Bruce Babad has a love affair with brass instruments that started as a kid growing up in Richland.
That love stirred a passion for jazz music that is as keen today as it was when he attended Hanford High, where he earned the prestigious Louis Armstrong Jazz Award in 1978 during his senior year.
These days, Babad is a music educator as well as a performer based in San Diego. On April 11, he will return to his roots to teach and perform at this year's Jazz Unlimited Festival at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.
"My parents listened to a lot of jazz while I was growing up," Babad told the Herald in an email. "Many of their records are still some of my favorite and most influential recordings."
His parents, Harry and Joan Babad, still live in Richland.
Babad joined his middle school band playing the alto sax when he was in the fifth grade, but his first exposure to jazz didn't happen until he got to Hanford High, he said.
Besides the sax, Babad also plays flute, piccolo, alto flute, clarinet, penny whistle, Irish pipe and the E.S.I., which is an electronic wind instrument.
"I had a solo on the soul/rock piece The Sound of Philadelphia and became hooked from that moment to the present," Babad said. "John Blake was my beloved band director at Hanford at the time. He played a huge role in being the inspiration for me to pursue a career in music.
"I was in ninth grad when I stood up to play that solo, which I still have memorized, and my world changed."
Blake wasn't the only Tri-City music teacher to influence Babad. Andrea McMakin remembers well the young man she taught to play the flute.
"I love Bruce," she said. "He was my flute student and friend. I learned as much, or more, from him as he did from me.
"He was always one of those people you knew was going to make a living in music. I remember him as being the quintessential jazz musician. He lived and breathed jazz, knew the history of performers going back in time."
Babad will teach a workshop April 12 at the Jazz Unlimited Festival as well as be the featured performer at the evening concert April 11 along with the Columbia Basin Jazz Orchestra. He'll also perform a short set at noon April 12 with the CBC Jazz Ensemble.
"I am prepared to teach improvisation, jazz phrasing and/or saxophone techniques," Babad said. "My primary goal at the festival is to entertain and inspire the students."
When Babad graduated from Hanford High in 1978, he earned a music degree from Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Eventually, he and his wife Jan moved to California where he continues to freelance as a performer and is the director of jazz studies at Fullerton College.
His music can be heard on the 2006 Grammy-nominated Bill Holman Band album. He has also has performed with such legendary musicians as The Four Tops, the Temptations, the Platters, Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole, Little Milton, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams and Mark Murphy.
As the years go by, it's the music that continues to give his life purpose, he said.
"Music gives me a way to express myself in ways that words fall short," Babad said. "Music is a great unifier. I often play and create inspired musical art with people from other social, political and religious backgrounds."
He added that there are benefits to performing and teaching.
"It is extremely rewarding to see the lights turn on as a student 'gets' what I am teaching," he said. "On the other hand, it is very satisfying to make killer music with friends or strangers in today's jazz world."
When it comes to a favorite jazz musician, Babad said it would be fun and easy to play with Chet Baker. But truthfully, he added, it's Miles Davis who stands out.
"I think Miles would challenge me to find my own voice as a player and composer," he said.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com; Twitter: @dorioneal