Gregg Field

Moon River and Me (Gabriel’s Story)

My wife, Monica Mancini, and I flew up from Los Angeles to see Arturo Sandoval’s San Francisco Jazz concert at the Herbst Theatre. Arturo is a friend and an artist I work with as his producer. A couple of hours before the concert, I was walking through Union Square when I noticed a young boy standing on the street corner, playing his coronet in the dark for passers-by who might toss their pocket change into his open case on the ground. I had walked a few steps past him when I heard the sound of “Moon River” coming from his horn. My father-in-law, Henry Mancini, wrote “Moon River” nearly 50 years ago. I was really surprised to hear this young boy playing it! I turned and headed back and when he finished playing, asked him his name and how old he is. He politely said his name is Gabriel Angelo and that he is eleven years old. I told Gabriel that my wife’s father wrote “Moon River.” He got very excited and said, “Wait! Would you meet my mom!?”

Standing a few feet away reading a book, Gabriel’s mom walked over and introduced herself. She is a young mom who was keeping a protective eye on her son as he played on the corner. The three of us spoke for a few minutes, and I thanked Gabriel for playing so beautifully before I said goodbye and headed back to my hotel. I got about a block or two away when I remembered that probably the greatest trumpet player in the world was performing a concert in two hours and only a few minutes away from where we were standing. I turned and headed back toward Union Square. I found Gabriel still playing and I asked his mom if they would like to come to Arturo Sandoval’s concert tonight. I wondered if they were thinking,”Is this guy for real” or not. In any case I assured them that I was serious and told them if they could be in the lobby of the Herbst Theatre at 7:45, I would have two tickets for the concert.

Just before 7:45 I walked out to the lobby and there was Gabriel and his mom waiting. Gabriel had his coronet case with him and they had likely come directly from Union Square. They settled into their seats and I asked them to meet me in the lobby at intermission and I would bring them back to meet Arturo.

The lights came down and Arturo quickly demonstrated why he is the greatest trumpet player on the planet! It was a high-energy first half, and I kept thinking about what must have been going through Gabriel’s mind as he listened to Arturo play higher, lower, and faster than any human should be able to!

Before the concert, I had told Arturo about this young boy I just met on the street playing “Moon River” and that I had invited him to the concert and would bring him backstage on the break. The first set ended and Gabriel couldn’t sit still! We headed backstage to meet Arturo during the intermission, and Arturo, who is larger than life, could not have been more gracious. Arturo said to Gabriel, “I hear you’re quite a trumpet player and that you play ‘Moon River’!” Gabriel is a polite young boy, filled with enthusiasm, and Arturo picked right up on it. Arturo then said to Gabriel, “Why don’t you come on stage with me on the second half and play ‘Moon River’?” Gabriel lit up and squealed “SURE!”

The second set started and Arturo and his band were on fire! Gabriel stood in the hallway adjacent to the stage, intensely practicing for his debut. After I played a number [on drums] with Arturo, he asked me to come down front and tell the audience the story of meeting Gabriel a few hours before in Union Square, and that he was here and going to come out and play. The audience went crazy! Gabriel walked on stage and was barely tall enough to be seen between the maze of instruments and amps.

Arturo talked to Gabriel and the audience for a minute or so, and then asked: “OK. Are you ready?” Gabriel picked up his cornet, took a deep breath, stepped to the mic, and began to play. The first few notes had trouble coming out, but Gabriel was not deterred. The entire theatre was on his side. Gabriel tried to play and again only a few notes would sound. Arturo noticed that Gabriel was holding the coronet in a very unusual way with his left hand around the tubing. He asked: “Wait, why are you holding it like that?”

Gabriel explained that his coronet was broken and he had to hold it that way so that it didn’t fall apart. Arturo said. “Why don’t you play my horn?”

The audience and Gabriel collectively gasped. I suppose Gabriel is average size for an eleven-year-old, but Arturo’s horn in his hands looked almost as big as he did. The audience was rooting for Gabriel as he put Arturo’s horn to his lips. This time it was better, but Gabriel knew it still wasn’t right. He handed the horn back to Arturo and said: “Can I try on my coronet?”

Gabriel picked up his horn again and this time he really began to play. By the 8th measure, Arturo’s band joined in and the audience hung on every note, wanting Gabriel to hit a home run. He did. And by the time Gabriel had finished, Arturo beamed and the audience rose to its feet and cheered!

When the applause finally stopped, Arturo said to Gabriel, “No musician should ever have to play a horn like that! When we’re finished tonight, wait for me backstage and give me your address. I will send you one of my trumpets!” There was not a dry eye in the theatre.

With fortune shining on Gabriel as it did, I can only imagine what the future has in store for him. I know it will be great! There was also the fortune that shone on all of us who were there.

Gregg Field is a well-known drummer (Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles), record producer, and is co-owner of Concord Music Group.

UPDATE: Since publishing Greggs’s story in 2011, Gabriel has gone on to appear on America’s Got Talent, the Ellen Show, and is all over YouTube.  You can see more at his BlogSpot.