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Disque says music a family affair

May 31, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

While many people tend to associate loneliness and sorrow with the blues, the founder and chairman of next weekend's Western Maryland Blues Fest tends to think of family.

It was family that gave Carl Disque his first alto saxophone when he was in second grade.

And it was family that led Disque to believe a blues festival would be a wonderful event for the City of Hagerstown, its residents and tourists.

Disque and his family visited a blues festival in Charlottesville, Va., for Labor Day in 1994, Disque saw how many activities the festival included, especially for kids.

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At least one of those activities became part of the Western Maryland Blues Fest when it began last year - harmonica workshops.

Disque said he remembered thinking, "We could do this in Hagerstown because we have The Maryland Theatre," as well as other venues such as City Park and Public Square.

"There were a lot of possibilities and I got really charged up," said Disque, 38.

So did Hagerstown officials, and the Western Maryland Blues Fest was born last June.

"He is the reason we have the Western Maryland Blues Fest," said Karen Giffin, Hagerstown's downtown coordinator. "He has started something that has caught fire."

"Carl took the initiative for the Blues Fest and he also took the chair," Giffin said. Disque was willing to commit to his ideas to make them work, she said.

Disque knows about commitment.

He began playing that alto saxophone, a gift from his late great-uncle, Ed Johnston, in third grade. On the advice of a teacher, he waited a year after he was given the sax to begin playing. The teacher was concerned Disque might not start practicing again since he would have to stop when his front teeth fell out.

"Music has always been a very big part of my life," said Disque, a local attorney who practices general law.

"I saw it as something that was fun rather than a chore I had to complete," Disque said of practicing.

The horn also was instrument to help Disque mourn the death of his great uncle and musical mentor, he said.

The tenor sax he will play during the Blues Fest's open mike jam session next Sunday at City Park was the one his Great- Uncle Ed used to play with Disque.

"I think about him a lot," Disque said. His great uncle was self-taught on the sax and would play with Disque despite a skin disease that made it difficult to play.

Disque played sax in a high school rock band while still in junior high in Frederick County. He went on to be lead tenor in the University of Virginia's Jazz Ensemble.

Realizing he needed to buckle down on his studies to prepare for law school, Disque toned down his sax playing for a few years, but continued to play for his own enjoyment.

In 1992, Disque would pick up the instrument again and has yet to put it down.

When Pete Lancaster and his family moved into Disque's Fry Avenue neighborhood, Disque's son, Eric, 9, made some new playmates while the elder Disque picked up a playing partner.

Lancaster, who plays the harmonica and acoustic guitar, got Disque interested in the blues.

"It just really grabbed me and was fascinating to me," Disque said.

Disque and Lancaster started jamming together at each others homes and eventually gave their first public performance at an open mike night at Hagerstown Junior College's Prospect Coffee House.

"We were really well received," Disque said. They even got an offer to play at a party downtown and became regulars at Twilight's Ristorante on Thursday nights.

Jam sessions now include three more instrumentalists - bass guitarist Arnie Helmick, drummer Bart Lay, and Alan Mason, who plays keyboard, electric guitar and fiddle.

While the group, known as 2BLUE Ensemble, isn't one of the scheduled acts at the festival this year, blues lovers can hear the members play on their first compact disc, Decision Gate. The compact disc will be released June 6.

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