As my 3-year-old son, David, struts around the house with a recorder to his lips, blowing his one-note songs and directing me on my trombone or my wife, Carla, on her alto sax, I have little doubt that his eventual career choice will be music. Musicians run in the family, along with a long line of poets, politicians, preachers, physicians and professors. Until my mother and me, however, there had been no accountants.
I enrolled in Ole Miss (where my great-great-great grandfather had been in its second graduating class), intending to study political science. One of my father’s cousins—the head of economics at Louisiana Tech University—convinced me that accounting was the language of business, and I could work anywhere in the world with it. Of course, he was right, and to this day I’m thankful I switched majors.
My career has included working for one of the Big Four firms; becoming CFO, COO and then acting executive director of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra; and becoming head of internal audit and divisional controller for the largest chain of resorts in the Caribbean. I am now a shareholder in the firm my mother established. (She went back to school to become an accountant while I was at Ole Miss!) My brother is also in the firm. The family tradition of preachers and politicians has definitely been broken.
What hasn’t been broken, however, is music’s influence on my life. My first instrument was guitar; later I learned baritone. When I was in high school in New Jersey, I mastered trombone to play in the school’s great marching band, which put on halftime shows for the New York Giants, the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles and marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I also joined a jazz band that played at a jazz festival at the Lincoln Center in New York City. My biggest musical moment was playing a solo during that performance.
Music has always seemed to touch me wherever I go. When I was in college, I worked on Jimmy Carter’s campaign. Among other duties, I was a representative at musical benefits to raise funds for his presidential campaign, including the one at the Sunshine Jam concert at the Gator Bowl.
I worked with musicians while at the New Orleans Symphony and escorted many, such as Henry Mancini, to dinner. When I went to work for the resort company, I got back into playing music professionally and joined one of the most popular bands in the Caribbean, which played to large crowds all over the islands as well as in Venezuela. We were beginning to cut an album when, unfortunately, my company asked me to move back to the States.
Music also brought my wife and me together. We got to know each other when we kept subbing at the same time for a band in Atlanta. When the band folded, Carla, I and a vocalist decided to start our own band. We began recruiting a number of players we knew—“the usual suspects”—to invite them to join us. The Usual Suspects stuck as the name for our 17-piece orchestra with three vocalists. Although we have the instrumentation of the “big bands,” we play all types of music.
In most bands, the members have day jobs and play as an outlet. Our band is different. Many of our members make their living from music. For example, one of our trombone players used to play with Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, superstars in Latin jazz. Our drummer recorded with Tony Bennett. One of our trumpeters is Cecil Welch, who played with Henry Mancini for 20 years and is friends with Doc Severinsen. Cecil brings in arrangements Severinsen used on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Those arrangements are like the Holy Grail to jazz musicians.
I play trombone in the band; until David was born, my wife played sax. I use my accounting background to manage the financial side of the business and book gigs, which take us throughout the Southeast about two or three times a month. Some of our bookings are really big, such as opening for the headliner group, the Stars of ’80s Rock, at Atlanta’s Dunwoody Music Festival. This year we’re scheduled for events in Asheville, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., and possibly the Jacksonville Jazz Festival.
Everyone needs a creative outlet; music is mine. I enjoy it, and I relish the success the band has had. But I won’t quit my day job for music. I enjoy accounting too much!
—As told to Linda Segall,
a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.
Photo by Calvin J. Wong / Georgia Society of CPAs