. . . Winter 1996
As a U-M School of Music student in East Quad in March of 1954, Alexander T. Campbell Sr. and other students competed in the annual Gulantics talent show in Hill Auditorium. Campbell's trio, headed by Anceo Franciso on piano with Jimmie Williams on bass, took the $25 third-place prize.
"I played in the Michigan Band under William Revelli---who was a great man, he made me sweat blood---but I also led a popular jazz sextet," Campbell recalled on a visit to Ann Arbor. The 1955 graduate of the School of Music (he earned his master's at the School in '60) joined more than 300 other former band members Oct. 19 in the Alumni Band's annual Blast From the Past performances during Homecoming Weekend.
Joining Campbell was his son Garland '83, who not only marched beside his father while also playing tenor sax, but has followed in his father's footsteps in other ways as well. He conducts the varsity band at Harbor College in Los Angeles; his father directed the Ecorse, Michigan, high school band for 30 years before retiring with his wife, Barbara, an occupational therapist, to California in 1986.
The Campbells could have made it four-of-a-kind in the Alumni Band if Alex Jr. and David had been free to make the trip from California. Alex Jr. played sax in the Michigan Band from 1975-77, and David, the youngest Campbell, was a percussionist before getting his BA in fine arts in 1989.
Usually, however, the Campbells are musically united. This fall they released their first CD, From Square 1, produced by their company, Bunk Bed Music, and marketed by another family firm, Marquis Records of Wilmington, California. Alexander Sr. was the session director for the recording, and three other musicians completed the Campbell Bros. sextet. Having a band director for a father meant the brothers "always had all sorts of instruments at home---violins, guitars, trombones," Garland said. "We learned something about them all because they were all sitting around the house. My mom was a musician, too, but she became an occupational therapist."
Alexander Sr. added that he and his wife "didn't cram anything down their throats, but we exposed them to opportunities I wish I'd had. I used to pack them up, leave home and take them to Ann Arbor to listen to the Michigan Band practice."
"Jazz parallels the oral literature tradition," Garland said. "Legends are passed down from player to player. We learned our music from other practitioners of the art form. It happened that one of the most important of them was our father."
Alexander Sr. played sax for Motown records during the company's heyday for Martha and the Vandellas, the Temptations, the Four Tops and other groups, and his rollicking composition on the CD, "No Ghetto Blues," has the strongest rhythm and blues flavor. The brothers composed nine of the 10 other tunes because, Galrand explained, "it takes two years to record the CD, so we'd rather put our own music out there than anyone else's." After completing the recording sessions, they got their corporate license and set up a company to receive royalties "so we can get income from the plays on the radio."
The Campbell Bros.' style, Garland said, is "contemporary jazz with an urban slant, which of course can mean different things at different times. But if you don't categorize yourself, someone else will put a label on your music, and it may not be one you like. I'd say urban contemporary jazz is post hard-bop. It's a sound that began in the '60s with David Sanborn and Grover Washington. It is R&B-influenced jazz with a pop feel. The best audience for us is a seated audience that likes to tap their feet, bob their heads and clap their hands."
The Campbells handled their own manufacturing and distribution. They did their own graphic design, and wrote their album jacket and public relations materials. While in Ann Arbor they were "bearing down on selling—commitment is the key," Garland said. "The legal portion of the project is 70% of the effort, and the performance portion 30%."
Garland's friend Julie D. Sasaki '87, '92 MBA U-M-Flint, a flutist in the U-M Band, has helped with publicity. "I met Garland through my brother Dave ['82, biomedical sciences]," Sasaki said. "Dave and Garland met when they were in Boys State in high school and later when they both played tenor sax in the Michigan Band."
Alexander Sr. said he hoped to see "a tune at the top of the charts." The group's longer-range objectives, Garland said, are "to get as many performance and recording dates as possible, to have a new CD out next year and to record new artists---the ones I call the unknown greats. You can go to dozens of cities of all sizes throughout this country, walk into a club and hear some players who aren't known outside their hometown and have never been recorded, playing at least as well as any big-name recording artist you can mention."
Garland gets a chance to scout some of the unknowns during marketing tours for From Square 1, visiting radio stations in Detroit, Flint, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh. The marketing push has been assisted by friends and other family members steeped in the Go Blue tradition. Helping with marketing is Garland's wife, the former Angela Deaver '83 of Ann Arbor, who is in higher education administration at UCLA. Angela was a member of the Wolverines' first Big Ten championship gymnastics squad in 1982. Her brother Dorian '80 and sister Caren Deaver Denson '86 also were varsity gymnasts, with Caren captaining her team.
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