There’s a video on the Internet that proports to give lessons on playing the trumpet. It features Steve Madaio. And while I’m not particularly interested in learning a musical instrument. I am interested Steve Madaio. You see, I knew Steve a long time ago. We went to high school together. He was one of my best friends.
The video does not exemplify good teaching. It starts with Steve standing next to a young student. Steve plays a short ‘exercise’ and then says to his student, with no explanation or anything, just, ‘Now you do it.’ The student plays the exercise, and then Steve says. ‘It’s that easy.’ On to the next lesson he ends, ‘It’s that easy.’ And so on. There was nothing explained, like when you would use this particulate technique, or what it was good for. Nothing.
Come this September it will be 55 years since I first met Steve Madaio. My mother had to attend a PTA meeting where she met Mrs. Madaio. The Madaio family were new in town. Mrs. Madaio had a son who was also starting 9th grade. Steve, my mother told me, was looking for someone to hang out with. No big deal. He lived only two blocks away. Why not stop over there sometime? Oh, and Jim, he plays the trumpet too. Just like you.
It soon became apparent that Steve did not play ‘just like me’ at all–not by a long shot. When Steve played the trumpet, the angles sang. I was mediocre; Steve was amazing. There had been a hotly contested pecking order in the trumpet section established over the years. Jimmy Kaufman and David Dillinger had vied with each other all year to be the top banana. I could play one song, When the Saints go Marching in. Before Steve, I had to deal with a lot of grief, but being a friend of Steve Madaio improved my status immensely. It did not improve my playing one wit.
The band leader in Lynbrook South, Mr. Pinto, was a fiery and emotional guy. Hard to please. He heard Steve play maybe one note and he broke up the pecking order. Steve was given the first chair by acclamation. No body objected. Steve could play anything. That year we performed the music from Lawrence of Arabia for the Christmas concert. It was a pretty tough piece for a junior high school band. Steve carried us through it. Even Mr. Pinto was happy.
Steve and I took to each us right away. Lynbrook had just built two new junior high schools. The south one hand a big playing field where we used to play tackle football without any padding. I invited Steve to come along with me and despite the fact it was sort of dangerous, Steve proved to be one of our best players. When Steve built up a head of steam, he was damn hard to tackle. The only problem was that Steve had to go home early to practice. Practicing the trumpet would always come first. No, playing the trumpet would always come first. He was in the ninth grade when he first started playing professionally. He used to go into the city on a Friday night and play in some bar that his father had gotten him into. Mr. Madaio was also a musician, but he had a day job that paid the rent.
When Steve got his driver’s license, he went out a bought an old Triumph sports car. It was way cool. The only problem was it wouldn’t start, and we had to get it back to his house. We finally hit on the idea to tie it to the fender of my car and tow it. We almost made it. I was driving my car (a 1960 Ford Fairlane—not so cool as the Triumph, but it ran)—and Steve was steering his, when another car cut me off. I slammed on my brakes but Steve didn’t have time enough get his car stopped and he crashed into my rear. There were broken head lights all over the street.
After high school Steve attended Mannes School of Music; but only for one semester. I don’t think they had much to teach him at Mannes. Steve at a young age was ready for the pros. Steve embarked on career that had him playing with the likes of Paul Butterfield, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones. He was amazing.
I lost touch with Steve after he left Lynbrook. Every so often I’d heart from a mutual friend that had played on a Barbara Streisand album or had backed up Bob Dylan, but that was it.
Steve Madaio died this past January of a heart attack. He was 70 years old. I guess I thought we’d meet again someday, but we never did. Steve was a special dude. No question about it. When the Saints Go marching in, I’m pretty sure Steve will be in that number.
It’s that easy.