Bob Athayde Profile, by Randi Pines
“I like to think of Stanley Music as a place of possibilities,” declares Bob Athayde, Music Director at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, “a place where kids can discover their passion for music and run with it.” Brimming over with enthusiasm, Athayde has inspired thousands of young people—and sometimes whole families—to pick up an instrument and share in the sheer joy of making music.
Born and raised in East Oakland, Athayde is the second of four siblings in a family where musical expression was encouraged. Although his mother played both trombone and piano, and his father took piano lessons, it was the extemporaneous and raucous singing around the dinner table or during long family car trips that most vividly shaped Athayde’s love of music. These affectionate memories, coupled with the family’s value of hard work led Bob to pursue music , beginning with his fourth grade band class at Allendale Elementary School in Oakland.
A simple miscue launched his trumpet-playing career. Thinking that his band teacher was providing him with a clarinet for his personal use, nine-year-old Bob was puzzled when instead he was given a cornet to play. Although he experimented with different instruments each summer during band camp, Athayde stuck with the cornet, eventually switching to the trumpet as it moved from an orchestral to band instrument. As a youngster he especially enjoyed listening to Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Band, relishing the big, brassy sound.
When the Athayde family moved to another home in Oakland, Bob attended Maxwell Park Elementary School during 5th and 6th grades. To this day, Bob remembers walking down the hall to Mr. Haskell Heckart’s Music Room and hearing another student hitting the high notes on his trumpet. From that time, John Kapetanic, one year older and always one step ahead, would be the first trumpet player who mentored Bob until the end of high school. In 7th grade, as a student at Frick Junior High, Bob began private trumpet lessons with Mr. Anthony Caviglia.
The spark for music education was first lit in 8th grade by Mr. Joseph A. Zawistowski, a music teacher who ran a very tight ship. Mr. Zawistowski not only taught the band classes, but also took time to show Bob transposition and brass ensemble literature. Later, he became Athayde’s trumpet teacher.
In 9th grade, when a substitute band teacher called Bob in to conduct the class, “I thought, ‘Hey this is really cool,’” remembers Athayde, and I realized that I didn’t just want to play music, I wanted to bring people together and make music happen.
At Fremont High School, Athayde began to perform at gigs, including appearances with his own soul band, Willie and the Majestics, playing mostly by ear, and emulating the sounds of James Brown and Otis Redding. Two people entered his life at this point that significantly influenced the direction of his growth: Bill Bell, who taught a “Jazz 67” course including improvisation, chord structure, harmonics, theory and repertoire (with fellow student and now renowned trumpeter, Jon Faddis); and Harold Kane , his music teacher at Fremont High, who instilled in him an appreciation for the art of teaching. “He was a fantastic musician—playing both classical and jazz—as well as a composer, arranger, and a people person,” recalls Athayde. “He had every skill as a professional musician and he could teach.”
Yet it was at a performance by the Cal Sate Hayward Wind Ensemble, conducted by Professor Marvin Nelson, where Athadye found his true mentor. He realized that this was the person he wanted to study trumpet with, as well as learn to be a music teacher from. “Without a doubt, ‘Marv,’ as he called himself , was the best example of how to run a band I’ve ever encountered, and overall, the most influential person to direct me in the field of music education.”
Athayde graduated from high school in 1969, after spending his junior year in South America as an AFS student. It was there, captivated by the complex rhythms and beautiful harmonies of Brazilian music, that he developed his long-lasting love for the genre and culture, as well as a yen to travel.
The Call of the Ivories
As a freshman at California State University, Hayward, Athayde recognized the more lucrative opportunities for jazz pianists. He began to study jazz piano under the tutelage of Dr. Carl Eberhard, Director of Jazz Bands. After landing his first gig playing in the Cal-State Hayward Jazz Band, comping behind Ed Kelly, Athayde soon found steady work at the Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland, playing piano, trumpet and vocals in a quintet. Eventually doing trio gigs, which “lays your playing bare,” Athayde decided to further strengthen the foundations of his piano technique. In 1973 at age 22, he began studying classical piano with Mary Lou Lovell, Six months later, he recounts with wry amusement, “I was playing the Clementi Sonatina at a recital including several seven- and eight-year-old students, and then I’d have to hurry off to play a five-night-per-week gig at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco. From young pups to big dogs, all in a day’s work...”
Athayde also studied conducting under Dr. Dennis DeCouteau, and co-directed the Cal State Hayward Jazz Band with Rick Condit (currently Director of Jazz, McNeese State University). Continuing in performance, he studied jazz piano with Mike Nock, Bill Bell, Don Haas, and Carl Eberhard, and trumpet with Anthony Caviglia, Phil Shoptaugh, and Marv Nelson. He received his B.A. and a teaching credential in music in 1975, and has also completed work toward a Masters Degree in Kodaly Music at Holy Names College in Oakland.
A Teacher is Born
Athayde began student teaching in 1974 at San Mateo High School with Mr. Henry Use, who he remembers as a very competent and caring teacher who insisted that what you did was for the kids. In 1976, Athayde began teaching middle school choir half time in San Lorenzo. Each year he was laid off due to budget cuts as a result of Proposition 13, only to be hired back at the start of the next school year. In 1979, he was hired by Pinole High School where he remained until 1980, when he decided to focus his time and energy solely toward private teaching and gigs—but not for long. In 1981, he began volunteering his time, assisting Leroy Roach with the Acalanes Jazz Band. Then, after meeting Sue Stauffer, founder and president of LASF who was delighted with Athayde’s passion for music, he was hired as an LASF assistant to Roach. The rest is history: part-time assistant to Arlene Fox at Stanley, full-time jazz director there, and finally leadership of the entire department.
Since coming on board as Music Director at Stanley Intermediate School in Lafayette in 1986, Athayde has expanded the size, scope and perception of music both within the district and throughout the greater Lamorinda community. Beginning with 3 classes of 150 students in a modest portable, he now directs 6 band classes, and two early morning jazz ensembles in a newly constructed music center, touching the lives of over 300 students.
On any given day, Lafayette’s very own “Mr. Holland” brings a unique style of teaching to the classroom that is both innovative and intuitive. Whether correcting technique, demonstrating dynamics, driving rhythms, or connecting music history to the score, Athayde crackles with creative energy that completely captivates a class of seventy hormone-charged adolescents for an entire 45 minutes.
In a world prone to lower expectations, relative standards, and minimal accountability, Athayde weaves his own special brand of philosophy throughout his teaching, stressing the “4 R's”: Respect, Responsibility, Resourcefulness, and Reliability. He expects his students to be fully accountable for their actions, to be committed to their craft, to demonstrate a positive attitude, and to work as a team. His classroom motto, reflecting his outlook toward life as well as making music, is simple: “We all play together.”
“Bob’s program is exceptional on a national level,” says Paul Welcomer, trombonist with the San Francisco Symphony, a Lafayette resident and Stanley volunteer. “He inspires self-esteem through achievement and hard work to produce a high-level musical product, rather than through back-patting alone.”
For further enrichment, Athayde has explored the burgeoning arena of computer/music technology . Thanks to the generosity of the Lafayette Arts and Science Foundation, Athayde has implemented a computer-based learning program, teaching music theory and composition at all levels. Recently, with funding graciously provided by the Julia Burke Foundation, a new recording studio was installed in the band room, opening vistas of opportunity. For the past three years, Athayde has recorded and submitted student audition CDs to Downbeat Magazine for the Student Music Awards competition. In 2002, Stanley claimed the Best Middle School Jazz Instrumental Soloist Award (vibes) and two Outstanding Musician Awards (trumpet, baritone sax). In 2003, he could boast that three of his students or former students won Outstanding Musician Awards. The following year marked another Outstanding Musician Award (bass) as well as a first ever Outstanding award in the category of Middle School Jazz Instrumental Group.
As if this is not enough, Athayde teaches private lessons (trumpet and piano), performs with other professional musicians and his own commercial band, Surefire, runs a summer jazz camp, the Lafayette Summer Music Workshop, adjudicates for various music festivals around the Bay Area, guest teaches and conducts, and coordinates a battalion of visiting guest musicians to Stanley that would rival that of Davies Symphony Hall or Yoshi’s on a Saturday night. A sample line-up from the last two years includes: Mic Gillette, former lead trumpet with Tower of Power, Raoul Rekow, percussionist with Santana, Mary Fettig, former saxophonist with Stan Kenton, Paul Welcomer, trombonist with the San Francisco Symphony, Dave Ridge and Don Kennelly, S.F. Opera trombonists, Mark Inowe, assistant principal trumpet, S.F. Symphony, the Gold Coast Chamber Players, Victor Goines, clarinetist and Director of Jazz Studies at Julliard; Steve Turre, trombonist with the Saturday Night Live show; Michael Wolfe, former jazz pianist with Cal Tjader, Cannonball Adderly, Nancy Wilson, and the Arsenial Hall Show; Bill Mayes and Pete Malinverni, N.Y. Freelance jazz pianists, and Toninho Horta and Marcos Silva, Brazilian jazz composers, arrangers, and multi-faceted musicians.
But it’s not all about performing professionals. These visiting artists present clinics, lecture/demonstrations and hands on teaching that benefit the students first and foremost. On Thursdays, thanks to the partnership with Lafayette Arts & Science Foundation, students receive a mega-dose of professional teaching from Mic Gillette, trumpeter, Fred Randolph, bassist, Alex Murzyn, saxophonist, and Tommy Davidson, trombonist, who conduct sectionals throughout the day. Randolph also directs The Groove Merchants, an early morning jazz ensemble and winner of a Downbeat award in 2004.
When not bringing people into his classroom, Athayde is focused outward, toward giving back to the community, toward helping others grow and connect through music. He believes that music should fill the heart as well as the ears. Whether playing inter-generational concerts with the Rossmoor Big Band, or shining the light of music at Juvenile Hall, or encouraging a fledgling school band at Hunter's Point, Athayde teaches his students that music is a gift to be shared. Quoting legend Wynton Marsalis, “It's not about me, it's about us. It's about giving back, about the kids being ‘ambassadors of music’ in their community and beyond."
To back up his words, Athayde leads his student musicians in a host of informal concerts throughout the year, including the ever-popular Jazz Cafe, where the entire community is invited to come enjoy jazz music in a café setting, and the annual Mayor's Concert, billed as a thank you to the city's government and business leaders. In 2001, Athayde and friends began the four-day Lafayette Jazz Festival in the city's historic Town Hall Theater, featuring students and stars together in concert. Stanley students have performed alongside the high school jazz bands, as well as professionals such as Marcos Silva's Intersection, Countess Felder, Mark Levine's Latin Tinge, and Wayne Wallace Rhythm and Rhyme.
If this sounds superhuman, it is—almost. Bob Athayde is a person of tremendous vitality and creative vision, yet even he could not maintain such standards of excellence without the crucial support of his parent volunteers. On any given day, the band room percolates with energy as a cadre of parents help with administrative tasks, community outreach programs, music tutorials, technology support, refreshments, rides, and instrument repairs. The enthusiasm is infectious, and the joy is apparent. Bob, with a penchant for Peet's coffee, offers a stiff cup to anyone who passes by the coffee maker. Within mere moments he has assessed their particular skill or talent and has signed them up. Enter a parent, leave a volunteer.
Beyond the Classroom
Recognized for his outstanding teaching and musicianship, Athayde has garnered a number of awards including the Gil Freitas Outstanding Music Educator Award, (1989), the Diablo Symphony Association's Distinguished Music Educator Award (1995), Charles Schwab's Teach Each Distinguished Teacher Award, the Prudential Realty Outstanding Teacher Award (1999), the AC5 Arts Recognition Award (2003), and the KDFC Outstanding Music Educator Award (2004). Bob was recently awarded the California Music Educator’s Don Schmeer, Outstanding Band Teacher of California Award.
He has been invited as guest conductor for the CMEA Bay Section Conference Middle School Honor Band, the North Bay Honor Band and the Hayward All City Middle School Honor Band. Since 1996 until the present, he has been the conductor of the middle school band and jazz band at Cazadero Performing Arts Camp. Each year he teaches jazz improvisation and conducts orchestras for one of the Suzuki Music Institutes in Stanford, Utah, and Hawaii. He has also brought his skills to CMEA Bay Section workshops, training music educators how to teach symphonic music and jazz improvisation to middle school bands.
Additionally, Athayde was the featured guest artist/clinician on trumpet and piano at the Cal State Stanislaus Jazz Festival, and a clinician at the UC Berkeley Jazz Festival. For the past three years, Athayde has traveled to the Sitka Jazz Festival in Alaska as performer/clinician, playing with such well -known artists as Paquito d'Rivera, Claudio Roditi and Steve Turre, and John Clayton.
Recently, Bob Athayde has ventured into recording CDs of his own performances on jazz piano, backed by bass and drums, and featuring his son, Kyle, on trumpet and vibes. His newest CD, A Second Look, recorded in early 2004, was preceded by First Takes, enthusiastically received in 2001. While he still holds some lingering admiration for Herb Albert, Athayde points to Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Monty Alexander, and Freddie Hubbard as the greatest musical influences in his life.
When asked to recall one of the highlights of his musical career, Athayde eagerly recounts taking a group of his Stanley students backstage at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in November, 2002, to meet with Wynton Marsalis following his lecture demonstration. Enthralled by the trumpeter’s ingenious teaching style and positive message, he struck up a friendship that led to yet another impromptu meeting a month later. This time, at the Marsalis penthouse in New York City, the master gave a trumpet lesson to Kyle with Bob accompanying on piano. Another lesson followed a year later. Then, during a 2004 appearance at Montalvo Winery in Los Gatos, California, Marsalis spontaneously invited Kyle to test the mettle of his metal, and come sit in on trumpet, as soloist on Rhythm-ning. “It was humbling to watch my son play with Marsalis,” recalls Athayde. “It’s always interesting to watch your children pass you up. I enjoy it.”
When not busy managing the many facets of his fast-paced life, Bob Athayde is doing what he perhaps does best of all—raising a family of four musically gifted children with his wife Julie, herself an accomplished violinist and teacher, in Orinda, California. When asked what he looks forward to in the future, Bob responds with characteristic optimism, “My goal is to be the ‘village music teacher’—and to bring Wynton here to Stanley.”