Prominent Trombonist and Band Leader Vaughn Wiester Shares His Jazz Inspirations

By Hyla Skudder, Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society board member and trad jazz vocalist

Inimitable trombonist Vaughn Wiester is a well-known figure in the Columbus jazz scene. He is a prolific performer, former university instructor, arranger, archivist, as well as founder and conductor of the Famous Jazz Orchestra, a 22-piece big band that performs every Monday night at the Clintonville Woman’s Club in Columbus. Vaughn will be performing at the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society’s March 10 show featuring the vintage jazz vibe of the Matt Tolentino Band.

Hyla: What made you decide the trombone was your “go to” instrument, and when did you start playing it?
Vaughn: When I was 10 years old, my kid brother Craig showed me what a trombone is. He imitated what you can do with the slide, and I was immediately hooked!

Hyla: You are well known for founding and leading the Famous Jazz Orchestra. But you also play trombone in some well-known Trad Jazz bands. What things have you learned as a musician from playing traditional jazz?
Vaughn: Having grown up on 50s jazz, music of earlier eras was not very familiar to me. Tom Battenberg‘s invitation about 15 years ago to play with the High Street Stompers afforded me the chance to acquaint myself with quite a bit of the earlier styles and tunes. I’ve also had many opportunities to play with Dave Greer‘s Classic Jazz Stompers, based in Dayton. Playing in these band has been like going to school for me.

Vaughn Wiester with High Street Stompers

Vaughn Wiester with High Street Stompers

Hyla: You are also a collector of jazz arrangements, and are an arranger yourself. Do you have favorite arrangers? What makes a good arrangement stand out?
Vaughn: An arrangement stands out to me when its purpose is clear, its style is attractive and it results in the band sounding good. My lifetime favorite arranger is Bill Holman, who turns 97 this May. Others who come to mind immediately are Gil Evans, Marty Paich, Al Cohn, Willie Maiden, Slide Hampton, Johnny Mandel, Bill Russo, Johnny Richards, Neal Hefti, Frank Foster, Ernie Wilkins, Henry Mancini and Gerry Mulligan, among others. These are all guys who came to prominence in the 1950s.

My eye-opening experience about arranging was when I was in 10th grade and was given the opportunity to play in a grown-up band led by a guy name Riley Norris. This was in about 1960. Riley’s entire book had been custom written by a guy named Dick Cone, whom I never met. I was immediately awestruck by the sound of Cone’s arrangements. I quickly developed a keen interest and desire to know how he knew what to write to make the band sound that good. I have never lost interest!

Hyla: What musicians influenced you most in your musical career?
Vaughn: The most influential musicians in my young life would be my Mount Vernon High School band directors, Robert Bechtel and Jack Stauch. Both of these guys were excellent teachers, serious and self-respecting but not pretentious. Each of them illuminated music for me in very real ways. Bechtel led the school dance band, which was a very important formative experience for me. It was Bechtel who got me on Riley‘s band.

I was further influenced by a very talented classmate, Bob Kahrl, who introduced me to the music of Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk, among others.

Thanks to Mr. Bechtel, I got very excited by the music of Stan Kenton and learned a lot from that, including a pretty healthy number of “standard tunes.” One of my very favorite jazz soloists beginning in those days was Paul Desmond, with the Brubeck Quartet. I could go on!

Vaughn Wiester conducts the Famous Jazz Orchestra at Clintonville Woman's Club

Vaughn Wiester conducts the Famous Jazz Orchestra at Clintonville Woman’s Club

Hyla: Where might someone go to hear you or one of your groups play in the area?
Vaughn: Our orchestra, the Famous Jazz Orchestra, is now in its 25th consecutive year. I don’t mind saying it’s in pretty good shape! We perform Monday evenings at the Clintonville Woman’s Club from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Yes, we play all year long! It’s important to understand that it’s cabaret-style big band jazz, and not a dance. Guests also need to know that if they want to consume alcohol they must bring it. I hasten to point out that one must get there the first time in order to become a regular. Admission is $15, $10 for students. All are invited to visit our website at: famousjazzorchestra.com.

Hyla: What is the best thing about the Columbus music scene right now?
My take on the Columbus music scene: first, it’s important to understand that there’s very little going on money-wise. BUT, having said that, I always like to point out that I think of Columbus as a musical laboratory! You can’t name a style of music that isn’t being played and played well in Columbus Ohio. In addition, there is an extraordinary pool of players here, both in quantity and in quality. Also let’s take note that with their new director, Mike Smith, jazz studies at Ohio State University has received a shot in the arm. It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on in Cool-umbus!

Catch Weister playing on Sunday, March 10 with the Matt Tolentino Band at the Clintonville Woman’s Club (3951 N. High St.). For more information on the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society and its events, visit www.cohjs.org. Catch the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society’s Open Community Hot Jazz Jam and Dance the second Wednesday of every month from 8-11 p.m. at the Rambling House (310 E. Hudson Ave.).

This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.


Comments are closed.