Jason Irr, James Irr, and Thomas Rushin

Recorded November 30, 2019 Archived November 30, 2019 35:53 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019449


Thomas Rushin (77) is interviewed by his two grandsons Jason Irr (19) and James Irr (25) about his life as a jazz percussionist, sculptor and what the arts taught him about life.

Subject Log / Time Code

JI (19) asks TR about his love for music.
TR says he fell in love with music after hearing a military revue as a kid.
JI (25) asks TR about his time playing jazz with the Sophisticats.
TR describes a harrowing moment playing a show.
TR recalls how he ended up majoring in art in college.
TR recalls receiving a small gift from John F. Kennedy.
TR recalls playing with Gene Vincent.
TR talks about the relationship between music and politics.
JI (25) asks TR about race car driving.
TR talks life lessons teaching taught him.
TR concludes with the words he would his end classes with.


  • Jason Irr (b. 2000)
  • James Irr (b. 1994)
  • Thomas Rushin (b. 1942)

Recording Location

Yuma Art Center


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00:01 You can make it in time Thomas. Rushin. I am 77 years old. And today's date is Saturday November 30th 2019. We're located in Yuma Arizona and my interview partners are James Arthur and Jason are my grandchildren.

00:30 I am James Arthur. My age is 25 years old. It's Saturday November 30th, 2019 in Yuma Arizona, very sunny has always the names of my interview partners are Thomas Daryl Russian Jason Jeremiah, and they are my grandfather and brother respectively.

00:57 Hello, my name is Jason. I'm 19 years old. Today's date is Saturday November 30th, 2019.

01:06 If Yuma Arizona and my interview partners are Thomas Darrell rushing my grandfather and James Patrick her my brother.

01:21 Stop. Thank you for joining us today. It's really nice to be able to have you here and share your stories. We want to be able to talk to you today about life and music and other Pursuits.

01:34 Desert off. We know that you've been a musician for many years and you started your youth that way. Did you come from a musical family?

01:46 My father love music, my mother loves music. Your grandparents really did love music, but they saw it as a way for me to express myself.

01:58 Wonderful

02:02 So what is the main instrument that you picked up in your youth my real instrument was always drums and other percussion instruments say I never really wavered too much from that. I I thought about playing other things and I did some dancing and singing a little bit but I didn't that didn't feel as good as playing drums lavender that you were a dancer. I love to see a couple of your moves after that so you to start playing.

02:40 Well, it was just every time I looked out I can hear I can hear the music I could date was in my head and I could figure out where the beat was and I like being a part of expressing group from an early age with having other people around playing music together. So it was more of a Cooperative venture.

03:10 Everything serve me well later in life.

03:13 So around what time in your life did you discover Your Love of music do if you're talking to your great-grandmother. She would say right it to be at the beginning of my life practically when the here in Yuma and the it was a military installation believe was the 1st Cavalry was staying across the street and they will march by and review and I took a hammer and play drums on her mahogany table and she never let me forget that but then. Then I graduated to taking the of the lids of pots and making symbols out of them. And then from then on it was just get whatever whatever they want whenever there was a server.

04:13 And there was something to hit it with I was all in for that. Do you have a favorite time signature to use then? I like so I like either 6/8 or twelve 8 or anything with the sake of syncopated beat. I like this. So you talked about different expressive groups that you like to be a part of what were some of your favorite groups to play with. Well, I like smaller Jazz combos or or working with Blues, but then I played with any of them because it was a way it be working for a living and I was able to get him some resources and have a pretty good life with it.

04:57 That's fantastic something that you know, we've already talked about in a one-on-one hanging out and whatnot was one of the groups that you had played with the sophisticates. I wanted to know what it was like to first stop play play jazz during a Jason wants to cover this a little more in-depth so I won't be go too far. But, you know around the Civil Rights era and also with note to Jazz combo that you know, what's playing in the sometimes, you know, I'm very intolerant areas the sophisticates what was actually a group of young people all of us were

05:50 Trained musicians in adolescence and and we're playing in a more traditional style and they were generally standard rather than what I would call Jazz or Combo music and I was a larger band but out of that gruesome lifelong friendships and and we cross paths still occasionally a few of us aren't that many of us alive anymore. But where you wanted to talk wanted me to talk about another part of of my life, which was was when we when I was working with different groups of different ethnicities and people in those days back in the mid-50s were not always a tolerant of people of different skin color for some ungodly reason that we couldn't stand with each other or talk with each other or appreciate each other.

06:50 And anything else in the in the early days of the Jazz with what I love, but I was able to make money sometimes by by playing rock and roll and then I kind of like that too. Cuz if you go back to later, it's it's really be always kind of a happy Blues set up so that gave me an opportunity to play with a lot of different to a group since many of those groups were were black groups and and Or Hispanic groups and they they did not they welcomed me with open arms. And so I will condemn but sometimes our audiences didn't welcome didn't welcome us because when I was on the stage and there was a Hispanic on the stage and then a couple of black guys came up to start singing in her three guys in a trio.

07:48 Everybody went crazy and they started rushing the stage in the one the one singer says you guys we got to get out of here and there was a back door. And of course the drummer's got a whole bunch of drum secure, you know, then other guys, they just had their guitars and so forth in that was riding the days of the the Fender guitar the early Fender guitars in a Fender bass, which would just come out and they were quite heavy and so the two guys that they were playing guitar and paste stood on the front of the stage and swung their guitars while I could tear down me in the in the singers can tear down my drumset get it out the back door and when we left that town,

08:41 We did not go back and ask for a money. We just were happy to get out of there because it was a really and hospitable place. That was one of my first real.

08:54 Payne's was when I saw that because we were just there to have to make some music and have a good time for people and in it was a it was a horrible way to be treated and I didn't happen here and in you but it did happen on the road not too far from here. So how does that affect you whenever you became a teacher and educator why that affect your outlook on life? I think it I think that they made it the Music Experience affected me just simply because I knew that we could all get along and I was born and brought up in a home that said you you respect every every person for who they are and and you work with them and you respect them. And if you get if you respect other people, they will respect you. So I guess what it would have drove home to me. Jason was was simply that

09:49 That's what happened on that stage that night the

09:53 We all banded together and and it didn't take us a long time to figure out what we needed to do and we were all Brothers. We're all in the same situation and we learn we work together. We didn't learn to work together. We work together and I I was just proud to be able to be the drummer in that group who said it was a good group of good guys.

10:21 And it did help me it later in life. In terms of of keeping that mindset of don't judge a book by it's cover you use the content to count.

10:36 So I just came across this story like not not even a couple days ago, but that the story of how you became an educator specifically in art and became a sculptor, you know coming out of you know, playing music and and loving it and even study are wanting to study it to some extent briefly like love. What what brought you on the path that ultimately set you out on the journey that you you know ended up embarking upon. Well I started off I wanted to be a musician and I in some ways I wanted to be a musician for the wrong reasons because I always felt that my dad wanted me to be a musician and he and I were really good partners. We were we were just real tight with each other and when he died I felt I had to be a musician because that was what he wanted.

11:36 And and I was kind of a today's language. I'll be at troubled youth. You know, I had kind of a rough time there for a long time trying to deal with that ended up in.

11:53 In college and I got a scholarship. I didn't know what the second College I went to I didn't know how I was going to.

12:03 Get into college. I didn't have any money or anything either and so I got a scholarship one of my friends who is with the sophisticates that they they they need they need drummers in the band at the college and they'll pay you if you'll come up and they'll give you get you a room and all this stuff. So that's what I did and eventually what happened was the orchestra director came in and he was arguing with the band director, but no, he's my drummer.

12:37 And I said, are you guys talking about me? Cuz I feel like I just a piece of furniture. It didn't feel good at all. Really kind of horrible and

12:50 You said yeah, and you're my drum and you're going to play in the orchestra and I didn't like orchestra music in particular anyway, so yo, I looked at him and I said no I'm not I'm going over to the art department and I'm going to get me a degree in art C and walked out and clean that up a little bit. But I went over there the beauty of the whole things. I'd never taken an art class. I just have friends that were in art and I hung out with him and I tried some of the stuff but I've never actually taking an art class someone over. Signed up for all these glasses and I took it.

13:29 Okay, and two years later, I was teaching at that University is a as a part-time instructor and later became a graduate assistant and

13:48 The beauty of that whole deal was when I went in to sit in the faculty Senate.

13:55 The fine arts department sat next to each other all of a set together, you know, because we're Clans, you know that kind of thing and we sat together.

14:06 And I got to sit there as a

14:10 Fellow professor

14:13 With the two guys that I walked out on her and that was fun because I didn't have to say anything. That's a beautiful irony right there. And of course while you were at called you met your who would then become your wife on a double date and she thought you were just some boring high school kid with the Letterman jacket around the score just suit immediately falls in love. I'm sure that's not the real story. Well, that's that's that's the edited version of what happened. I had to borrow the car and the real deal was everybody want to get out of the cold weather and get down to the warmer weather and I had access to a car I didn't own it. It was my friend who was Josephus cat same one who got me up to that college, so

15:06 Wow, I want to go on to something a little bit different real quick before we get back into a little bit of music you worked on the Kennedy's campaign for president. Do you want to talk about some of your experiences on that? Well, yeah, I that I was I was in California that timer going to college over there in my freshman year college and they use the Kennedy youth campaign was was an amazing campaign, but probably the biggest part of it that was even more amazing was that it was there's a young 28 year old good looking kid from Massachusetts named Ted Kennedy who later became a heavyweight, but but he he he what he led the campaign and he was the most energetic campaigner that I that I ever was around. He would jump up and jump on car.

16:06 And start talking about the importance of his brother being a being the president of the United States in and the fact that his brother was a Roman Catholic in at that time people weren't sure that they wanted a Roman Catholic for president that that might ruin things I know for sure. It was another form of prejudice in it. So I guess it all we were always fighting for for being a person who respect other people rather than them being respected by others, but it was kind of ironic because when in 1959 when President Kennedy toured through Yuma

16:58 He had a sore throat and I was working at sent drug in you and they said you need to take this.

17:08 Folk medicine out to the Stardust Hotel and and take it to this room and

17:18 John Kennedy came to the door.

17:22 Well and said, I'm sorry. I might my throat sore and thank you so much for bringing this and Siri gave me a tip.

17:30 And the tip was the most ironic thing. I had that I save that for a long time and somehow I lost it somewhere.

17:42 It was a quarter.

17:46 And when you stop and think about that.

17:49 Later

17:53 Likeness was put on the quarter.

17:56 The Kennedy quarter

18:01 That became up your many years later. That was a really a kind of an eerie feeling and I am sorry that I lost that quarter but I had stuck in my wallet and somewhere somehow it came out. I'm glad that you shared that with us. That's that's a new story to me. I haven't heard that one before.

18:25 If we may go back a little bit to music.

18:30 What were some of your favorite pieces to play?

18:35 Really what I like to play the most was just to have three or four or five guys.

18:44 Just jamming together and somebody taking off with a rib for somebody made it be me setting the setting to beat and then somebody else kicking in and so forth. It was very wasn't generally about vocals too much and now you two guys are both the local artists and I've Loved listening to vocals now, but then it was just you know, when do dressing you people wanted wanted somebody to stand out in front in Sanger shake or whatever it was and so as far as specific music

19:30 It was generally in a jonra of cool school jazz usually in the quartet Gerry Mulligan Ahmad, Jamal Dave Brubeck Jackson Any number of those guys with Lionel Hampton has a Vibe by player Scatman Crothers was the singer that I like because I worked with him, but I was like in 8th grade and and and he was he was a scat singer from from New Orleans. So you did mention people who move and Shake. I swear. I just really want to ask this one. Please tell us how you came to play with Gene Vincent.

20:28 Well, Gene Vincent rolled into town and there was a radio station here that was kind of sponsoring they called somehow and they got hold my name. They called me and said there any place they can hold up for the whole day because they're going to be in here like it either 9 in the morning and and we need to

20:52 Entertain them for the day before they go on stage that night and I said, well, you know, I don't have any place but let me call one of my fellow drummers which was Dick East and he had a house done on 1st Street just on the other side of 4th Avenue really nice had a really big basement and it was really well appointed and so forth. So I said that would be good by send me see if we can go down there. So we went down there and as the day went on.

21:27 One of them went out and got a few six packs and they started getting worried about Dan about the show and so forth and we're playing pool and they were drinking and I wasn't because I was like 17 years old 16 years old and I knew I had to go out that night and so forth and we ended up

21:55 Going to the show with him and they said well, you guys don't have to pay his come in the back door and we'll come into we're we're we're we're sitting and it was kind of it.

22:05 It was a real week of backstage area and you guys know what week is so it was it was not really comfortable and so forth and Gene Vincent had been

22:20 On

22:21 Involved in an accident and tore up his leg and he was in constant pain on painkillers Plus.

22:32 Imbibing in alcohol but

22:39 And he was drinking straight straight whiskey and so forth. And so so what's the drummer all the all afternoon?

22:48 So they go we get up to the show took place. It's not here anymore was called Joe Hunter Steakhouse and bowling alley and then head little venue in the back for 4 show and and he made it through the first set.

23:07 But when he came back afterwards.

23:10 He could not go out and see me play it. So Jean looks at me since you were playing drums this afternoon. You can play Let's go and so I played and then he said

23:24 You know, I hope we don't have the same problem Phoenix tomorrow night. Will you go with me to Phoenix in case I had I need another drummer just get this was it? Well Gene Vincent that that this was not Johnny Meeks who was the original drummer for for Gene Vincent johnny makes

23:46 Johnny, makes his guitar player. Dickie Harrell wasn't Dickie Harrell and it wasn't Johnny Meeks. They had left Gene Vincent to go back to the east coast because Jane wanted to stay and be a movie star in Hollywood in and so he had this band was just a pickup band that he just beyond he got a job over here and in Phoenix, he had a little little gig together. And in those days that was the way the musician made the money just jump from town to town to town to town. Sometimes you spend a week into town. Sometimes you spend the day and it down and that was it and you just went from town to town. So you're some some some part of a vagabond and we all kind of

24:34 Did some of that.

24:40 I mean that there's really so much that can be touched on honestly here and definitely whenever it comes to like jazz and and the like, I mean, there's a very rich tradition in jazz of being a

25:04 Kind of a revolutionary tool and in some ways like a 2 L like it was it was often a a I mean initially it was a cry of the oppressed. I mean that that's what it was. And then how did you feel playing know those Jazz standards playing with a lot of these, you know?

25:28 These people that like they themselves may have been in positions of you know, not just being lesser fortunate but also coming out of extreme oppression and repression at times.

25:45 Well, I always felt that one. That's help me in life because

25:53 Again, I was always taught to respect.

25:57 Each person and I know you guys have heard me say this I don't care about all people I care about each person. And if you take care of each person, then all takes care of itself. If you take care of all if you try to take care of all you just water it all down to it just goes in the middle and didn't fit anybody but in the end everything that I've done music was one of those places with man, if you could if you could hit the note that they wanted you to hit at the time they wanted you to hit it.

26:34 They didn't care any men care where you came from who your mother was who your father was any of that out some of that might get you in a door, but it but it was all about performing and working together. And that's what I loved about jazz in particular was it you were sitting there listening to the other person and and you trying to just move to that point. This is where I need to be so one guys Pushing the Beat The Other Guys Dragon to beat a little bit. You're the drummer you say I'm going to take over the beat it is and you set it up you might work for the bass player and so forth. Then you pull it along where you want them for you wanted to go everybody get together soon. And I was great. You know what? Yeah, but it's all that little ass with live music is why you know, I don't like recorded music particular month because you can do too many things with recorded music you can you can cover up a lot of mistakes with a click track.

27:34 Go back in in and hit that note again. Like you did. I think you said this morning Jason that you or last night. You didn't have a falsetto on one song and you and you're pretty much out to lunch. Well if that was a recording studio, you wouldn't have to worry about that today and my day you did you'd been dizzy in exactly the same spot you were in last night. Yeah. I really had a good time. So you have to have bandmates around you musicians around you that are willing to forget it. It's over it's done. We're going to move on a really says a lot about early Jazz musicians to in their ability to just not only play through but like know if something happened compensate for one another even like, you know, just the Jazz vocalist who are absolutely phenomenal but like, you know, they just they were able to go all the way through without messing it up, which is something that I wish I could pull off.

28:34 You've been a teacher for many years, but I want to ask you who was a teacher who greatly impacted your life.

28:46 Gia it's it's

28:49 The one who would have to stand out the most for me was

28:57 Winthrop Williams stuck Williams, it was a sculpture professor and obviously, you know, he was able to to give me enough Tools in 2 years to Ted to get a job at University and it in teaching three-dimensional art. So but but what he what he built his teaching on was just simple things that I still use when I work with people today and that is the first thing is if they're paying for the class or somebody's paying for the class form. They deserve your credit. They deserve your time. They deserve your knowledge. So you need to spend one-on-one time with each individual everyday and that was a lesson that the tuck reinforced to me. I think I had it in me, but but he certainly may

29:57 Come to the to the Forefront.

30:02 I'm so you know right before we we end this up.

30:13 That's sad. Are there any other passion the you like to touch on?

30:20 Well is is you guys all know in addition to music and art sculpture?

30:33 And my passion for people I really Dairy like a racecar and and all those things that I did help me.

30:49 I'm working on race cars and because I always ended up being in in the management area of a racing team. And what was I doing? I was getting people to work together.

31:05 In the same way that I owed it with football or baseball or anything else or but I really learned all that stuffing and hone that skill.

31:17 On stage in front of people and then it got better and better and better simply because of my involvement with the with the musical instruments. Mom said they're there is often times especially in a team position. You know when your racing do you have to work with and as a team and it tends to work this way at least, you know, I've heard from like Mom who's also an educator in classrooms where like dean of students are your team members, you know can also help teach you inform you as a teacher what what were some of those experiences just real quick to wrap up and like what the lesson that you've taken from us too. Well, mow my first strategy that I used and I and I think I stole it from somebody I was like, oh that's what I learned that in music to you know, so we're good. So if you see if you hear a good luck or good song or something to eat if you steal it and make it yours, you know, you might check.

32:16 A little bit but you but you make it essential to get it from somebody else. So one of the things that I got from from someone else that it helped me in moving back and forth in and getting the a group to work together was

32:38 Was I was able to to just focus on the individuals?

32:45 Need what were they trying to do? Where were they going to get picked up? And and that's what I did is teacher you don't you take some sometimes kids come in the room.

33:00 And you know, they having any sleep all night because for whatever reason it doesn't matter what the reason is, but it's more important that they had breakfast.

33:12 They knew that they had me when a safe place that they could talk that that I wasn't going to judge them for for their behaviors that day that they were going to that they were going to the most important thing was that they were going to leave the room more of these and Morecambe more complete than when they came in. So let's

33:37 Sky would I do that? That is excellent. Well, thank you so much. Grandpa. I think I don't know if Jason has any wrap up words, but I think it's safe to say at least for me and if I'm speaking for him to that. I know you've been pretty formative in my development as well and and your experiences your your knowledge. Your your wisdom has relieved, you know, the helps me with through a lot of struggles and especially with school. So thank you so much. And the last thing that I like to leave a software since we are just about done with time.

34:17 I'd like you to just leave us with the last words that you would tell your students whenever they were finishing.

34:30 I got it. I've always looked at as just say.

34:34 Have you done your best?

34:38 If you have and that's good, if you haven't then find out where you can do your best.

34:47 Find out what you can do and work at it.

34:52 Life is an ongoing process. It's just like walking you guys know I walk a lot now. It's just like walking. You got to put one foot in front of the other. Are you going to fall down? If you're getting forget to put the foot down? It's not going to work and that's what you have to do in life. You have to you have to persevere and you have to stop and laugh at yourself. Sometimes. I think I see the biggest thing.

35:19 Is suck his

35:23 And then do exactly what my my parents told me respect each individual.

35:32 Thank you.