It takes a lot to impress a musician who has played alongside Stevie Wonder and David Bowie.
But renowned trumpet player, entertainer and bandleader Al Chez walked away from Claudia Crosby Theater last week “blown away” by the talent at Troy University’s MIC Check event at Claudia Crosby Theater.
MIC Check is a music and entertainment industry experience for high school and college students presented by the TROY Music Industry Program.
The two-day event featured contemporary music students from four high schools as well as POPulus, the University’s pop music ensemble, performing and sharing ideas while taking advice and coaching from Chez.
Chez, who served as lead trumpet and flugelhorn player in the CBS Orchestra for “The Late Show with David Letterman” for 15 years, even performed with POPulus for the audience of high school musicians.
“It was unbelievable from the get-go,” Chez said of the talent on display during MIC Check, an invitational that featured students from Florence, Carroll, Opelika and Jacksonville high schools.
Chez said he didn’t know much about TROY until Robert W. Smith, coordinator of TROY’s music industry program, took him on a guided tour before MIC Check.
“It blew me away,” he said. “Seeing the level of musicianship here, it’s unreal and totally unexpected.”
Chez had high praise for the members of POPulus in particular.
“We’re in a rut, and we’ve been in a rut in the music industry for about 10 years, according to me,” Chez said. “Seeing the talent and the melodic nature of some of these songwriters, it’s great.”
Chez was touring with Tower of Power before heading to TROY for the two-day experience.
“Al is a very special musician,” Smith said. “He’s got personality in a very unique way. What he does, he does better than anybody in the world, in my opinion. However, he pays it back. He’s in the schools all the time and is an amazing teacher. We were fortunate to get him.”
Chez views opportunities like this a chance for him to inspire future generations the way he was once inspired.
“When I was in school, somebody came to my school and talked to us, and it got me over that hump to decide that I wanted to do this for a living,” he said. “It’s about chasing your dreams. Without that person coming to my school and telling me about it, I don’t know if I would’ve done it. I would’ve taken the safe way out instead of doing something I really wanted to do. If I can help a young person go in that same direction to follow their dreams, I think I have to.”
Smith said MIC Check has produced several members of POPulus in recent years, and has led to scholarship offers for some of the participants.