Local trombonist is still making music with stars
MONTEREY -- Trombonist extraordinaire Don Mikkelsen has played with artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Peter Gabriel and Frank Sinatra. On Sunday night at the Mahaiwe Theater, he will be reunited on stage with Motown legends The Temptations, who will be performing there.
Well, he thinks so, anyway.
"I'm not sure if I played with the Temps," he said, laughing. "I know I played with a number of Motown acts, including Marvin [Gaye] and The Spinners. But it was so long ago. Sometimes, it all runs together."
Mikkelsen should be forgiven if he can't give a blow-by-blow account of a rather extraordinary 40-plus-year career.
The affable Oklahoman, a 1976 graduate of Indiana University, has been playing trombone since high school. Highlights of his career include playing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra when he was barely into his 20s; touring with Presley in the mid-1970s and performing as a member of the house band at Caesar's Palace, catching the tail end of the Rat Pack era.
Mikkelsen has also performed on numerous recordings. That's him on the trombone playing on Peter Gabriel's sledgehammer. His credits include backing other stars including Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Tom Jones and Mel Torme.
And Mikkelsen is quick to note that he will be part of one heck of a backing band on Sunday night. In addition to Mikkelsen, Dave Wampler will be on trombone; Jeff Stevens, Micah Maurio and Alex Lee Clark will be on trumpets; Charlie Tokarz and Bruce Krasin will be playing alto sax; Noah Weiss and Frank Newton will be on tenor sax and the baritone sax player will be Mat Schumer.
"There are some great players in that bunch," said Mikkelsen. "Charlie Tokarz and Jeff Stevens are world-class performers. I think we're going to have a lot of fun [Sunday] night."
This setup is not particularly unusual, said Mikkelsen. Groups like The Temptations usually tour with a core group of musicians, and use local musicians to flesh out their band.
"Give them credit," he said. "We're pretty close to New York City. They could have easily brought some guys up here for one night. But they chose to go with local guys.
"Of course," he added, "these 'local guys' are pretty good!"
Over the course of an interview on Sunday afternoon, Mikkelsen recounted a number of stories from the good old days. He was with Presley on one of his last tours, when The King was struggling with a major substance abuse problem.
"That was unfortunate," said Mikkelsen. "It was sad to see him that way."
The performer over the years with whom he was most impressed, he said, was Sammy Davis Jr..
"I was playing Caesar's [Palace] six days a week and for the rest of the performers, it was the same show, the same songs, the same audience patter every night. Except Sammy. He just refused to be bored. He'd be up there, chatting with the audience, and we'd go in a different direction every night. Every night was a different show. He really impressed me."
Mikkelsen moved up to the Berkshires in 2008, and still performs regularly.
"I've been fortunate," he said. "I've worked with some amazing artists over the years, doing what I love, and it's always been enjoyable."
If you go
Who: The Temptations
When: Sunday, Dec. 2
Where: The Mahaiwe Theater, Great Barrington
More information: www.mahaiwe.org
Box office: (413) 528-0100
To reach Derek Gentile:
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile