Q: What do you say to a drummer in a three-piece suit?
A: Can the accused stand up?
Q: What is the difference between a drummer and a savings voucher?
A: We will mature and make money.
Willis Jepson Middle School music teacher Brian Simpson didn’t make up those old drummer jokes, but given his upbeat personality, he would no doubt enjoy them by not taking himself too seriously, but taking his job – which ranges from daily classroom teaching at the Elder Street campus in Vacaville to being principal timpanist at the North State Symphony in Chico – very seriously.
During a recent interview at school, at a table in the shade of a tree and a stone’s throw from the music room, Simpson, 58, a mop of gray hair falling almost to his neck, had looking more casual and approachable than serious wearing a black T-shirt with images of rock ‘n’ roll band The Police over beige shorts and sneakers.
Marking his 31 years as an educator, including 26 at Vacaville Unified, the tall, friendly teacher and father of two adult children said, “I’m a musician first. I just stumbled upon teaching.
“I never thought when I was 24 that I would do what I do, teach and play in professional bands or orchestras on the weekends, Simpson said, adding, “I’ve met teachers I’ve been able to do some great things.” That includes leading the school’s newly formed mariachi band, believed to be the first such ensemble at a Solano County college.
But some of that great stuff will come to an end in the weeks to come, when the school year draws to a close and he relinquishes the position of school band director and hands it over to music teacher Justin Au.
Still, Simpson, who earned three degrees including single subject, multiple subjects and a community college degree, will not be retiring from the education field.
Well, not this year, the Sacramento native said, noting that he will remain an employee of the district through the coming year and will retire at the end of the 2023 school year.
The conversation focused on Simpson’s considerable biography as a teacher and professional musician and the meaning he found in both pursuits.
During the pandemic, when he taught remotely for many months, he said he turned his living room into a classroom, with a bank of percussion instruments filling an entire room, but teaching via Zoom, he said. he lamented, “It doesn’t work”.
Why? After a while and a lot of frustration, he noticed the footage was upside down, so Simpson put a camera on the cap on his head, “so they could see the correct fingering” on, say, some wind or brass instruments.
The number of students taking the music elective course has plummeted during the pandemic, but this year, he said, “they’ve come back a long way.”
“Music is an option,” Simpson said. “If they don’t like you, they don’t take up the subject. They can go elsewhere. They must like the teacher.
On drums as a professional performer, he was a regular member of acoustic bands led by Dan Hicks, in Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks and Bayside Jazz, backing a musician considered a major player in San Francisco’s folk and rock scenes. of the 1960s and known for his varied musical and personal styles. Simpson can be heard on a pair of Hicks recordings, one of which, “Tangled Tales,” was nominated for a Grammy Award. Hicks, who suffered from throat and liver cancer towards the end of his life, died in February 2016 in Mill Valley.
While recounting his days with Hicks, Simpson also noted that later that day, on a Friday, he had to travel to Chico to prepare for playing with the North State Symphony, a part-time job he occupied for 18 years, 15 years. of them as principal timpanist.
“I love timpani,” he says, smiling. “In an orchestra, it’s a bit like being a rock ‘n’ roll drummer.”
The son of a Caltrans employee, Simpson began playing drums at the age of 6 and, he wrote in an email to The Reporter, was “later introduced to the musical possibilities of many percussion instruments.
Remembering the feeling of seeing and hearing drums for the first time, his reaction, he said, was, “I said, ‘I want this.’ ”
“Growing up, I had my drums, my brother had a guitar, and my mom had a piano,” he said. “We never needed to have my instruments in the garage.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in percussion performance in 1986 from Sacramento State University, then moved to England, where he played in many bands and orchestras in the London area.
Before returning to California in late 1989, Simpson completed a Masters in Music Performance Studies at City University London, during which time he attended the prestigious Guildhall School of Music. He said he continued his links with the UK, performing with various orchestras and jazz bands when time permitted. Additionally, he is listed as a Visiting Scholar at the Bate Collection of Instruments, University of Oxford.
In late 1992, he co-founded and played drums, he noted in the email, with “the internationally renowned Wooden Nickel Jass Band.” He then began freelancing in orchestras and began a teaching career which, in addition to working at VUSD, also included Napa Valley College and Pacific Union College in Angwin.
When asked how he reacts when a student approaches him and says, “You changed my life,” Simpson replied, “First of all, I got up great. I am humble. I’m grateful they understood what I was throwing. I never expect students to take music as seriously as I do. I expect them to have a love and fun with music.
When he retires next year, his plans are to “return to the game full-time” and, he said, he hopes to continue playing into his 70s and 80s.
As a timpanist, Simpson said he still gets calls to perform with orchestras in Napa, Santa Rosa and the University of California, Davis.
“I just want to play,” he said matter-of-factly. ” That’s what I do. Frank Zappa said, “Music is food. He added, “I had my first professional gig when I was 14, in 1977. I got paid $75. I bought my first stick bag.
And he still has it.
When he’s not playing music, Simpson said he’s just been with his wife, Evie, and a cat named Dexter.