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At 73, trombonist has regular gig

February 12, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Mel Wanzo, born in Cleveland on Nov. 22, 1930, started playing trumpet while he was in grade school, and took up the valve trombone during his last two years of high school.

His grandfather, who played the trumpet and directed the church choir, encouraged him to do what he loved.

Wanzo decided to switch instruments when he saw the Duke Ellington Orchestra - with Juan Tizol on trombone - and he changed to play valve trombone.

"I loved the trombone," Wanzo says.

From 1952 to 1954, during the Korean conflict, Wanzo served in the 36th Army Band. He continued to play after his service and studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Wanzo performed with Woody Herman's Swinging Herd and with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Then, he was on the road for more than 40 years, playing and recording with the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.

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And Wanzo still is playing. He mentors the Wayne State University Jazz Band and performs every Wednesday night with Johnny Trudell at Boocoo, a restaurant in Detroit. The gig started last May and was supposed to last for a month, Wanzo laughs.

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