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Renowned trumpeter takes center stage in Lakewood Ranch

Vincent DiMartino is the featured soloist during the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble's Spring Concert at Peach Presbyterian.

Trumpeter Vincent DiMartino has more than 160 cornets and trumpets in his collection.
Trumpeter Vincent DiMartino has more than 160 cornets and trumpets in his collection.
Photo by Jay Heater
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It was 1960, and 12-year-old Vince DiMartino was not going to be denied.

He already had hit his musical jackpot, being able to attend a concert of three of his heroes, Maynard Ferguson, Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong.

The concert was held at a Long Island, New York hockey arena, not far from his home.

But hearing three of the world's greatest musicians was not going to be enough. He wanted to meet Louis Armstrong, and he propped himself up against Armstrong's dressing room door long before the concert began.

At the time, as DiMartino explains, there were two men in the world known simply as Louis. One was former world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who actually had ended his career nine years earlier in 1951.

The other "Louis," still going strong, was trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

Meeting Louis

Due to his stature, Armstrong had a security guard watching his dressing room door. The guard told DiMartino, "Son, I can't let you knock on that door. I can't let you meet Mr. Armstrong."

DiMartino didn't leave.

"Then he took a piece of paper out of his pocket," DIMartino said of the security guard. "He said, 'I will let you knock on the door if you can get Mr. Armstrong to give you an autograph for my daughter.'"

DiMartino made the deal, and knocked on the door. To his surprise, Armstrong answered it himself.

"Hello young man," he told DiMartino. "What can I do for you?"

The 12-year-old, who had just taken up the trumpet, explained his reverence for the man standing in front of him, and the deal he had made with the security guard.

Armstrong laughed, and then talked to the youngster for 20 minutes about all his years playing music all over the world.

It is still an experience that DiMartino, now 74, calls the best musical moment of his life.

"It was a harbinger of things to come for me," said DiMartino, who lives in Eagle Trace of Lakewood Ranch and will be the featured soloist on March 5 during the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble's concert at Peace Presbyterian Church.

Lakewood Ranch's Vincent DiMartino has been invited to play trumpet at universities all over the world.
Photo by Jay Heater

"I was going to be a dentist."

The world lost a dentist that day.

Inside the world of music, DiMartino became known as one of the top trumpeters in the world, playing the lead for the best in the industry, such as the Lionel Hampton Band, the Chuck Mangione Band, the Clark Terry Band, and The Eastman Arranger’s Holiday Orchestra.

But if he never became known as simply "Vince," that's OK with him.

"I am a teacher first," DiMartino said.

While Armstrong inspired him to be great at his craft, he also learned another lesson.

"These people never have a moment of reality, an anonymity," DiMartino said. "That's an important part, because you have no life. You live in a building that was built for people to look at you."

That didn't mean he didn't want to become as good as anyone who has played the trumpet.

"I guess it would be better to say that I wanted to reach my potential," he said.

Joe Miller, the founder of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, said those who attend the March 5 concert will be seeing something special.

"Vince is one of the best four or five trumpet players in the world, bar none," Miller said. "Anyone who is anyone in music knows Vince DiMartino.

"Vince also is one of the nicest, warmest, most talented teachers I've ever met."

DiMartino's talent has taken him all over the world, but mostly to universities that had recruited him.

"Mostly I go to verify what (music instructors) have been teaching (the students)," he said.

Getting started

After growing up and graduating from high school in Babylon, New York, DiMartino attended the The Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York), where he graduated in 1972.

He already was an accomplished professional musician and his ability helped him land his second teaching job.

Vincent DiMartino will be featured during the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble's Spring Concert on March 5 at Peace Presbyterian Church.
Photo by Jay Heater

His first job as a teacher came at Madison High School in Rochester as a band director, but he didn't last a year because he said the school's music program was poor. Madison High School didn't last long, either.

"They knocked it down," he said.

Fate then intervened. He was playing with the Lionel Hampton Band at the Red Mile racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky with Hubert Henderson in the audience. Henderson was head of the music school at the University of Kentucky and he had heard about DiMartino's reputation. Henderson, a trumpeter himself, liked what he heard and offered DiMartino a job as a professor.

The job turned into a 21-year career.

"There was a need for a person like me," DiMartino said.

In other words, the University of Kentucky needed a music professor who also was a top performer.

He said there was so much for his students to learn about music off the campus.

"It's the real world," he said. "I would take my students with me (to his concerts)."

He began to see the world both as a performer and an instructor. Europe, Asia, Australia, South America. He was everywhere.

"i don't like living in hotels," he said. "But working with students makes it worth traveling."

Those travels have taken him to 48 of the 50 states, with only Oregon and Hawaii failing to present his skills.

Staying busy

Locally, DiMartino has a busy schedule. Besides performing for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, he plays for the Sarasota Jazz Project, the Greg Nielsen Sextet at the Latin Quarters Restaurant on Tuesdays, and in several jazz artists series and at churches up and down the west coast of Florida.

He came to Lakewood Ranch because he was taking part in a clinical trial for Merkel cell carcinoma at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. He is enthusiastic about his prognosis and enjoys each day as it comes with his wife, Patti Powell.

"My wife has helped me get through this every day, which makes things so much easier," he said.

At his age, he has adapted in choosing his music.

"You have to learn to adapt because you don't want to perform at a lower level," he said. "The pieces I used to play were so physically challenging that most people would not play them."

At Peace Presbyterian, he will play a 120-year-old cornet, which is one of the 160 trumpets and cornets he has in his collection. A cornet has four 180 degree curves in its tubing as compared to two curves in a trumpet.

Why play an instrument over a century old?

"It's like any machine," he said. "They try to improve it. But companies go into slumps. This was a good period for a cornet."

It will be the first time in 18 months he has played a live solo.

Jim Hill, the lead trumpet for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, said those who attend will be hearing something special.

"It's his pedigree, his schooling, his reputation," Hill said. "It is hard to be a professional athlete and always be on. He is always on. And he raises the level of the whole group by his presence."

So what is his biggest moment performing?

He said March 5 will be.

"You have to be in the now situation," he said. "Now is the moment. It doesn't matter if I am playing at the smallest church or at a hospital. I will enjoy this as much as soloing in Carnegie Hall with the Boston Pops."



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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