George C. Bean received one of the highest accolades from his fellow musicians, who dubbed him a “first call” trumpeter.
A “first call” player is just what it sounds like. They get the “first call” for recording dates and performances, because of their creativity, reliability and ineffable flair.
“Every booking agent keeps a ‘first call’ list,” said trumpeter Richard Wang. “He was a man to pick up the telephone and call if you’ve got a need for a top trumpet player.”
Mr. Bean performed with music legends, did commercial jingles for Coca-Cola, United Airlines, Green Giant and 7 Up, and he schooled younger musicians on everything from breathing techniques to trumpet valves, friends said.
He died at his Oak Lawn home on Jan. 19, his 85th birthday. He had lung cancer.
Mr. Bean played or recorded with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. In the 1960s, he toured the Midwest with Tony Bennett and Lena Horne in a 32-piece orchestra, said trumpet player Art Hoyle, who was on the same bill. He also performed with bandleaders Count Basie, Stan Kenton and Harry James, husband to World War II pinup Betty Grable, a Vargas girl come to life whose legs were insured with Lloyd’s of London for $1 million.
His father, George Clifford Bean Sr., was a trumpeter from Okolona, Miss., and the sound of Dixieland jazz infused his early style, Hoyle said. Mr. Bean, who was in the Navy, attended the Naval School of Music in Virginia Beach, said trumpet player Bobby Lewis, leader of two groups in which Mr. Bean performed — the Forefront, and Ears-Jazz of All Eras.
Hoyle recalled Mr. Bean nailing parts that were “quite high and quite demanding, and George was just magnificent.”
“He was a very fine musician,” said saxophonist Jimmy Ellis. “He played with Dixieland groups, straight-ahead jazz groups.”
Jazz critic Neil Tesser once wrote Mr. Bean was “capable of galvanic, wild-man flights that skirt the stratosphere.”
“The way he played the piccolo trumpet,” said his longtime companion, Gigi Kamberos, “the crowds would just jump up.”
Often, he could be found at jazz festivals and Chicago nightspots like Andy’s Jazz Club, the old Chez Paree, the Green Mill, Jazz Showcase, Orphans and Wise Fools. He also played at Chambers in Niles and the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. And, “We were at Mill Run [Theatre in Niles] for 11 years,” Hoyle said. “We were in the house orchestra.”
In 1976, Mr. Bean played at the First International Brass Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, Hoyle said.
Adept at many musical instruments, he told vocalist Marnie Glaser he used to spread them out on his floor at home to clean and maintain them. “He said when he died, he didn’t want there to be a bunch of rusty old instruments,” she said. “He wanted them to be well-kept and ready to be played again.”
In addition to Gigi Kamberos, Mr. Bean is also survived by: his daughters, Deanna Windham, Margaret McDonald and Alexandra Kamberos; his sister, Donna LaNasa; seven grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. At services Monday at Bohemian National Cemetery, musicians played the anthem of New Orleans jazz funerals, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”