BRAD FELT (1956-2011)
Early Life and Background
Brad Felt was born May 6, 1956 in Royal Oak, Michigan. He was raised in Bloomfield Township and West Bloomfield Township, Michigan. His parents were Charles Herbert Felt (July 29, 1921-March 30, 2010), a creative writer and advertising executive, and Jeanne Molly Felt (nee Vorhes) (April 1, 1922-June 5, 2001), a visual artist, homemaker and administrative professional. Felt had two siblings – Douglas Charles Felt (born August 4, 1954) and Carole Jeanne Felt (December 11, 1957-October 19, 2003). He attended Bloomfield Hills schools, graduating from Andover High School in 1974.
Brad’s parents were creative people who, although not musicians themselves, had an interest in music. They maintained a large record collection (encompassing jazz, pop and classical, among other genres) and frequently played selections from it, exposing their children to different types of music at an early age. Brad showed an interest in the performing arts and began trumpet lessons around age 10, performing in school bands.
Affected by developments in popular music during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Brad took up guitar, bass guitar and keyboards during his teens. Throughout this period he continued his work on brass instruments in school, with a focus on concert band and marching band repertoire.
Braces were put on Brad’s teeth as a teenager, making it difficult to play trumpet. At the behest of his junior high school band director, he switched to tuba at age 14.
Brad played with the school concert and marching bands at Andover and also took private lessons from Wesley Jacobs, principal tuba player with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His high school tenure culminated in a performance of Frank Bencriscutto’s “Concertina for Tuba and Band”, which earned Brad a music performance scholarship at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Oakland University and the Move to Jazz (1974-1978)
Brad started at Oakland University expecting to play in the concert band, with a goal of finding work in a symphony upon graduation. Toward the end of high school, he had begun listening to a significant amount of jazz. On a lark, he decided to audition for the jazz ensemble at Oakland. Although Brad was new to the music and had not begun to improvise on his horn, the instructors and fellow students were welcoming and encouraging. He was accepted into the band, and quickly put concert music aside to focus on jazz.
Oakland had a strong staff of instructors with extensive performance backgrounds, led by Marvin “Doc” Holladay and including Sam Sanders and Herbie Williams. This gave Brad access to mentors with a track record of artistic achievement, commitment and integrity. He became immersed in learning about jazz and improvisation, and found himself surrounded by like-minded and talented fellow students. Soon, Brad’s tuba improvisations were a featured part of performances by the university’s jazz ensemble. During his tenure at Oakland, artists like Thad Jones and Clark Terry came to perform with the band. This provided an environment in which has talent began to flourish – Nurtured by a lot of hard work.
Moving on to the Detroit Jazz Scene (Late 1970s)
As Brad studied the music, he began to learn about the importance of Detroit in jazz history. He also became aware that many talented musicians still resided in the area. Some had spent time in New York City (and other places); others never left Detroit. Marcus Belgrave, along with Sam Sanders and Herbie Williams (his instructors at Oakland University) played important roles in crystallizing this realization. He started venturing to city nightclubs to meet and perform with creators in the place of creation. Soon Brad encountered Nasir Hafiz (aka Abe Woodley), a veteran of the scene since the 1940s bebop era. Mr. Hafiz became a key teacher and mentor, performing with Brad in a band comprised of other young musicians. Brad also met (and began performing with) Roy Brooks around this time, as well as Charles Boles, Kenn Cox, Wendell Harrison, Teddy Harris, Frank Isola, Ron Johnson, Phil Lasley, the McKinney family, Danny Spencer, Donald Walden, and many others. Brad determined that his development would be better served in this environment; to focus on that, he left Oakland University in 1978.
Ongoing Artistic Development in the Detroit Jazz and Arts Scene and Beyond (Late 1970s-2011)
From this point forward, Brad was committed to extending the Detroit jazz tradition and developing his own artistry within that environment. Much of this commitment was born of an appreciation for the support he received from the Detroit jazz community. Brad’s suburban background and unusual choice of instrument were never questioned. Instead, he was accepted as an artistic peer and community member.
He continued to develop his skills through countless hours of practice along with frequent performances. Sometimes, Brad led his own bands (often featuring saxophonist Steve Wood, a close musical associate and peer for 35+ years). At other times he performed under the leadership of Nasir Hafiz, Frank Isola, Sam Sanders, Roy Brooks, Teddy Harris, Donald Townes, Taslimah Bey, Ed Nucilli, Kenn Cox (including the 1990 Moers Jazz Festival in Germany), Phil Lasley, Wendell Harrison, Pamela Wise, A. Spencer Barefield and others. In addition to frequent work in Detroit-area nightclubs, Brad’s performances were regularly featured at the annual Detroit Jazz Festival.
Brad’s work as a jazz songwriter coincided with and developed alongside his work as a performer. He began writing jazz tunes soon after he began playing the music, generating over 60 compositions. He often featured his writing in live performances as well as on his recordings.
In 1990, Brad headlined a concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts entitled The Tuba Rules! featuring primarily his own compositions. Supporting Brad were Steve Wood and James Carter (reeds), Rob Pipho (vibes), Kenn Cox (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass) and Danny Spencer (drums).
Brad added euphonium and baritone horn to his instrumental arsenal during the 1990s. He began to put more focus on euphonium in succeeding years, to the point where many performances featured that instrument exclusively.
Brad’s first CD Exordium was released in 1995 (re-released in 2019), with five original compositions among eight tunes. It showcased performances by Brad on tuba, euphonium and baritone horn, Gary Schunk on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums.
In the 1990s Brad was introduced to Howard Johnson, leader of the tuba-focused band Gravity. This led to Brad’s participation in two European tours with Gravity (in 1998 and 1999) as a featured performer.
His second CD First Call was released in 2009; all compositions were Brad originals. He played euphonium on all eight songs, supported by Steve Wood (tenor and soprano sax), Gary Schunk (piano), Nick Calandro (bass) and Bill Higgins (drums).
Over the last 15 years of his life, Brad worked frequently with pianist/composer/arranger/bandleader Scott Gwinnell. Brad performed on three CDs released by Mr. Gwinnell during that period and served as executive producer on the last of these – Cass Corridor Story.
Brad died October 6, 2011 of pancreatic cancer.
Finalist, Hennessy Cognac Jazz Search (1989)
Creative Artist Grant for Jazz Composition, Michigan Council for the Arts (1989)
Best Jazz Tuba Player, Southeast Michigan Jazz Association Jazz Association Poll (1990)
Individual Artist Fellowship for Jazz Performance, National Endowment for the Arts (1990)
Individual Artist Fellowship for Jazz Performance, National Endowment for the Arts (1995)
Certificate of Appreciation – Outstanding Service to Jazz Education – International Association of Jazz Educators, Toronto (2003)
Clinician – International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, Regina (2000)
Private Tuba and Improvisation Instruction, Home Studio (2000-2011)
Instructor – Applied Improvisation, University of Toledo (2003-2010)