The French Quarter temporarily relocated to Chandler, Arizona, on Sunday, May 20th, to celebrate the life of cornetist Gary Church who passed away February 19th.
The Valley of the Sun Cemetery offers an open-air gazebo where the band set up to begin a New Orleans-style funeral. I have attended many “mock” funerals in New Orleans where the leaders’ directive is to remember someone you know that has recently passed. For this gathering we all cherished memories of Gary, his career, his playing, his humor. The Syncopated Times had an article in the March issue about this humble sideman. He was also a Grammy winner for his tune “I Always Get Lucky With You” during his western swing period in the 1990s.
Pieter Meijers, clarinet; Marc Caparone, cornet; Joe Hopkins, clarinet; Evan Dein, bass; Jim Maihack; trombone; Paul Scavarda, banjo; and Theresa Scavarda, vocalist, were a few of the musicians on hand. Theresa’s voice was clear, strong and filled with emotion.
Trombonist Dave Richardson gave the eulogy and several anecdotes. One time Gary was playing at Lincoln Center with another band. Also appearing was Henry Mancini, who approached him to ask if he would join his band for the “Moon River” piece as his trumpeter was ill. Gary had one of his most nervous experiences but managed to assist the composer on one of Mancini’s iconic hits—and at Lincoln Center!
Other musicians took part in the funeral playing a dirge during the short trek to the burial site. Traditional pieces took over on the way back to the gazebo.
Gary’s partner, pianist Cheryl Thurston, welcomed all guests and her beaming smile did not convey any sadness that must have been in her heart. Besides it being her birthday and their anniversary, Cheryl expressed happiness in the celebration of Gary’s life with these simultaneous events.
An hour later the group reconvened at the San Marcos Golf Resort, site of the annual Arizona Classic Jazz Festival (November 1-4, 2018) for a 3-1/2 hour performance.
Reedman Dan Levinson came in from NY and I was excited to see him play as it had been a few years since I saw him perform. Jan Sutherland sang about “A Million Dollar Secret” and no, I can’t reveal what it is as all the ladies were sworn to secrecy! Madelyn Roberts also sang a beautiful number. Cheryl was definitely leading the band and at one point the band turned toward her for a surprise “Happy Birthday” rendition.
Gary played with the Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, and Willie Nelson bands in the 1990s, so a delightful set was filled with Western Swing led by guitarist Levi Mullen. Buddy Apfel, bass; Steve Means, clarinet; Bill Sargent, drums; and Gary’s sister Michelle, vocals, and many others jammed on the various sets with plenty of dancers adding to the mix.
It was a beautiful day. Gary, I don’t have to “hope”—I know Gabriel likes your music!
Shelly Gallichio is a Real Estate Associate Broker in Tucson, Arizona, and despite growing up in Chicago, fell in love with the clarinet and the New Orleans sound at the age of three.
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