There’s nothing wrong with tooting your own horn, not when you can play like Chris Tanzey.
The 36-year-old trumpeter is one of the busiest musicians in town. He teaches privately, plays regularly with four established bands and picks up gigs whenever and wherever he can
File that under foregone family conclusion. His father and brother had their day in the musical sun. His mother started him on piano, a good fit. He cut his performing teeth as a schoolboy playing in a church ensemble.
Then, in the fifth grade, he picked up a trumpet just so he could play in the school band.
That did it.
He embraced the versatility of the trumpet. Classical, rock, jazz — the trumpet covered all musical bases.
County and state awards testified to his talent as a student at George Washington High School. Well-schooled for teaching, he earned a degree in jazz studies from Marshall and post grad credentials from the University of North Dakota.
Except for a brief experimental break in college, he hasn’t veered from the path that destiny chose for him.
An upbeat, vibrant persona matches the vibrancy of the notes he coaxes, seemingly without effort, from his beloved horn.
Entertaining makes him happy. It’s contagious.
“I was born in Clarksburg and lived there until I was 7. We moved to Charleston and I started second grade at Kenna.
“My dad was assistant director for the Rehabilitation Association and mom was a tax collector for the IRS. Dad retired and went to work as one of the pastors at the Bible Center. Now he’s one of the pastors at the Emmanuel Baptist Church on the West Side.
“As a toddler, I had a little clock radio and I would lie on the floor for hours listening to the radio. I remember that more than about anything else from my early childhood. And I was always singing a song.
“Mom wanted to get me involved in music when I was 4 or 5, starting with violin. I went to one lesson and refused to touch the violin.
“A short while later, she started me on piano, and I took to that very quickly.
“I started playing trumpet in fifth grade because I wanted to join the band. My dad my uncle and oldest brother were all trumpet players, so it was kind of in the family.
“Before I was born, in the ’60s, my dad was in a band called the Upsetters that toured all over the East Coast.
“My oldest brother was lead trumpet in the WVU band. That’s really my first memory of the trumpet, my oldest brother practicing in the house when I was a toddler. It was a noisy Italian household.
“By time I hit eighth grade, I started to realize that hey, there might be something here. I made all-county band. That’s where everything took off.
“I took lessons from Jim McQuerrey, music director at the Bible Center. He ended up becoming a mentor to me, like a second father.
“In high school, I was his last student of the night on Thursdays. We were only supposed to have an hour lesson but there were times when we would stay and play for hours. I basically owe everything I do to him.
“I was winning all these awards, a jazz band thing, All-State plaques. I was in the Honor Band of America in 1999. I directed a musical in high school. I won the next-generation jazz competition they used to have down at the Levee during FestivALL.
“I graduated from GW in 2000. I started at WVU at the College of Creative Arts for five semesters, then switched my major to psychology for a semester. I can’t say I lost my love for music, but it just wasn’t what I anticipated it being.
“So I came home and went to West Virginia State as a business major. On a whim, I signed up for jazz band because I needed a couple of credit hours. I met the jazz band director who was also the trumpet professor, Ronnie Ingle, and we became friends. I realized it was time to go back to music, so I switched to a music education major.
“He took a job at the University of North Dakota three semesters before I was set to graduate. State didn’t hire another trumpet professor. I wasn’t going to go through school without having anybody to teach me. So I transferred to Marshall for my last three semesters as a jazz studies major.
“I did my graduate studies at the University of North Dakota with Ronnie Ingle. I was out there from 2007 to 2009 and moved back here.
“It’s really hard to get a job teaching music in a college. Now I have a private lesson studio and teach locally and perform all over the region.
“I have about four bands I play with, a funk band called the MFB, a rock band called the Black Garlic and a band called Kind Feeds.
“I play in Slug Fest, John Inghram’s band. And I’ve played with Ryan Kennedy since we were in junior high.
“My bread and butter has always been jazz. I don’t get to play much classical music, which I really miss. I grew up playing in the brass ensemble at Bible Center. I don’t have performance anxiety because of that. From eighth grade through college, I performed in front of hundreds of people every Sunday.
“I learned a lot from going down to Legends on the boulevard and sneaking in before I was 21 and listening to Bob Thompson every Tuesday.
“I’m making a living. Some days are better than others, but I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I get to travel all over. I’m somewhere every weekend these days. I was in Chattanooga for Halloween to play with a band down there.
“I’ve got three children, a 7-year-old boy and 4-year-old twin boys, so I have my hands full there, too.
“I’ll get them into music but only if they want to. I picked up music because it’s something I had a natural interest in. Had I been forced to do it, I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously as I did.
“The trumpet is a really versatile instrument. I can do everything from playing in an orchestra or in church or playing jazz or rock and roll, anything. But I have to market myself and hustle with it. I’m always out looking for different people to play with, a different student to teach.
“A lot of band programs in the county are really starting to shrink. The numbers pale compared to what they were when I was in school. The state won’t give them the funding. But on the flip side, now kids are doing it more because they want to.
“I’ve been working with the after-school program, Lighthouse of Learning, on the West Side, and I teach over there.
“I want to do this as long as I am able. Music has always been my life. I tried at 19 or 20 to veer away from it, but within a year, I was right back. I was always the music guy.
“It took me a long time to realize that if you put in the effort, you will reap the rewards. I make people happy every day. That’s my job, to go up on stage and play music and make people happy. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”