At the end of this post, see video of Vince DiMartino demonstrating historic horns that will be played at this year’s Great American Brass Band Festival.
DANVILLE — It was trumpet virtuoso Vince DiMartino’s first official day of retirement.
“The Monday after commencement, I drove down to Tennessee and I went to hear a friend’s brass quintet, … the Stiletto Brass Quintet,” DiMartino, 63, says. “I sat in the audience, didn’t have a note to play. I had dinner with Doc Severinsen, who was there, and we just sat there talking about stuff, and it was so great. I drove back to Danville, and the next day I practiced.
“That was my first day of retirement, and it felt really good. There’s always work to do. It’s the perspective that’s changing, not the work.”
After 40 years of teaching, 21 at the University of Kentucky and 19 at Centre College, DiMartino is no longer keeping office hours at a school of music. But he has plenty to keep him busy, including a couple of books about trumpet playing, a few new recordings, music and trumpet organizations he’s involved with, workshops and conferences. Already, friends are calling him about giving master classes and artist residencies at their institutions.
DiMartino hopes to spend a lot of time basking in the sun on his enclosed back porch, but it will have to share him with the rest of the trumpeting world.
This week, one of the events DiMartino helped found, Danville’s Great American Brass Band Festival, will be a big retirement party for the trumpet master.
The 23rd annual event will feature his hero, Severinsen, plus colleagues, many students and his son, Gabriel DiMartino, who has established his own career teaching trumpet at Syracuse University in New York.
“That’s why I’m practicing, so I can keep up with him,” DiMartino says of his son. “It means a lot to have them all here at once and have sort of a celebration of the retirement from this aspect” of his work.
DiMartino came to Kentucky from the prestigious Eastman School of Music in 1972 to teach at UK.
“I was only 23,” he says. “I wasn’t much older than my students. I’m sure some of them came in and said, ‘What’s he doing teaching me?’”
DiMartino stayed at UK, where he has strong ties, for 21 years, until Centre College came calling.
“I had an opportunity here to do some things and be part of a smaller community,” DiMartino says.
He already had gotten to know the town well, helping to found the Brass Band Festival with friend George Foreman, then director of the Norton Center for the Arts, and being part of the Danville-based Advocate Brass Band.
At Centre, he also liked the opportunity to work with a wider student population than just trumpet majors.
“I worked with pre-med students, I even worked with a couple of beginners from Japan,” DiMartino says. “They were here as exchange students and they wanted to learn to play trumpet. I said (to one student), ‘How long have you played trumpet?’ and he said, ‘I never played a trumpet before.’ I thought, wow, I guess I could start somebody. I never really thought about it, because I hadn’t done it in so long. And I enjoyed it; I enjoyed every second of it.
“We had a little pep band that I did at Centre for the football games and homecoming and family weekend. We did the jazz band, trumpet ensemble. It was very diverse, and I had a wonderful time with everything I did. But my first love is teaching trumpet and working with trumpet students.”
DiMartino says he finds joy in “being a catalyst for young people and being a support person to keep people achieving and to teach them to be fearless about their work and the time they spend and the value in spending time like that.”
In his years as a teacher, DiMartino has come to value a strong work ethic.
“Extraordinary people are not geniuses,” he says. “They’re people who are willing to spend an inordinate amount of time doing something most people are not willing to do.”
That’s why he holds Severinsen in such high esteem.
Despite his fame as the leader of the NBC Orchestra during Johnny Carson’s tenure on The Tonight Show and an extensive touring and recording career, Severinsen is an artist who is exploring and pushing himself, DiMartino says.
“He’s just as excited about trumpet as he’s ever been,” DiMartino says. “When I realized how you could be that excited, I realized how lazy I had been my whole life, compared to him. That moved me to a different level when I met him. I realized, you’re never going to know how great you are until have that kind of dedication. Not necessarily that you’re going to be great, but you will never know what your potential is until you push yourself that hard.”
He is not a Kentucky native, DiMartino says, but when he moved here in 1972, “I knew I wanted to stay.” He has become a leading cheerleader of Kentucky talent.
One of his post-retirement projects is a made-in-Kentucky album, “kind of a chronicle of how wonderful the musicians are in Central Kentucky. Kentucky is known for other types of music and sports — racing, basketball — which are great. But there are a lot of things going on in the arts area.”
The album will be an ensemble of artists and brass ensembles including the Lexington Brass Band and Saxton’s Cornet Band. There will be trumpet and organ pieces that he has performed with Schuyler Robinson and other recordings, “mostly of people that don’t get a lot of attention.”
DiMartino likes to use his position locally and internationally to publicize the commonwealth.
“When I’m going around to places like the International Trumpet Guild, I like to talk about what my colleagues are doing in Kentucky,” DiMartino says.
And with the amount of globe-trotting he does, he’s in a good position to evaluate the level of talent in Kentucky, and he says it’s high.
The album is one of many projects he’ll be working on, in large part from the basement of his Danville home, which is set up for practice, recording and research. He’s also launching other recordings, and he’s writing several books, including one about continuing to play as you get older. There are other projects as well.
“The retirement is really from having a set schedule,” DiMartino says, “so that I can be free to do more things and go anywhere I want.”