Fifteen years ago, Andy Marchese's former students came from all parts of the country to march under the direction of their favorite band director one last time before he retired.
Photos were snapped, cards were delivered and alumni offered Marchese, affectionately known as "Coach" during his 37 years at Benet Academy, their heartfelt thanks and goodbyes.
But participating in the 1995 tribute didn't stop Mike Halerz and many other former members of the Lisle high school's marching band from thinking about Marchese as they continued on with their lives.
"I actually think of him quite often," said Halerz, 33, who graduated from the
's School of Music and married a fellow musician. "All of it is very fond."
Halerz and other alumni will be glad to know that the band director plays on.
At 87, Marchese goes with his wife to the gym three times a week, where he runs laps around the indoor track. He still teaches private trumpet lessons to about 15 students, many of whom need special tutoring because they recently got braces or had them removed — a musical challenge.
And to those who ask — and not until they do — Marchese still shares stories about playing trumpet alongside
at some of the nation's hottest nightclubs.
Marchese was born in Pensacola, Fla., to a father who was a conductor. At age 8, Marchese's musical career was launched when his father gave him a beat-up trumpet. Though Marchese never had a formal lesson, he practiced incessantly with his father's guidance.
After a year and a half at
broke out and Marchese and friends decided to enlist. He became a sergeant in the Army and played in the Army Air Forces band.
After three years in the service, Marchese moved to
, where a well-known musician named
was looking for someone to play first trumpet in his band.
Marchese got the job.
In the years that followed, Marchese saw much of the country through a bus window, playing in a different venue each night. After Teagarden's band dissolved in Hollywood, Marchese was invited to join another well-known musical group, the Frankie Masters Orchestra.
Marchese met his wife, Mary, during a Chicago performance. She was a
girl who sang in the Holly Sisters group. The couple continued performing, but as they began their family, she encouraged her husband to go back to school.
They returned to the Chicago area, settling in
"I got to know people in town and they were very nice to me," Marchese said. "I signed up for DePaul."
Marchese completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in music education, playing trumpet all the while. He was regularly hired to play at the
and Chez Paree, premier venues in the 1940s and '50s.
The gigs allowed him to play alongside
and the Williams Brothers, to name a few.
Marchese was having so much fun that when the principal of St. Procopius Academy, a boarding school for young men in Lisle, called looking for a band instructor, Marchese was caught off guard.
"I didn't need another job. I didn't even think about another job," he laughed.
But after a visit to the school and meeting with students, Marchese decided it was time to put his education to use.
Within a short time, Marchese took the band from nonexistent to one with new uniforms, regular concerts and trophies for marching. When the school went co-ed in the mid-1960s, marching band participation swelled because there were finally students to play the instruments the boys found too effeminate.
"That was the biggest shot in the arm we ever had," he said.
Through the years, Marchese shared his love of music with students, writing the school's alma mater and fight song, marching alongside the band at countless west suburban parades and conducting lively concerts, which always included a humorous skit or surprise. One performance of the 1812 Overture involved the firing of a real cannon in the high school gym.
In the beginning, Marchese continued to play three nights a week at downtown clubs. But after a few years, he dedicated all his time to teaching. It's a shift he never second-guessed.
"The kids were good — they were great," Marchese said. "We got along real well."
Since Marchese's retirement, Benet has built a new band room, replacing the fourth-floor space Marchese hiked up to eight times a day. But signs of Marchese's influence are everywhere, from the fight song still sung at every school function, to the music his band, the Andy Marchese Orchestra, has played at Benet proms for 50 years straight.
A few years ago, Marchese and his wife moved to a smaller home in Glen Ellyn, where their eight children, 38 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren visit often.
"He's one of those memorable characters … who had the talent and potentially the notoriety to do whatever he wanted to musically, with whomever he wanted to do it with. But he chose a quieter, less infamous lifestyle," said Halerz, his former clarinet student.
To students like him, Marchese offers his trademark energy and humor.
"I still play," he said. "I've still got all my teeth."