Trumpet Player Mike Ponella was born in the Bronx, New York, living there until the age of five. An area where the late trumpet player Shorty Rogers, and trombone player Eddie Bert, among others, had performances at a local area jazz club called "The Bucket of Blood." Mike adds, "This was interesting to me because as a professional, I continued to work with Eddie Bert on different jazz projects, and also recorded for Shorty Rogers while I was in Los Angeles for a couple of years.
My family moved from the Bronx to New City, New York (a suburb of New York City, approximately 30 miles from midtown Manhattan), where I went on to have all of my schooling from grades K through 12. In the 4th grade, I was interested in joining the band but had a choice of studying either the trombone or trumpet. This choice was a "no-brainer" because my next door neighbor was a professional trumpet player who told me that if I studied the trumpet he would give me free trumpet lessons. I imagine by studying right from the beginning it enabled me to make faster progress and gave me an opportunity to be a first trumpet player immediately. During that time, in Elementary School, I was selected to play first trumpet for the All County Band.
Moving on to Junior High (Middle) School, I again was selected to be the first trumpet player as well as soloist in the Orchestra, Chorus, and Band. During the two years in this school, I was able to take a jazz music course that enabled me to start learning jazz, playing compositions and arrangements. I must point out that my learning and playing jazz started from instruction with the late jazz saxophonist Arnie Lawrence. On Saturday afternoons, Arnie would teach me and his son Erik, and have us play at a small jam session at his house. While in Junior High, I had started to take private trumpet lessons with a free lance trumpet player by the name of Walter Nardozzi. Walter was a student of Carmine Caruso, so of course I was able to study and benefit greatly from Carmine Caruso's System. It was an interesting time for me as Walter took me to a local performance of the Danny Stiles Band, which pretty much got me "hooked" on to studying both Lead Trumpet, and Jazz Trumpet. Shortly after that we went to New York City to go to the 2nd Brass Conference where I got to meet Bill Chase, as well as Al Porcino.
Moving on to High School, again I was first trumpet player and soloist for the Concert Band, Jazz Band, Orchestra, and Marching Band. During these four years, I was also able to play first trumpet for the Broadway Summer Theater Festival Shows. The high school years were a time for me to perform in the New York All-State Wind Ensemble under the direction of Frederick Fennell, and start my 8 track, cassette, and record collection, listening to a wide variety of trumpet players, especially Doc Severinsen, and Al Hirt, both of whom I was fortunate to have worked with in my career. Also, I was playing in an original nine piece cover band called "Spectrum" which was modeled after the group "Chicago." I began to write original music as well as arrangements.
TRUMPET PLAYER MIKE PONELLA
With The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra
After these tours were over, I had an opportunity to work into the free lance music scene in Los Angeles, California meeting some great musicians, not to mention appreciative musicians, such as the late Lead trumpet player Buddy Childers. Buddy was one of the musicians in Los Angeles who treated me well during my couple of years there. Little did I know, but I was about to try and "fill Buddy's big shoes" years later as I would be playing his parts with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchesta. While in Los Angeles, I was able to do a variety of work, such as concerts, private/corporate parties, jazz clubs, Broadway shows, acts, and recordings, such as one for Shorty Rogers whom I mentioned earlier. I was about to spend many years on the West Coast "working up into the scene" but a couple of things made me decide to return home to New York City. I figured I needed to "give it a good shot" to get established in New York since that is where I was from. Also, I was looking for more of a "jazz scene" and New York had more of that going for it (jazz trumpet player Conte Candoli once told me that New York is the place for Jazz and Los Angeles seems to be playing "catch-up"), as well as the variety of music present in New York City. Before I left Los Angeles, I had helped establish a rehearsal band with trumpet player Larry Newman, and trombone player Dale DeVoe which had more of an "East Coast" sound playing arrangements of composers from New York City such as Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, etc. This band helped propel me back East. Actually, a few Maynard Ferguson Band alumni played with us there, such as Bobby Militello, and Nick Lane.
An interesting thing happened as I was about to return to New York City. I had gone to the Jazz Club Dante I had gone to the Jazz Club Dante's to see the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra from New York, and was greatly impressed at how unique the music was as well as how wonderfully the band performed this music. It was a nice "change of pace" to hear a band such as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra performing in Los Angeles. It's kind of amazing to think that about two and a half years later, I would be Toshiko's steady lead trumpet player for her jazz orchestra in New York. Soon after, I packed up my car, and drove eastbound for New York.
Little by little, I started to get established at home in New York, meeting more and more musicians, playing in rehearsal bands, performing for concerts, clinics, recordings, Broadway shows, headline acts, television and radio shows, Presidential Inaugurations, etc. I went on to be the lead trumpet, soloist, and composer, for such notable groups as The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Paquito D'Rivera and The United Nations Jazz Orchestra, and Slide Hampton and The Jazz Masters. Since being an established free lance trumpet player in New York City, I have been playing a wide variety of musical styles ranging from performances with Maestro Anton Coppola to Dizzy Gillespie. I am currently working on my "lifetime goal" of producing an recording of original music. Once completed, I will have had some of my very special friends taking part as guest soloists, such as: Barry Finnerty, Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton, Howard Johnson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Lew Tabackin.
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