Bandleader and trumpeter extraordinaire Doc Severinsen, here for "A Night in Old Italy" April 8 and 9 at the Phil (call 597-1900 for tickets) says he loves all things Italian, including his wife, Emily. He also continues to enjoy life as a musician on the road, decades after he began while still in high school.
Q. How many dates do you perform a year now?
A. I don't really know. I do know that my wife has to reintroduce me to our dogs sometimes.
Q. But you don't get tired of it?
A. Not only do I not get tired of it, I'm enjoying it more now. I think it's a mature appreciation of the good things in life.
Q. What are your audiences like these days?
A. We get trumpet players who come hundreds of miles to see us, young people from college who are totally interested in music. All ages.
Q. For this show, how many musicians do you travel with?
A. I bring my regular rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. Then we also have an accordion player from Chicago, an Italian gentleman who gives a flavor that's very pungent.
Q. As a young man first getting an eye-opening look at life on the road, did you ever think it wasn't for you?
A. No. Of course at some point I wanted to settle down and get into studio work in New York or L.A., and I did that. But I was trained to do concerts. The traveling gets a little iffy these days, with security. But if you're patient, it works out OK.
Q. How did you get interested in horses?
A. When I was a kid, I used to go from my hometown in Oregon to the capital for the state fair. The governor wasn't really my uncle, but we called him Uncle Earl and I'd visit with him and Aunt Edith. Every morning I'd go watch the jockeys and my favorite horses at the fairground; every afternoon we played music; and then in the evening there'd be the horse shows. As my kids started to grow up, they've always been around horses, and three out of five of them make a living in horses. Where I live [Santa Barbara County in California] there are more people who have horses than people who don't.
Q. Do you still practice the trumpet daily?
A. Oh, yeah. When we get done talking, I'll go practice. Yesterday I did about three and a half hours. I take a day off once in a while, just to get the metal off my mouth. But I'm trying to stay even with the board. Plus it's never too late to try new approaches. That's probably why I haven't retired yet. I still want to grow.
Q. I know it's hard to pick any one memory of the Tonight Show years, but what do you remember most?
A. Every night, giving that downbeat, starting to play the theme, and Johnny popping out from behind that curtain like he owned the world, with such style and class. And the guests we had-musically, we had all kinds on that show, opera, jazz, pop. We had everybody on. Then the non-celebrity guests we'd call "civilians"-Johnny could do great stuff with them. It's all just a montage, those years.