A tribute to my teacher Frank Sumares

The world has lost a great man. Frank Sumares or our beloved “Unca Funk” as many of his students have known him passed away early this morning. The impact he has left on the music community and on the lives of countless students is immeasurable.

I studied with Frank at Chabot College in Hayward, California for several years in the early/mid nineties. I don’t think there has been a rehearsal or gig since then where I haven’t heard his voice or felt his spirit. He had a way of bringing the best out of his students and refining us not only in our performance, but in the way we conducted ourselves as professionals. Leave your attitude at the door and do your job. All the while driving us to be our best and not settle for “mediocre”. Some say “those who can’t, teach”. Certainly not the case with Frank. He was a working musician who shared his love of music with his students bringing that “real world” experience to the classroom.

When I first started music classes at Chabot I had a different teacher for Music Theory. I struggled and just didn’t “get it”. The following year Frank took over the class and brought a practical aspect to theory. That’s when the light bulb came on and my learning skyrocketed from there. Suddenly it all made sense. So many memories of his classes, rehearsals, concerts, and festivals.

Chabot College used to have a Performing Artist Series where big name artists would come and perform. There was one particular Thursday afternoon during a break in rehearsal Frank asked me “are you busy Saturday? Leslie Uggams is performing. Night Band (Chabot evening jazz band) is backing her and we need a trombone.” I said “sure do you have the music so I can look over it?” He just smiled and said “no you’re playing with the big boys now. You will see the music Saturday afternoon and perform it that night.” I tell that story to anyone I meet who doesn’t want to learn how to read music. That concert is a night I will never forget.

The last time I talked to Frank was at the celebration of his retirement from Chabot College. 25 years! It was at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Ledisi, another Chabot alumn heard of the event and said “anything for Frank”. She flew out and joined us on stage or a few songs. I saw Frank right after we finished our set and he told me “I’ve been following you and you are going to be a star.” Coming from him that meant so much.

So many memories. Frank your spirit will be with us forever. Thank you so much for sharing your special gift. We are all better musicians and human beings because of you.

Harmonics Ep 2 from Betty S. Chou on Vimeo.