Sitting In

I remember all those great bands. Those bands that played pizza joints, VFW halls, and schnitzel houses all over southeast Wisconsin. Don Gruetzmacher’s Green Notes, the Tom Dombrowski Seven, Die Musikmeisters, Jan Debaum and His Polka Bums, the Swingin’ Udders. My mother had died a couple years back, and Dad still didn’t know what to do with me. I’d just started playing tuba in the school wind ensemble (the director insisted I had a tubist’s lips—I took him at his word), and Dad indulged my new mania, sometimes driving us as far as Sheboygan to see a group I’d read about in the paper. Back then, no one flipped out over kids hanging around in bars. Pretty soon I was sitting in with every band I could. There didn’t seem to be a leader out there able to resist seeing a skinny twelve-year-old, his rosy cheeks puffed out, blatting away on “Roll Out the Barrel.”

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