Richard ‘Dick’ Perry, a supporter and friend of the big band era, playing one of his vintage instruments as he reminisces on the days where music was real. (Spenser Hasak)
LYNN — The sounds of the big band era are alive and well in the memories and vintage instruments of a Lynn man. Whether it’s the famous musicians who swept through the North Shore or the first time he heard swing music, Richard ‘Dick’ Perry remembers it all.
“The ’30s, ’40s, and early ’50s is where all the big bands had their own style and their own different arrangements,” said Perry. “That’s what made them different.”
Born in an orphanage in Maine, the swing era aficionado was then adopted by his family and raised in Lynn. Growing up, Perry and his family all loved music, but the first time he heard swing music on the radio he felt something completely different.
“I remember one night when I was a kid, I think it was in the 1940s, I was sitting in my papa’s truck and I heard Harry James on the radio for the first time playing the trumpet,” said Perry. “I turned to my papa and told him I wanted one.”
From then on, Perry became engulfed in the music from what is now known as the big band, or the swing, era. His interests were particularly pertaining to the versatile sounds and styles of Harry James. As a child, James was Perry’s biggest musical influence but years later it turned into more than that. It turned into a friendship.
“When I was in the service we went over to Japan and I started writing to him,” said Perry. “When I finally came back I went to see him play again and I introduced myself as Dick Perry and he immediately recognized me as the guy writing letters from Japan and was excited I stuck around for so long. After that it was kind of like he adopted me into his world.”
From New Jersey to Worcester to the local town of Peabody, Perry remembers all the trips he took with James and his band. James, the
American renowned trumpet-playing band leader, trusted Perry to hold onto the band’s instruments while traveling and even covered everything financially for him along the way.
Perry never considered himself good enough to play with the big band, but James always vocally disagreed with that. The big band leader always applauded Perry’s ability to remember notes simply just by hearing them one time, not even looking at sheet music. James noticed Perry was making one mistake, so he pointed it out and taught him how to blow into the trumpet in a way that allows less air to be pushed from the lungs.
“Anything I can do on the trumpet I owe to Harry,” he said. “I’m not as good as I used to be because this arthritis has kind of taken over my whole body.”
Now, Perry, who has played his trumpet at a number of Lynn veteran events, has his wall of swing records and memorabilia as well as his vintage instruments to help relive his best days. His flugelhorn, an instrument between a trumpet and a trombone which gives off a much more mellow type of sound, and his trumpet never go a day without being played, even when it seems as though his arthritis is getting him down.
“This flugelhorn here belonged to Arturo Sandoval, the great Cuban trumpeter who defected from Cuba to get away from Castro,” he said. “I got a letter from him that said ‘Good luck Dick Perry with this horn, this was mine and I hope you have wonderful luck with it.'”
The Lynn native made a name for himself by supporting the music of the big band era and befriending musicians who performed their way through the North Shore. Perry is grateful for the memories and friendships that he made along the way during those years. The one piece from that era that he is most grateful for? Being a part of real music.
“The bands today stink,” said Perry. “The big bands back then were musicians, masters of the instrument. Today, you know five chords and you’re a star.”
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