Let me take a few moments to introduce you to Ralph Kimball. He passed recently in Las Vegas, Nevada, at 89 years young. Ralph Kimball was a Versatile Trumpet player, with a capital V: he played with the Fourth Army Band, symphony orchestras in Texas, Arizona and Nevada, and worked as a commercial player and music teacher in those three states, as well. He was a Life Member of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 586 in Phoenix and concurrently, Local 369 in Las Vegas.
My name is Russ Capri—for the past 50 years, I have been a professional trumpeter and for the bulk of my adult life I have been privileged to be a music teacher and educator to other professionals, private students, and many students throughout Arizona’s public school system, working for various school districts and at several institutions of post-secondary education as well. I first met Ralph in the late 1960’s when I was an elementary school student myself, in Phoenix. He is one of those men Reader’s Digest used to write about, “The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met.” Except, to me, I would change that title to “one of the most influential and important men I ever met.”
In trying to think of how best to pay tribute to this wonderful man, I thought the following: Every accomplished musician can point to at least one great teacher, and every great and accomplished teacher can point to a great teacher of theirs. I was doubly blessed in that one of my great teachers and great mentors, Ralph Kimball, fulfilled both areas of expertise in my life.
I consider myself to be very fortunate in that during my life I’ve had more than a few great mentors, both in the music business and in education, generally. Ralph is singular in that he was a mentor to me in both disciplines. The icing on the cake, though, is that Ralph and I were more than teacher and student. We were friends, and I think you can tell how much I love, respect, and miss him so much. His leaving this mortal life just now makes the next world a better place while it leaves us, here, severely wanting and empty.
As I said, my time with Ralph goes back a very long time, from before man even walked on the moon. I met Ralph in Phoenix at a school concert band contest that he was adjudicating, and I was playing in. My grade school band was one of many performing that day. Following my band’s performance, Ralph sought me out and pulled me aside and advised me that I had a very special gift as a trumpeter and that I should use it to obtain a music scholarship to pay for my college education in future years. I was eleven or twelve years old. My own band director took that opportunity to describe Ralph to me as an extremely versatile musician, who was a gifted classical player, currently performing as the Principal Trumpeter in the Phoenix Symphony AND playing many casual engagements and commercial shows that came to town. Amazingly enough and simultaneously, Ralph was a full-time band director who also taught private lessons. My band teacher’s point was to use Ralph as a role-model for me, which led me to taking a very similar path in my own career, with my students.
I feel very fortunate to have worked many professional shows and other engagements with Ralph and to have watched him work with students at a number of concert band and jazz band festivals that I hosted. He was a master performer, teacher, and a master clinician. His expertise was vast, classical, commercial, and jazz.
I feel privileged and honored to have known Ralph and been his friend. They don’t make them like Ralph anymore, which made his example and friendship all the more important; and his passing all the more sad today. But we have his eternal memories and teachings and examples—the greatest gifts great friends and teachers can give. And to the extent those who were fortunate enough to know him, he made their lives, and all they interacted with, so much better. His life, like all great lives, are durable well and way beyond their physical component on our earth—they just make our time here better. As Ralph did. I am very thankful for the gift of his friendship and mentorship. As they say in so many of our traditions: may his memory continue to be for a blessing.