Johnny Trudell, trumpet player and bandleader, has died

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
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Johnny Trudell — a trumpet player and orchestra leader who played with Motown legends and championed working musicians and Michigan-grown talent — has died at age 82. 

Johnny Trudell

Trudell, who died of heart disease Saturday, had a career that spanned more than 60 years. He performed in clubs and theaters throughout Metro Detroit from Morey's Lounge in the 1960s to the Michigan Palace and Pontiac Silverdome in the 1970s to Seldom Blues in the 2000s. 

Trudell not only stood out as a musician who crossed genres, but one who withstood the test of time, always evolving to be with the times, said his son, musician Jeff Trudell. 

“If you’ve got a front person in a band, usually – the last 30, 40, 50 years – it’s a singer,” he said. “For somebody to play the trumpet and stay musically relevant for all those years, with the band getting updated charts, him always working on his craft … we weren’t playing “In the Mood” at the end … he was like Buddy Rich or one of those band leaders of that ilk that said ‘hey, people are willing to come out if we update things.’” 

A musician for Motown Records, Trudell performed on Marvin Gaye's album "What's Goin' On" and played with many of the institution's greats. 

The orchestra leader was a go-to source when a big name would come to town and needed a band to back them up. He performed for several United States presidents including John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and recalled meeting Frank Sinatra in a 1998 Detroit News article just after the crooner's death, calling him "the best that ever was."

Johnny Trudell entertains the guests at the Jump, Jive and Swing benefit for the Josephine Ford Cancer Center held at the Roostertail in Detroit, Michigan November 18, 2011.

Jeff Trudell, who started performing with his dad in 1977 when he was just 7, said he and his siblings would tease his dad about not really liking rock and roll and popular music in spite of having contributed to it. 

“Not that he shunned it,” said Jeff. “He could cross any genre. Not too many musicians have all those tricks, all those tools in their bag.” 

Most importantly, may have been Johnny Trudell’s commitment to the working musician. 

“Dad was instrumental in musicians making a better wage,” said his son. “He was one of the only guys who was a businessman back in those days. When musicians really didn’t know what to ask or how to do it, he and a few other guys are the ones that went to (Motown Records head) Berry (Gordy Jr.) and said, hey, we’re getting five bucks a side, but I’m hearing us outside on the radio.” 

Trudell furthered his mission to shine a light on his fellow musicians when he co-founded the Michigan Jazz Festival in 1995. 

Johnny Trudell

"Some local people helped out at first, and they still do to this day. I bought all the drum sets and did all the backline the first few years. It was a family affair," said Jeff. "It was humble beginnings but it's managed to last a long time ... he did it for the betterment of the local musician." 

The Michigan Jazz Festival will be virtual on July 18, but Trudell said he expects it to return as an in-person event in 2022, with a tribute to the beloved trumpeter. 

A visitation for Trudell, who is survived by his wife Beverly as well as four children and three grandchildren, will be 3-9 p.m. Wednesday at Wujek Calcaterra & Sons, 36900 Schoenherr in Sterling Heights. Instate is set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday followed by a funeral mass at St. Kieran, 53600 Mound in Shelby Township. 

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Michigan Jazz Festival, michiganjazzfestival.org.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

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