Doc Severinsen, former band leader for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, rehearses Sunday morning in Clay Center for an afternoon concert celebrating the 99 birthday of Pauline Snodgrass. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos


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C. L. Snodgrass (left), retired band director for Clay Center Community High School, works with musicians Sunday morning at the school as they prepare for an afternoon concert honoring his mother’s 99th birthday. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal)

Musicians from around the nation rehearse Sunday morning in the Clay Center Community High School auditorium under the direction of C.L. Snodgrass. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal)

Acclaimed jazz guitarist Danny Embrey rehearses Sunday morning in Clay Center for an afternoon concert celebrating the 99th birthday of Pauline Snodgrass. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal)

Doc & Friends

By GARY DEMUTH Salina Journal

CLAY CENTER — When former “Tonight Show” band leader Doc Severinsen was asked to perform at a concert celebrating the 99th birthday of Clay Center resident Pauline Snodgrass, he didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“Pauline is a wonderful lady, and this is a very auspicious occasion — I’m honored to be asked,” said Severinsen, 83, who spent more than 30 years as a trumpeter and band leader for “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

Severinsen has been in Clay Center several times during the past 40 years to perform concerts and conduct music clinics at Clay Center Community High School, sponsored by Pauline’s late husband, Wayne, and later their son, C.L.

Together, Wayne and C.L. Snodgrass spent 62 years as band directors at the high school.

Severinsen, who lives in San Miguel, Mexico, joined 17 other professional musicians who arrived from New York, Los Angeles, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington state and other parts of Kansas this weekend to play for Snodgrass and 1,200 friends and music lovers.

“These (musicians) are great — they even sounded great warming up,” Severinsen said. “When you get a chance to do something like this, you just show up and play, that’s all.”

The sold-out concert, organized by the Clay County Arts Council, was Sunday at the Martyn-Snodgrass Auditorium at the high school. All proceeds are being donated to the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation for the Dexter Park Playground Project.

Accomplished performers

Among the pros joining Severinsen onstage were acclaimed Kansas City-based jazz guitarist Danny Embrey, formerly of the Sergio Mendes band; Missouri trumpeter, flugelhornist and music journalist Mike Metheny, brother of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny; Los Angeles session musicians Gary Foster (woodwinds) and Bill Booth (trombone); and Brooklyn-based Jim Seeley, a trumpeter with Aurturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban jazz orchestra, a 2009 Grammy winner for Best Latin Jazz Album.

Songs performed during the birthday concert included some of Pauline Snodgrass’s favorites: “Stardust,” “Strike Up the Band,” “Orange Colored Skies” and “Body & Soul.”

Because of health issues, Pauline Snodgrass was unable to be interviewed for this story.

Pauline, who has lived in Clay Center since 1937, was a voice and piano teacher and choir director for local Methodist and Baptist churches. When her health allows, she still plays piano at local Rotary and Lions Club meetings.

The birthday concert also honored Wayne, who was band director at the high school from 1937 to 1967, said C.L. Snodgrass.

Wayne Snodgrass founded a music clinic program at the school in 1953, which was continued by C.L. from 1967 to 1999.

Several musicians performing in Sunday’s concert had been students of Wayne or C.L. Snodgrass or, like Severinsen, had hosted music clinics at the school. Severinsen hosted his first clinic in 1964, when he was just a trumpet player in the “Tonight Show” band, then conducted by Skitch Henderson.

Severinsen last performed in Clay Center in 1999, the year C.L. retired from the school. While he doesn’t conduct clinics anymore, Severinsen said he has fond memories of his experiences with students in Clay Center.

“When you get to a certain point in life, it’s time to give back,” Severinsen said. “I got more out of it than the (students) did.”

C.L. Snodgrass said it’s a measure of respect for his family and what they have done for music education in the area that caused so many busy professional musicians to arrange their schedules to play Sunday’s birthday concert.

“It’s amazing — I got them all hired within one hour,” C. L. Snodgrass said. “No one who I wanted to play here didn’t accept.”

Embrey, who has known the family since the early 1970s and has performed with C.L. Snodgrass’s brother Dave, a drummer, said he wanted to be part of the birthday celebration out of respect for the Snodgrass name.

“C.L.’s very respected — people from all over know about his programs from way back,” Embrey said. “We love these people, and we’re glad to be here.”

For Seeley, a Horton native, the Snodgrasses have been like a second family to him.

“I studied with C.L. all through high school,” he said. “I haven’t been back here for a while, so this is like a family reunion for me. I’ve looked up to so many of these musicians for a long time, so I’m honored to be back here.”

Hutchinson-based trumpeter Bryce Luty, former band director at McPherson High School and founder of the jazz studies program at Hutchinson Community College, said he made a career out of music as a result of Wayne Snodgrass’s influence.

“C.L.’s dad helped mentor me into the business,” Luty said. “Wayne was like my second dad. He helped me when I needed help.”

Wichita trombonist resident Matt Blauer said C.L. Snodgrass was his coach 20 years ago at Emporia Jazz Camp, so he was only too happy to participate in the birthday tribute to C.L.’s mother.

“Working with all these professionals from all over is a once in a lifetime deal,” said Blauer, who has played 16 years with the Wichita Symphony. “For younger guys like me, it’s really a thrill to play with guys like Doc Severinsen. Come on, he’s the doc!”

Audience members watching the musicians rehearse Sunday morning before the concert also were thrilled. Patrice Sollenberger, who attended the University of Kansas with Pauline and Wayne Snodgrass’s youngest daughter, said it was exciting to watch so many great musicians come together in Clay Center.

“The fact that so many people have come here from all over the nation says a lot about Pauline,” Sollenberger said. “She’s a very special lady.”

Scott McVay came all the way from Phoenix to see the show. He, too, has a history with the Snodgrass family — Pauline was his piano teacher and nursery school teacher.

“She convinced me not to stick my pencils in my classmates’ ears,” McVay said.

McVay said Wayne started a great tradition in 1953 in Clay Center when he invited virtuoso trumpet player Rafael Mendez to conduct a music clinic at the high school and sit in and perform with a local stage band called The Stardusters.

“It started a tradition that ultimately led to Doc,” McVay said. “Now, many musicians come back because of the love they have for the (Snodgrasses) and what they meant to them.”

nReporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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