Sometimes following a dream can lead someone to some mighty strange places. For Bryan Chauncey Mays, whose dream was to become a musician, it led to traveling the world, playing in every state except Hawaii, scuba diving in the Black Sea and spending four months in Alaska.
Mays is a professional trombone player, although he also plays other instruments including tuba, trumpet, guitar, keyboards and percussion instruments. He’s most likely to be seen around town playing trombone with the Fort Pierce Jazz & Blues Society or the For Dancers Only Band, also known as the FDO Band.
But he has met and played for celebrities, some of whom are household names, throughout his 52-year career. Think of The Who with Roger Daltrey, Johnny Mathis, Little River Band, Hugh Jackman, Weird Al Yankovic, actress Bernadette Peters and well known Broadway shows like The Lion King and Bye Bye Birdie. With the Craig Turley Orchestra, he toured throughout Florida.
Right now Mays is on a five-city Florida tour with one of the nation’s most famous singers, Johnny Mathis. In January, Mathis performed many of his hits at the Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce.
Mays, a native of Kentucky, was 12 when he started playing trombone. He wanted to join band in sixth grade, but had to wait until it was offered in seventh grade.
“When you join beginning band, they teach you how to play,” he said. He loved it. He practiced hard and by the time he was a sophomore in high school he said he knew that his career was music. His mom was happy — “I think she saw it as keeping me from getting in trouble,” he said with a smile. “She gave me a trombone which I still play.”
He was still in high school when he got his first professional job playing at a party in Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Kentucky. His bandmates were his high school principal and his band director. “That was something,” he said, still delighted by it.
In 1976, he headed for Morehead State University in Kentucky on a music scholarship and stayed there until he had his master’s degree in music. He had played in his high school jazz band. He liked Morehead because it had a good jazz program, he said. But he was in for years of constant practice and study — not only the typical undergrad courses and then working on his masters, but also intense music courses. He took years of complex music theory and learned to identify chords when he heard them, sight-read music and sing the notes he was reading without accompaniment.
“For most people who want to be in a band or orchestra, reading music swiftly and easily is a must,” he said. “But when people hit music theory, a lot of them drop out.”
From 1984 to 1999, Mays toured the world as a musician or band leader on cruise ships. “I think I went everywhere except the Far East,” he said. That was how he spent four months in Alaska, he said, recalling flying to a glacier on a helicopter and standing there staring into the depths of a crevasse. The ship he was on was docked in the icy state.
The ships took him to Sweden, Finland, Russia, Nova Scotia, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and many other countries. He missed a ship once because he had a flat tire on the way and had to fly to the Bahamas to catch up with it. He’s been scuba diving in the Virgin Islands, Tunisia, the Black Sea and many other places including right off the Treasure Coast. He also played in every state in the union except Hawaii. When the opportunity arises he skis, hikes and bicycles.
Mays played for a long list of celebrities, sometimes as part of the Craig Turley Orchestra, including Michael Bolton, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, The Temptations, Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Robert Goulet and many more.
Mays even spent a few months playing for a circus and later at Disney World as part of the Toontown Trio wearing a partial Mickey Mouse outfit. “It was work but it was fun,” he said.
With all of this it would seem like there wouldn’t be time for anything else. But there is. He’s kept up a steady side career as a music teacher, grades K-8, starting in 1996 in West Virginia. He is a music specialist at Independence Classical Academy in Fort Pierce. Along with that, he has written school plays and music for all grades including elementary schools and chorus. He also composes and arranges music for professional orchestras, big bands, and brass ensembles. You can find him by his name on YouTube playing jazz with other local musicians.
He’s proud of the children’s books he wrote — The Journey of Choncey Conch and The Adventures of Hugh Manatee. A third book, Choncey Conch and Friends, is being illustrated now.
So what’s next? After the Mathis tour, he’ll be on tour with singer Judy Collins and on a Temptations-Beach Boys cruise to the Caribbean.
Residence: Fort Pierce since 1999
Born and grew up: Kentucky
Education: Morehead State University, Kentucky, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music
Family: Wife, Marcia; son and daughter.
Hobbies: Scuba diving, cycling, skiing, hiking
What most people don’t know about me: “That I worked on cruise ships off and on for 14 years.”