Born to play trumpet: my memories of Lloyd Michels


Volume 114, No. 3March, 2014

Tony Salvatori


Lloyd Michels

Lloyd Michels

It is with deep grief that I report the passing of Lloyd Michael Bergman, known to his friends and colleagues as Lloyd Michels. He died in mid-January at the age of 70. Those of us who believe in divine intervention accept the premise that Lloyd was born to play the trumpet. Those of us who have played music with Lloyd believe, without reservation, that he was the greatest lead trumpet player on planet Earth. (For starters, listen to him as a 19-year-old, playing on Si Zentner’s hit recording of “Up a Lazy River.”)

In 1965, he followed Bill Chase to Woody Herman’s band, where he played screaming lead and became road manager. Returning to New York, he played lead in Clark Terry’s band. Clark nicknamed him “Karate Chops,” and introduced him to Thad Jones. (Thad then recommended him to Quincy Jones, who picked him to play lead on his Grammy-winning album “Walking In Space.”) Clark also recommended Lloyd to Duke Ellington, who hired him frequently over the years. This led to a lead trumpet role in the onstage band for the Broadway show “Sophisticated Ladies.” (Lloyd also played in the Broadway production of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and the Off Broadway production of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road” at the Beacon Theatre.)

Lloyd served as contractor and lead trumpet for the band Hines, Hines and Dad. Later, he helped contract for the Westbury Music Fair Orchestra, where he also played lead trumpet. The band earned this praise from Sergio Franchi: “This is the best orchestra I have ever worked with!”

In 1974, he created Mistura, a seven-member brass group. Then, in 1975 he contracted the Big Band Machine for Buddy Rich. At every concert, Buddy would tell his audience, “This is the best band I’ve ever had and I thank these gentlemen for letting me play with them!” Ebullient backstage praise came from Stan Kenton after hearing a set, who said, “This is the best brass section I have ever heard!”

Lloyd was born with asthma. At two-and-a-half, a severe asthma attack nearly killed him. His wise doctor emphatically ordered that he play the trumpet! This radically improved his lung health, controlled his asthma and ultimately saved his life. At age five, he began studying with John Fabrizio. At nine, he became a student of William Vacchiano, principal trumpet with the New York Philharmonic. (Later, Lloyd himself became a student associate with the Philharmonic.) At 11, he studied with master teacher Dr. Roy Stevens, a proponent of Bill Costello’s method.

Lloyd played on countless albums. His Mistura recordings have not been officially released in the U.S. although “The Flasher” has appeared on the Internet. (That recording was a number-one hit in the U.K.)

Lloyd also served on the Local 802 theatre committee in the late 1960s.

Lloyd is missed. I was blessed to have played with many great trumpet players but Lloyd Michels was truly the best.

Lloyd’s survivors include his brother Alan, sons Peter and Adam, daughters-in-law Renata and Mary, and grandchildren Samuel, Riva, Kristina and Justin.

Tony Salvatori is a trombonist and a member of Local 802.