Michael Whitwell passed away in Petaluma, California on September 17, 2009, after a courageous two year battle with cancer, at age 56. He performed in the big showrooms in Reno and Lake Tahoe and played lead trumpet fifteen years at Harrah’s South Shore Room with the Brian Farnon Orchestra beginning in the mid- 1980s. There he played with such notables as Frank Sinatra, Crystal Gale, Natalie Cole, Bill Cosby and Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Don Rickles, Sarah Vaughan, the Four Tops, Ray Charles Orchestra, and live nationally broadcast radio with Johnny Mathis. He toured HBO Japan with Narada Michael Walden and Weather Report and toured many years with the Danny Marona Show. He had a long association with the Temptations and played with them when they toured northern California.
Versatility was the hallmark of his talent and career, and he was equally suited to playing lead trumpet or jazz. Involved in all media, he appeared as a model in many commercials and print ads and was an actor for movies such as Cobb, Waking up in Reno, and the Cooler. A favorite memory was the trumpet lesson he gave Kirk Douglas during the shooting of “Diamonds.” Michael was also a private music teacher and clinician and recently presented with trombonist Bill Watrous at San Diego Mesa College. He recorded with both Bill Watrous and the late Herb Pomeroy. Most recently, he recorded for Sam & Max video games soundtrack and with the Oster Welker Jazz Alliance with Pete Levin, Fred Lipsius, Mel Martin, and Dave Matthews.
“Michael had a way of making those he worked with comfortable, at ease, creating a fun atmosphere, inspiring all to play their best,” said his wife, Catherine Loustaunau-Whitwell. Over the years, he taught many students, whom he referred to as his “disciples,” and worked to develop a program specific to each individual. Many of his students have gone on to play professionally and record.
During his illness, playing music became his therapy. When he played his Schilke trumpets, he had “no cancer.” Whitwell was busy performing up until a few weeks before his passing.
Michael Whitwell touched many students, friends and fellow musicians with his sterling musicianship, generosity, positive spirit and his healthy sense of humor. He will be greatly missed.
Sources: Scott Nygard, Catherine Loustaunau-Whitwell, and Craig Whitwell, photo courtesy of Claus Brigmann