Larry Souza, Trumpet: “I Fell In Love With It And Never Put It Down.”
by Alex Walsh
Larry Souza is a freelance trumpeter, jazz soloist, teacher, and instrument repair man. He was first trumpet with Nederlander-Shorenstein Theaters in San Francisco from 1980-1999, and was one of the founders of the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA).
Larry Souza was born in 1941 in Oakland, CA. His father was a hardwood floor installer and his mother was a housewife. His parents did not play any instruments. As a child, Larry’s mother had him trying all kinds of things including ballet and tap dance. His first instrument was the violin.
Larry took lessons from Roger Stolberg who had a successful teaching program for violin, accordion and trumpet in San Leandro. He switched to accordion at age 8 but continued to play violin in school. When Mr. Stolberg grew frustrated with Larry’s progress on the accordion he asked him what he would like to do. Larry said he would like to play the trumpet. “I fell in love with it and never put it down. After that I didn’t have to be told to practice.”
Larry was heavily involved in the Boy Scouts growing up, and by the age of 16 had attained the rank of Eagle Scout. In 1956, his family moved to nearby San Lorenzo where he became heavily involved in the Weldonian Musical Organization, a huge military organization with a 250 piece marching and concert band, 75 majorettes, a 50 piece accordion band, and a 25 piece show band. They rehearsed Thursday nights and all day Saturday and put on a weekly concert for parents and visitors. “That kind of absorption in music really paid off. I met and made friends with a large number of young musicians, some of whom I still play with today.”
In 1957, Larry joined Local 510 at the behest of his high school music teacher, Tom Phillips. He started playing with a local dance band led by Earl Blasingame. Near the end of his senior year, Larry was encouraged to enlist in the 561st Air Force Band (sometimes referred to as “The Governor’s Own”) located at the Hayward Air National Guard Base. The commitment included basic training in San Antonio, TX, guard drills every other Sunday and a two week summer camp, for 6 years (1959-1965). While he was in basic training his mother passed away.
After high school, Larry attended San Jose State for a semester and then transferred to the College of San Mateo, which was famous for its jazz band under the direction of Dick Crest. While at CSM, Dick asked Larry if he would like to work with his band during the summer at the Russian River. They played 6 nights a week at the Rio Nido Ballroom. During that summer of 1961, Larry met his future wife, Rosalind Keith, a vocalist who sang with the band. Rosalind was also an airline stewardess for American Airlines based out of Dallas, TX. The following summer she came back to sing with the band and they were married that August.
By 1963, Rock and Roll was changing the music business and the management at the Rio Nido Ballroom wanted to give it a try. Larry began to get work with other local bandleaders including Ray Hackett, Jimmy Diamond, Jack Fisher, and Sal Carson. Jobs included working a few months at Charlie Low’s Forbidden City Cabaret with the Kenny Blewer Quintet playing dance music and two shows a night for the all-Chinese review.
Larry went to school in 1965 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he studied composition with Sol Joseph and trumpet with Edward Haug. He graduated with a Bachelor of Music. While in school Larry was called to play in the pit orchestra for the San Francisco Civic Light Opera at the Curran Theater. He played shows there for two seasons. When Wayne Allen wanted to return to the Curran Theater, Larry literally switched jobs with him, working with Dick Foy’s Band at Bimbo’s. During this time he was invited to join the Bohemian Club, and he played in the Concert Band for four years.
In 1968, Larry and Rosalind settled in San Carlos and soon had their first of two children. Larry continued to work steadily and also taught private lessons. In 1968, the Circle Star Theater Orchestra leader, Bernie Kahn asked him to join them for a show that was supposed to have a long run. After playing a couple shows it was suddenly cancelled and Larry found himself scrambling for work. He decided to call Fred Schultz, an instrument repair man he had befriended at the music store where he taught, and asked him if he could learn from him. “He agreed and I started apprenticing at his shop for zero pay! Luckily I picked up enough playing jobs to make it. I did this for a couple years until an opportunity arose for me to reopen his shop after he bankrupted. I ran the Music Man shop for 13 years until the landlord tripled the rent. I was playing full time so it was a no brainer to get out. For the next few years I ran my repair business out of my home.”
In 1971, the Circle Star Theater re-opened with a new format. They brought in Las Vegas type acts such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tom Jones, and all the famous Motown performers. Larry played at the Circle Star for 13 years.
“In 1980, Wayne Allen called and asked if I would be interested in working for him at Nederlander-Shorenstein theaters in San Francisco. I worked there from 1980 to 1999 until Wayne left as contractor.” In 1988, Larry joined the American Music Theater of San Jose as 1st trumpet and worked there until it closed in 2010. In between shows he would play every casual he could, including ice shows and the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
During the 80s Larry joined the Local 6 Theater Committee, which negotiated the collective bargaining agreements with Nederlander-Shorenstein. In 1992, with the urging of then Secretary-Treasurer Melinda Wagner and Wayne Allen, the committee decided to create a national theater musicians organization called the Theatre Muscians Association (TMA), similar to ICSOM, RMA, and ROPA. The idea was well received by other AFM Locals, and in 1993, the first Pit Bulletin was sent out. By 1996, TMA was established and held their first annual conference in San Francisco. Larry served as treasurer for three years.
By 1998, Larry was tired of running his instrument repair service out of his garage, so he partnered with a local music store and opened Souza’s Band Instrument Repair in conjunction with Craig’s Antique and Vintage Music. “Together we operate two separate businesses except for our rental program which operates under the heading of Hornucopia.” Larry retired from fulltime repair work in 2008 but still continues to do woodwind repair two days a week.
“Roz and I have spent our retirement years doing a lot of traveling, sometimes with our eldest daughter, Adrienne. We celebrated our 53rd wedding anniversary this August. I still play, but not as much. I’m in the Studio 6 Band and I play in the College of San Mateo Jazz Ensemble which I played in 1960, 55 years ago. Talk about full circle!”