Trumpet pro plays ‘huge’

The big sound Port High alum Greg Garcia makes with his trumpet has powered a career that has put him in the company of the greats of pop music

Greg Garcia was photographed at Port Washington High School, where band director Gerald Olson taught him to play the trumpet. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Professional trumpet player Greg Garcia waited with the rest of the band under the stage as the Pabst Theater audience cheered on former Oasis lead singer Noel Gallagher to play an encore.

Gallagher turned to the backup players and told them they did a nice job.

It normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but the band’s drummer told the rest of the musicians they didn’t understand the gravity of the gesture. Gallagher, the drummer said, is known for being salty and almost never compliments musicians.

That’s one of many shared experiences with famed musicians for Garcia, a 1992 Port Washington High School graduate. But none of them would have ever come to be if it wasn’t for Garcia’s mother.

When incoming fifth-graders at Thomas Jefferson Middle School were choosing instruments to play in band, Garcia didn’t end up with a trumpet.

“I originally picked clarinet because I got clarinet confused with cornet,” he said.

When he got to the car where his mother was waiting, Garcia told her about the mix-up and she took him back inside.

Band director Curt Eddy said if Garcia could make noise on a clarinet, he could play cornet. Garcia quickly learned he could. “I was naturally good at it,” he said.

He eventually graduated to trumpet, and in high school he was taught by band director Gerald Olson, who played tuba. Garcia was taught to use a large amount of air and be confident when playing.

“When you play trumpet, any sound you make is a loud sound,” he said.

Garcia played in the state honors band, acquired more than 100 medals in annual solo/ensemble competitions, won Port’s Louis Armstrong Award for jazz twice and the John Philip Sousa Award once.

He also sang in the choir.

One of the biggest gigs he played in high school was the grand opening of Walmart in Saukville, where Garcia lived at the time.

“We were the first ones in there besides the workers,” he said.

Garcia earned a music scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and originally majored in music education. But he realized he wasn’t a morning or classroom type of person, so he switched his major to performance.

But he could teach trumpet, and quickly picked up experience after a couple of area trumpet teachers quit at the same time.

“I had 50 students dropped on me at once,” he said. “It was good money. You set your own schedule.”

At 19, he played with Orquesta Vaneno, a tropical music band, and Hot Sauce, a rock, dance and rhythm and blues band.

Garcia then joined the blues band the Groove Hogs and toured the country opening for the Los Angeles-based group Canned Heat.

He had married by this time but didn’t have children yet.

“There was a time my neighbor thought I left my wife,” he said. “I was never home.”

Shortly after his jaunt across the U.S., Garcia and his wife had their first child and Garcia settled in to playing more local gigs, filling in with the Eddie Butts band and playing with the disco group Gyration and others.

After he took a break from the salsa scene, groups started calling again, and Garcia spent 12 years with the band Nabori, playing with top-notch salsa players at gigs in Milwaukee and Chicago.

Garcia doesn’t speak Spanish, but he could tell if bands were asking him to play something in a different way. Once the song started, he said, “We all speak that language. The music is universal.”

Scheduling was fast. Garcia would often get a text with a date and time to show up for gigs. One rehearsal later, the show went on.

Sometimes, there wasn’t even that. A call from La Sonora Poncena at 11 p.m. asked him to play the headlining act at Summerfest the next day. Garcia knew it was a big deal.

“They don’t call subs, and if they do they call them in from New York,” he said.

He had to perform with two other groups at Summerfest that day, so he listened to La Sonora Poncena’s tunes on his iPad between shows. By the time they performed, the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage was packed.

“The band liked me. It was cool. I got to blow a solo and everything,” Garcia said.

“You would rather have a rehearsal, but a lot (of gigs) are like that.”

That’s how it went with the famous artists who hired local horn players as well, such as Gallagher, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations and the Four Tops.

“You maybe got a sound check or a rehearsal without the artist,” Garcia said.

The sheet music, he said, was terrible. With Franklin, it was handwritten with portions missing.

He got to play with Franklin at State Fair — she took a limo from her trailer to the stage — and at her final performance in Milwaukee.

Garcia remembers the Riverside Theater’s lights going down and nervously sweating. He got misty eyed when Franklin came out.

“Don’t screw up. There’s no pressure, you know,” he said of the moment. “It’s hard to enjoy it in the moment because you’re concentrating.”

He didn’t get to talk to Franklin, but he got to meet Shelia E. at Summerfest and made friendly conversation with Morris Day and the Time at a hotel in Cheyenne, Wyo. Garcia also got to meet Henry Winkler, who he said is as friendly as people claim.

Sometimes he doesn’t know who he is playing with until he arrives. A saxophone player in Madison once asked Garcia to play a gig, and one of the performers turned out to be Clive Subblefield, the drummer for James Brown. Garcia said he has played with two of the trumpeters he looked up to — Arturo Sandoval and Roger Ingram.

“When you’re sitting next to one of your idols, that’s weird,” Garcia said.

Garcia still has his trumpet from high school but he usually uses one he bought on eBay for $1,400 five years ago. He spent $200 to fix it up. It would have cost $4,000 new.

“It’s a tool. It’s a thing of beauty, but it’s a tool,” he said.

Garcia’s ability to play different types of music helps land him many jobs.

“I call myself a commercial trumpet player because I’m versatile,” he said.

Some players, he said, will play songs 50 to 60 times to memorize them.

“I don’t have that kind of time,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to remember everything. I write it out. I can just read it.”

Garcia said some trumpeters can play higher notes than he can, but that’s not an issue.

“I’m not concerned with hitting the highest notes. I just want to play the notes I play huge,” he said. “That’s why I get hired a lot.”

Garcia uses his diaphragm and lungs to make those big sounds.

“Your lips don’t get tired but your body does,” he said. “If you get a stitch in your side, you’re done.”

Garcia has done improvised solos before, but he prefers to play the music on the page.

“I’m not an artist. You tell me what notes to play and I’ll play ‘em perfect every time,” he said.

Garcia is on the roster at the Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee. He likes playing musicals because it’s steady work.

Playing the same songs over and over again doesn’t bother Garcia as much as it does some other players.

“Hey, if they’re paying me....” he said.

While it’s fun to play and Garcia said he is thankful for the cool experiences he has had, “It’s a job.”

Garcia lives in Milwaukee and teaches trumpet to some students online and a few in person.

His wife Sharie was a band director for 20 years and this year is the curriculum coordinator for the Milwaukee

Public School District’s music department.

They have two sons, 15, and 11, who play saxophone and flute.




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