He has played over 20 festivals in a year, but there was a time long ago when Cornet Chop Suey’s cornet player, Tom Tucker, was going to call it quits.
A retired marine was Tucker’s first band teacher growing up in St. Louis playing trumpet when he was 12 years old. Tucker said he was the typical drill-instructor.
“He would be really critical, I would come home to my mom and say ‘I’m not going to keep up with it,’ and she’d say ‘well, just try it another week,’” Tucker said. “She just kept saying ‘another week, another week.’”
Meanwhile, his teacher would liken his trumpet playing to the “sound of an old moo-cow.”
“I have to give (my mom) credit for keeping me in it because I was close to saying ‘ah, this isn’t for me,’” Tucker said. “I’m sure glad she did, I’d have trouble seeing my life without music.”
After getting drafted into the Navy in the early 1960s, Tucker remained in the reserves until the ‘80s, and after some time away, returned to the music he loved throughout high school and college after selling an auto dealership he owned with his brother. Tucker was never a classically trained musician outside of high school band, but his love for jazz tunes kept him coming back.
“This sounds like a good ol’ boy statement, but I’m a high school musician with a love for music and an ear,” Tucker said.
Cornet Chop Suey, named after the famed Louie Armstrong song, formed out of the St. Louis jazz scene in the late ‘90s and got onto the festival circuit in the early 2000s.
Tucker’s first love was traditional jazz or Dixieland, while co-leader Brian Casserly came out of a blues background. The diverse seven-member group brings along influences from big band and cool jazz to bebop and everything in between.
A St. Louis promoter was talking to Tucker and Casserly, asking if they would be interested in forming a band with two horns on the front line.
Casserly and Tucker knew of each other but hadn’t officially met yet.
“A lot of the times the same instrument, with type-A personalities they end up not having room for each other, but we got along so well and I think it was Brian at the end of it who said we ought to think of doing something together,” Tucker said.
It was Casserly who came up with the Armstrong-inspired moniker while the band was forming.
“It was great for me because it’s a Dixieland tune name. (Casserly) says on stage sometimes in a kidding way that Louie Armstrong wrote that for us back in 1925,” Tucker laughed.
The group started out playing one festival in 2001, but by 2002 they were playing eight.
“It just took off,” Tucker said.
They have played shows in Germany, Switzerland and Italy and have been to the Pentastic Jazz Festival in Penticton five times.
Cornet Chop Suey play the Pentastic Jazz Festival at different venues for all three days of the event, Sept. 9 to 11. Visit www.pentasticjazz.com for more information.