I’m thinking about the recent Father’s Day. I’m thinking about our two children and how consistently happy I am to be their father. And I’m thinking about my own dad.
I am my father’s son in so many ways. I’ve just completed 36 years as a percussionist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My father, too, was a member of the Orchestra, also in the percussion section, and also named Jim.
Let me tell you a little bit about my dad. He was born and raised in Boston and had a “Bostonian” accent until the day he died (Pahk the car in Hahvad Yahd). As a very young man, he moved to New York City and started freelancing as a musician, including playing in the pit at the famous Roxy Theater.
His symphony orchestra career began when he was invited by Pierre Monteax to play with the San Francisco Symphony. After moving to the Cincinnati Symphony at the invitation of Fritz Reiner, he met my mother and that’s where I was born, the first of three children. Dr. Reiner then moved to Pittsburgh to become the music director of that orchestra and he asked my dad to be the Principal Percussionist there. These were the days when formal, structured auditions didn’t really exist. If the music director of a symphony orchestra wanted to hire someone he knew or knew of, he simply hired them. That’s a much different world from today’s rigorous audition procedures, but that’s an article for another day. When I was six years old we moved once more, again at the request of Dr. Reiner. This time it was to Chicago.
My father spent a relatively short time in the CSO: 13 years, from his arrival in1954 until his retirement in 1967. Hard for me to believe that I’m close to tripling that! It is also hard for me to express how fortunate I feel to do something I’ve loved so much for so long.
I didn’t directly succeed my dad into this job. I was still in high school when he retired. His opening was won by a wonderful person and musician named Jim Lane (another Jim!) James Lane tragically died at the young age of 37 from cancer. When the audition for his position was held, I succeeded in getting the job and was hired by Sir Georg Solti. That was in 1979!
To this day, as almost a weekly occurrence, I read off of music parts from the CSO library that have my father’s name scribbled at the top in his own hand. It just reminds me of how we are all caretakers of positions in this great institution. Positions that have been nurtured by great musicians in the past and that will be cared for by many great musicians in the future. And I know--in the not too distant future--one of those musicians will be a percussionist reading parts that already have the markings of two different Rosses...both named Jim.
I am my father’s son.
Left to right: George Gershwin, Fritz Reiner, Jim Ross, with the tuned taxi horns that Gershwin wrote for in An American in Paris, and tenor Richard Crooks.
The photo is from 1929, one year after American in Paris was written.