Arnie Chycoski

Memorial Tribute by Ian McDougall

For many of you gathered here today, Arnie was literally an idol. We are here to honor and praise one of the greatest human beings I have ever known who was for a period of 25 years or so the very best in the world at what he did.

I first met Arnie in the late 1950’s when he was appearing at a jazz club in Victoria called ‘the Scene’ - it was run by the same people who had established the old ‘Cellar’ in Vancouver at Main and Broadway. At that time, Arnie was an ambitious young trumpet player who was much more interested in improvising than being a lead player. He idolized Clifford Brown – as did most trumpet players, both jazz and classical. I sat in with Arnie’s group for a few tunes and we established a friendship that has lasted for over fifty years.

Arnie went his way to California and the Westlake College of Music, and I, after a couple of years at Victoria College, went mine, heading at that time for England. Our next meeting was in Vancouver in the early to mid 1960’s. Arnie had begun to establish himself as a first class lead player, most notably with the Sy Zentner Band, in which he spent five years on the road - gaining what Erich Traugott would say was a lot of mileage - road, music and life. (The Zentner band had a huge hit in the early 60’s, a kind of rock version of ‘Up a Lazy River’ – it even made it to #1 on the hit parade. Arnie’s ‘kiss’ on the final high note of that recording is legendary!)

We played a few gigs together, many of them CBC shows, and most notably with Arnie’s great buddy, Ray Sikora. At the end of one arrangement, I recall watching Arnie hit a high G, a very high note on the trumpet. At that time he used his physical strength to play and hold that note. The bicep and tricep muscles on his left arm quivered with absolute determination. Over the subsequent years Arnie refined his style and sound to make it all appear so very easy. However, Arnie was not from the so-called ‘hot dog’ school of Big Band lead playing. He cared about a beautiful sound and the ‘time-feel’ more than anything else. There was a lot of ‘hot-dogging’ in those days (I am guilty!) and in truth it was exciting to hear some of it - but Arnie was a purist. He modeled his style after a New York player by the name of Bernie Glow. Bernie was the #1 call in New York in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and like Arnie – a purist.

Arnie told me about the time when he went to see the trumpet maker Elden Benge in Los Angeles. Having secured his job with Sy Zentner, Arnie wanted to buy a Benge trumpet, which was much desired by professionals. He met Mr. Benge in his LA workshop and told him that he would like to purchase one of his trumpets. Benge pointed to an instrument that was hanging on the wall and told him that it was all he had at the moment, and indicated that Arnie could try it. He did, and after playing a few notes, Mr. Benge stopped him and said that he actually did have another instrument in his safe – and that Arnie should try that one! He did, and fell in love with the instrument. He then had to tell Mr. Benge that he was broke, but had a steady job with Zentner and he would send him some money every week until the horn was paid for – and Benge said OK! Arnie loved that horn – and although he played several trumpets over the years, and sounded great on them all, he cherished his Benge.

(An aside; during one recording session in the ‘70’s in the old Manta Sound studios, we took a coffee break. Arnie put his Benge, bell-down, on the studio floor and departed. The other 2 trumpet players had brought in an old trumpet that literally looked like a truck had run over it, laid it on the floor, and picked up Arnie’s Benge . Upon coming back from the break, Arnie saw the trumpet and went into complete shock – he looked like he was about to break into tears or outrage or “?”. The guys that perpetrated the prank saw what was transpiring and took immediate action to remedy the situation. Eventually everyone had a good laugh – including Arnie. He really did cherish that Benge!)

Eventually, Arnie ended up in Toronto in the late 60’s and my family and I moved there in 1973 – and it was there that we continued as close friends and colleagues. Arnie had become an important member of the Toronto scene both in live performance and in the studios. He had an ironclad philosophy; basically it was, “I am a trumpet player – that’s what I do. No matter what kind of job it is, or whether I play first or fifth trumpet, if my calendar is open – I’ll do the gig!”

Arnie had been a member of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass since its creation in 1968. Arnie and Erich Traugott shared the lead chair. When I moved to Toronto Rob asked me to join as lead trombone right away, which kind of amazed and frightened me at the same time. I remember vividly my first rehearsal, and the first chart we played, “Just Friends”, a McConnell classic, and being in that band with all those great musicians was truly a great honour. It was from this point on, when the band set up for gigs, that I sat in front of Arnie’s bell – what a thrill! We both held the same concept about sound, pitch, and time-feel – it was almost like being twin brothers. (Maybe it was something we had picked up from Stu Barnett and Jack Fulton at the Cave nightclub). We played thousands of gigs together over the years and our friendship grew and deepened. There was a time when we made a pact – we vowed that if one of us ever went over the line, the other would in no uncertain terms let him know. We both did both!

Arnie was a practicer. He was religious in doing his warm-up (which I myself continue to do and teach). If we happened to have been ‘bad boys’ on a late night gig and then arrived at home to find we had an 8:30 call for a jingle the next morning, Arnie would be up early to do his warm-up.

Rob had written an arrangement of “Street of Dreams” on which I played the theme and then a jazz solo, after me came Guido Basso, followed by a piano solo. On the final full band chorus of the theme, Rob wrote a magical sudden modulation and Arnie took his lead part up the octave. It is among the most thrilling things I have ever heard. Every time I hear it or even think about it the hair on my arms stands on end. (As I am writing this, it happened again!). Rob discouraged subsequent lead players to do this.

I was privileged to sit in front of Arnie’s magnificence for thirty years of my life. The Boss Brass, for twenty-five years or so, was the very best big band in the world, and Arnie was the lead trumpet player. Yes, the Boss Brass was and is great, and Arnie made it sing!

Gabriel must have looked down from heaven on many occasions and said, “I wish I could play and sound like that!” Well, here’s your chance Gabriel, if you ask him nicely, maybe Arnie will show you his warm-up!

Ian McDougall

Arnie Chycoski was born May 7, 1936 in New Westminster, British Columbia. Called by celebrated band-leader Rob McConnell "one of the top three lead trumpet-players on the planet", he passed away September 10, 2008 near Olympia Washington.

Ian McDougall's eulogy was delivered at the memorial service for Arnie Chycoski on October 11, 2008 at St. Marys Church in Nanoose Bay, British Columbia.

Photo of Arnie Chycoski by Barbara McDougall.

Fans of Arnie Chycoski (Facebook)

Vancouver Jazz Forum discussion

Thriving on a Riff

Petition to CARAS to have Arnie Chycoski inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame