the individual expression of the mind and soul is what makes the world a better place. It creates better human beings.

AC: Tell us about your new project ‘Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk Big Band’ which you formed with teachers Jimmy Steele and Jarred Streiff. I understand you do some singing as well.

Chez: Al Chez and The Brothers of Funk is my personal expression in the world of music – all set through the big band style.
We play R&B, funk, soul, and rock. This is the music that touched my soul. Our job as a band is to help touch yours. Make you feel, think, react, be alive. I tell stories during the live shows, some very personal. I owe it to my audience to give them something of myself besides my music; I want them to know me a little better when we leave. I love singing and playing these tunes with The Brothers of Funk. When I get on stage I never want to come off. It’s a great group of guys who all play beyond “good.” We got some monsters in the band.

AC: Why did you decide to do this and what are the goals of the project? Do you plan to record and tour?

Chez: The goal is to touch as many people as possible through recording or, better yet, through live shows. When I grew up there were trumpet gods out there: Maynard Ferguson, Bill Chase, Al Hurt, Doc, Dizzy, Miles. Now there are some, but it’s not the same. I want to make playing the trumpet cool again. I want kids to hear different types of music played in a big band trumpet style – to possibly inspire them to play – to just pick up an instrument. Art programs in schools are being the first things cut in a lot of areas. If I can help and inspire a student to get involved in an activity, an art, or play an instrument, then YEAH!

AC: How would you define this kind of funk and what can people look forward to hearing from you?

Chez: This is music that makes you feel like a better HUMAN. Music that makes you feel, brings you back to a time, a feel, a smell, a place. Meanwhile you’re getting your butt kicked by some octane, some groove, some soul, some rock and SOME FUNK!!!!

AC: How can people find out more about you and the band?

Chez: We have a Facebook page, which seems to be the media source of our generation: http://www.facebook.com/alchezandthebrothersoffunk

My personal Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/ALCHEZ

l don’t know if they will let me friend anymore people. I wish I could. Go to the Brothers of Funk and ‘LIKE’ the page. I will keep it updated. You can go to www.alchez.com and send me a message.

AC: Would you like to say something about your wife Cat and

KaraokeCat Chez and Karaoke nights?

Chez: Besides getting to hang with my wife, we have some friends who come out to Cat’s gigs. It’s great seeing people sing karaoke! If you read this article then you know I love people expressing themselves. And karaoke is all that. I don’t care if they are good (and Cat really gets some great singers out at her gigs) or not so great ones. It’s terrific to see people express themselves thru different tunes. It’s all about fun. It’s not about talent, although most of her singers are really good. I’d never sung before I sang at her karaoke. No, I never sang on Letterman in from of four million people. And on The Brothers of Funk gigs. Thanks Cat.www.karaokecat.com

AC: What are your plans for the future and, when it’s all said and done, how would you like history to remember you?

Chez: Going to get Al Chez and The Brothers of Funk touring around the country. Make some music, Touch some souls. Be a better human. And give back to whoever needs it.
LOVE YOU ALL…..CHEZ



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