Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Mic Gillette, Tower of Power, and the Oaktown Sound

Mic Gillette
Mic Gillette (1951-2016)

We mark the death on January 17, 2016 – six years ago today – of the American trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, and tuba player and teacher, Mic Gillette, of a heart attack in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Concord.  Born on May 7, 1951, in Oakland, Gillette was 64 years old at the time of his death.

You might not have heard of Mic Gillette, but I can assure you have heard Mr. Gillette’s playing, time and time again.  He was a founding member (in 1968) of what I consider to be the single greatest funk-rock/soul/horn band ever, Oakland’s own Tower of Power.  Gillette also performed and recorded extensively with two other Bay Area horn bands, Cold Blood and Sons of Champlin.  As one of the most highly respected session players anywhere, Gillette has appeared on hundreds of albums, including recordings by some of the biggest names in the business, including Santana, the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Rod Stewart, Elton John, the Doobie Brothers, Quincy Jones, Jefferson Starship, Huey Lewis and the News, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Mic Gillette was a local legend, a legend burnished by his dedication to teaching and to his family.  This post is going to be a bit different from most Music History Monday posts in that it will not so much eulogize Mic Gillette as a musician as celebrate him as a person.  To do that, we’re going to watch a number of videos (for those listening to the podcast, the links are provided) and we’re going to get to know Gillette through his own words as much as though mine.

We begin with a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner of all things!  Gillette was a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, and he was a pre-game fixture at Giants games, playing The Star-Spangled Banner at home games many times.  It was a mark of Gillette the man and the teacher that on many such occasions, he stayed in the background and featured his students.  The linked video was recorded at San Francisco’s AT&T Park on May 11, 2013; the arrangement is Gillette’s own; it features three of his students.  He joins in during the fourth and final phrase of the anthem.

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