Maspeth, NY – Jerry Drake’s interest in music began in early childhood. Both of his
parents played the piano. His dad played by ear, and his mother only played if the music was in front of her. When his parents realized that their son had an ear for music, they hired a piano teacher for 11-year old Jerry. Prior to that, as a young child, Jerry played in a park across the street from a trumpet studio. His love for the sound of a trumpet eventually influenced him to switch from piano lessons to trumpet instruction. During that time, he also sang in the chorus in school.
According to Drake, “In my late teens, I began playing in local bands in New York City and
Long Island. Most of the musicians in these bands were much older than I was, which gave me the opportunity to learn the tunes in the 30’s and 40’s. At 19, I added valve trombone to my
performance. In 1961, the draft board caught up with me and I was drafted into the Army. I spent the next two years playing tuba and trumpet in the Army band.”
Following discharge, Jerry spent five years as a music student in Chicago, graduating in 1970 with a Master’s in Music Education from DePaul University. At that point, his teaching career began, and continues today. In 1973, Jerry launched a four-piece cover band playing in clubs, private parties, and special events. The band grew to six pieces in the 70’s and 80’s, and so did the variety of music. The group played standard, Latin, disco, rock, and a variety of ethnic music.
Jerry Drake played 150-200 gigs annually for over twenty years while teaching full-time
for the NY Department of Education. Jerry took a 2-year break to do freelance work music
work exclusively in the 90’s. In 1995, he helped organize and also fronted the “New York Big Band,” which continues today. This is a repeat performance for Jerry. In 1987, he helped to organize, and also fronted “The Serenaders in Blue Big Band,” which is also active today in the New York Area. In 1998, Jerry kicked off “The Front Page Big Band”–a highly successful band playing mostly in
the Manhattan area.
The group has recorded 3 CD’s so far. “It is my intention is to present original material using the traditional big band setting (3 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes & rhythm). The lyrics must be understandable. The music and arrangements must be listenable and danceable. Most importantly, the music must contain all these elements while working to communicate ideas and emotional power to the listener.”
The Cufflinks of Claude Thornhill
A Note from Jerry:
Recently, I received a letter from Steve Cameron, the grandson of Claude Thornhill, the great Big Band leader of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Along with the letter, Steve sent me a set of cuff-links that were worn by Claude at his performances. Below is a photo of these cuff-links and a “magnification” of the musical notes inscribed on the front.
In his letter, Steve writes, “These cuff-links…are parts of Big Band history. I hope they will find a home that will continue to fulfill Claude’s intention to encourage his love of music.” Steve, it is an honor to receive these cuff-links which are a “link” to Claude Thornhill, a great pianist, arranger, composer, and band leader.
-From the Desk of Jerry Drake
The Letter from Steve Cameron:
December 31st, 2011
To A Fellow Big Band Enthusiast:
My name is Steve Cameron. I am the step-grandson of Claude Thornhill. His wife, Ruth Thornhill, was the former Ruth Cameron (maiden name—Marvin) who is my paternal grandmother. Claude was the only grandfather I ever knew.
In 1962, when I was 12, Claude gave me this set of gold-toned, sheet music themed, novelty cuff-links. I had been playing the bugle in St Barbara’s Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corp. of Bushwick, Brooklyn for about a year at that time. I think it was Claude’s way of encouraging my interest in music
The cuff-links were a part of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra’s “getup” when the band was reconstituted following World War II. Of course the getup was changed from time-to-time, and I do not know what years they were worn. This pair was worn by Claude Thornhill himself in performance.
I never saw Claude in performance. But I frequently heard him working on arrangements at his grand piano, in the bay-windowed parlor of his Victorian home in Caldwell, New Jersey. He was a nice guy who always had a smile for his kids and took us on Sunday rides in his Fleetwood Cadillac.
These cuff-links are part of Big Band history. I hope they will find a home that will continue to fulfill Claude’s intention to encourage his love of music.