The lights have dimmed but the band plays on
■ Rusty Strait & Matt McPherson / The Valley Chronicle
The obituary reads “Jeffrey James Tower, 63 of Hemet, California passed away on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, at home surrounded by his loving family.”
That just doesn’t say anything about him as a person. Perhaps the proper line should read, “Jeff Tower visited us for 63 years. His shadow has blessed this valley and the thousands of musicians and musical students who were privy to come under his baton. It is often said of great ones, that they will long be remembered after they’re gone. Jeff’s trombone and baton, which were the inspiration to three generations of students at Hemet High School, will be discussed as long as there is music and ambitious young folks who aspire to make music a part of their future.
His honors are legendary: At his induction into the California Alliance for Jazz Hall of Fame in early 2012, he was the youngest jazz educator to enter that esteemed institution. The plaudits and awards are beyond the reasoning of any ordinary human being. Jeff Tower was so much more than ordinary.
Under his leadership, Hemet High bands recorded albums and toured the nation and the world. He instilled life lessons, values and ethics like no other could, always committed to excellence, accountability, work ethic, integrity and honor, both as musicians and citizens.
The Valley Chronicle believes those whose lives he touched tell the story best. Here are but a few:
(aka Jessy J) professional saxophonist:
Jeff Tower was an amazing teacher, friend and mentor. As a friend we would talk about family life and as a mentor he helped me at every stage of my career. I was blessed to have him in my life. When I was 15, he encouraged me to pursue music professionally. I recall asking him if I should major in classical piano or jazz saxophone at University of Southern California (USC) He urged me to go for the saxophone because it would open more important doors in the future. He was right, as usual. At USC, Tower continued to be engaged in my college activities by coming to see and hear me play in the marching band at football games. He equally supported my jazz gigs at Thornton Winery in Temecula. He continued to mentor me. When my saxophone was smashed on tour in Europe he arranged for a representative at Conn/Selmer to provide me a new one immediately, which was the beginning of my relationship with the company as an artist endorsee. Tower, you will be missed. Rest in peace.
Brent Howard: Las Vegas musician and club owner:
One thing that pops into mind is after I graduated, I came back and played at Hemet High School with my band, The Latest, as we were then known, with Tim and Pat Holloway, Jeff Herman and John Hancock – all students of Tower and members of his jazz band. He was quoted in a news article that our band was, “the best rock band I ever heard,” which meant a lot to not only me, but to the rest of the band because we knew what a perfectionist he was. He never gilded the lily. He was always a straight shooter. Those words from the Tower were solid gold to us.
Erik Bakkom, former student:
I owe a lot to a guy on a trombone who mentored thousands of kids through some of the most formative years of their young lives. There are teachers you respect because they are smart; who can tease knowledge or talent out of the kid who is otherwise pretty quiet. Even the ones who set a huge challenge for you that you pick up and run with for some reason you don’t understand. He was a teacher who talks to you like a person instead of a kid.
When all of these qualities are rolled into one teacher, good things happen. When that teacher is your jazz band/symphonic and band/marching band director, it produces amazing results to build upon through Hemet’s system with Larry Mathews, Bob Waner, Ken Biskie and Mel Smith to work my trumpet skills, and throw in Allen Carter as my director to spark my love of playing jazz in seventh grade. It is so appropriate that Jeff Tower would turn years of lessons into something impressive. My classmates have filled Facebook with love and adoration these last few days. So now I’d like to take a moment to say thanks to Tower, for all the inspiration to try a little harder, climb to the upper registers a little higher/louder than I thought I could. Thank you for your ability to constructively tear apart an OK rehearsal or performance to make it better next time. You made professional musicians approachable, to work us harder and inspire more…lessons with Jim Linahon, workshops with Ken Lesight or Allen Carter. What an amazing staff at our summer jazz camps.
You helped me to be a better trumpet player, student, and engineer in many ways and gave me so many opportunities that made high school fun. Concerts, competitions, parades, football halftime performances, playing jazz at Hermosa Beach and the Hollywood Bowl, marching in the Rose Bowl Parade, recording studio albums and last but not least, just kicking back in the band room, when you were kicking our tails in there.
For all that, thank you Tower. We will miss you.
Jennifer York, KNX-CBS Radio morning news, weather and traffic reporter:
I studied music under Jeff Tower at Hemet High and with his encouragement, went on to form my own band due to his mentoring and support. He was such a super musical teacher and beyond that, a caring person about each and every one of his students. Everything I ever hope to know about music I owe to The Tower. He taught me how to perform on bass in front of an audience, how to be out in front of a band doing solos without fear. He was the ultimate jazz master and I absolutely worshiped him. No matter where I go or what I do as a musician or human being, Jeff Tower’s presence will always be within earshot.
Linda Krupa, current Mayor of Hemet:
My daughter, who now plays trombone with the United States Navy’s Commodore Jazz Band, studied music under Jeff Tower at Hemet High and mentored her well beyond that time. He was like a second father to her. Often more guardian angel than teacher, Jeff nurtured her along like no other throughout her high school years with kindness and understanding. He set standards for all of his charges, giving them a base foundation for dealing with the public and life. I don’t know how she could have become the wonderful musician and example for young musicians on the way up the ladder without Jeff Tower.
Julie Ann Herzog, Jeff’s former wife:
Jeff and I retained a good friendship the last few years of his life. I helped coordinate and provide medical care at his home, which was his main wish. Jeff’s father, his children and I did everything we could to help keep him comfortable and cared for. Everything Jeff did in his life, whether it be with his family or with his musical career and students, he did it BIG.
We worked hard together to raise our three children. We enjoyed a close friendship the last year and a half and were ecstatic when our daughter presented us with our first granddaughter in March. He was proud that our son Jonathan followed in his footsteps musically, playing the trombone professionally with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, often going along to watch and listen as any proud father would. As he molded the children of other parents into good citizenship, he did not neglect his own who have grown up to be strong, successful and hard-working. Jeff and I cherished family and were thankful that our three children are very close friends, not just siblings.
Jeffery James Tower:
Perhaps the master spoke better than anyone else as to what and how he did it all when he was inducted into the California Alliance for Jazz Hall of Fame: “It is a pleasure to join the jazz education masters that I have admired as I matured as a music educator throughout the years being involved at Hemet High and in music education. It partly was possible also due to the hard work of my students and their parents’ involvement, with support from our community.”
He didn’t care who got the credit as long as his students stood head and shoulders together as good musicians and, more importantly, good persons. The world, but especially, the San Jacinto Valley, bids farewell to a man who made changes in his community – and all for the better.
Jeff Tower mentored and kept me going in the right direction. I owe so much of my current career in real estate to the musical and ethical honesty he instilled in me. He will always be a part of who I am.
I enjoyed the privilege of singing with Jeff’s big jazz band at several fundraisers. As a bandleader he knew what the word “accompany” meant. He took me aside and explained something to enhance my phrasing in a particular song. He didn’t have to do that. He was always the teacher; always a caring man.