Born: August 21, 1921 | Died: September 26, 2011 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
A trumpet virtuoso to equal all rivals, Rasey has played with everyone from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to the Monkees, and on film scores from An American in Paris to Chinatown. His trumpet can be heard throughout Jerry Goldsmith's score for the latter film, one of the great, classic uses of the solo instrument in the history of cinema.
As a recording artist, he's played with the likes of Sinatra, Crosby, Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, Anita O'Day, Doris Day, the Andrews Sisters, Benny Carter, Ray Anthony, Frankie Laine, Louis Prima, Judy Garland, Ella Mae Morse, and the Monkees.
Ask any trumpet player in town to recommend a teacher, and you will hear one name: Uan Rasey.
This is the man who knows, the man who played first trumpet on the great MGM soundtracks from the Golden Age of Hollywood: ''An American in Paris,'' ''Singing in the Rain,'' ''Gigi,'' ''West Side Story,'' ''My Fair Lady,'' ''Cleopatra'' -- the man who handled the big pictures right on down to ''Chinatown,'' ''Pennies from Heaven'' and ''High Anxiety.''
Here is what he told a pupil who went for a lesson not long ago:
''Play it lovely, thoughtful, reverent... play it nicely,'' he said. ''It's easy to blow loud and harsh. Play it reverently with a nice sound. Even when you play loud, make it reverent. Make it sound like somebody saying something nice to you.''
So on Nov 18, 1996, there came to be many people gathered at at the Ventura Club in the Valley, all saying something nice to Uan, who has been playing lovely, thoughtful and reverent for nearly 60 years.
He learned to play in Glasgow, Mont., where he had to keep up with his two sisters, Jean and Adelle. They were all under the tutelege of their mother, Una, who transposed a couple of letters to give Uan his name.
Soon he too was transposing, although he was at first unaware of this.
''I played 'Carnival of Venice' when I was 13 years of age,'' he remembered, looking back from the age of 75. ''I played it a half tone too low, in the key of B, because I just had a record to learn it from. We just had an old windup, and that's as high as the record would go.''
By the time he was 18, Rasey had polished his chops in Glasgow and L.A., where his family moved, and landed a job playing first trumpet in the big band of Sonny Dunham, a virtuoso trumpet player out of the Casa Loma Orchestra.
Every year they played the Palladium in Hollywood and every year, Rasey recalled, ''a guy named George Wendt, they called him Fat Wendt, used to audition the trumpeters when they came to the Palladium. He offered me a job to play with him at Columbia Pictures. I turned him down, I thought it was corny.
''So luckily, I got a blister on my lip and I couldn't play. I had to come back to Los Angeles and plane it down. I had to lay off for three months before it healed up. Then I got the biggest mouthpiece I could find down at Lockie's music store, it was like a 1A Bach. And I played the same mouthpiece the rest of my life.''
He took Wendt up on the Columbia Pictures offer but soon landed in the radio studios, where he played on ''Your Hit Parade,'' ''Sound Off,'' ''The Telephone Hour'' ''The Firestone Show,'' ''The Westinghouse Symphonic Hour,'' ''Lux Radio Theater,'' ''The Jack Benny Show,'' ''The George Burns Show,'' ''The Paul Whiteman Hour'' and the one where he had the most fun, ''The Kraft Music Hall'' featuring Bing Crosby, with John Scott Trotter leading the band and Billy May writing the charts.
''We liked it because Billy would write things out. His things were quiet. He might spend three or four hours writing something that he wanted to do. But he could make Bing's arrangements in 45 minutes. He'd write -- oh, maybe a Bach thing or a Mahler thing -- and see if anybody could recognize it. He might write it backwards, and see if you could guess what it was.''
So Rasey admits to having a great time there for about five years, and then came the offer in 1949 of the first trumpet chair in the MGM Studios orchestra, under a contract that permitted him to play and record at other studios and in other orchestras.
These were led by such figures as Leonard Bernstein, Eric Leinsdorf, John Williams, Dmitri Tiompkin, Miklos Rosza, Alfred Newman, Leopold Stowkowski, Andre Previn, Adolph Deutsch, Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Zubin Mehta, Felix Slatkin, Leonard Slatkin, John Green and Lennie Hayton, to name a few.
It was quite a learning experience.
Playing in such renowned orchestras, ''you have to listen and be aware of each other,'' Rasey found. ''That's why we're very lucky in music because you have to think abstractly, to perceive before you play. You try to read the music ahead so you can even do it the first time. As a first trumpet player you try to do that, not always successfully. You try to make it so the leader thinks you're helping him, try to go a little beyond what he wants to have.''
Rasey has been out of the full-time recording scene for many years now, and he seldom finds it necessary to listen to himself on the old videos.
''It's just work. You go to work and do the best you can and go home.''
Nowadays there's the teaching, which brings him students from all over the world, including top flight recording musicians like Arturo Sandoval and Jack Sheldon. ''I try to stay ahead of them,'' muttered Rasey, who also feels a little humble about this tribute stuff.
''I'm usually the one who gives the party,'' he pointed out. It was Rasey who put together tributes in recent years for Alvino Rey, Jimmy Rowles, Bill Miller, Gerald Wilson and Zeke Zarchy, among others. On this night in 1996, it was Rasey's turn.
''This way we tell people we love 'em before they die,'' Rasey remarked. ''I have a picture taken in 1939, when I went to MGM, and of the nine brasses, only two have survived, Si Zentner and myself.''
Source: Bruce Eder
Singin' in the Rain (MGM
West Side Story (United Artists)
My Fair Lady (Warner Bros.)
Two For The See Saw (Warner Bros)
Bye Bye Birdie (Columbia Pictures)
Perhaps his best known soundtrack performance was for the movie Chinatown (1974) (Paramount)
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