Yvonne McAllister plays her trumpet during her 96th birthday celebration at Casa Mexico in Keyport. Nick Twietmeyer | Kitsap News Group.

Yvonne McAllister plays her trumpet during her 96th birthday celebration at Casa Mexico in Keyport. Nick Twietmeyer | Kitsap News Group.

Keyport trumpeter celebrates 96th birthday

Yvonne McAllister has been playing since the Jazz Age

KEYPORT — It takes Yvonne McAllister a little time to get to the stage from her booth at Casa Mexico in Keyport. Not because of her age though; the restaurant is packed with friends, family and fans all waiting to hear the 96-year-old play trumpet.

With nearly a century of musical experience has come a total command of her instrument. McAllister masterfully pulls from it the golden tones everyone has come to hear.

Accompanied by The Rhythem Section — a bassist, clarinetist, pianist, drummer and violinist — McAllister makes her way through jazz standards and classics from the golden age of Big Band music. During a break, the crowd takes a turn and serenades McAllister with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On Nov. 20, McAllister would be turning 96 and so chose to spend an early birthday celebration doing the very thing she has loved to do for nearly a century.

“Music has just always been with me, all my life,” McAllister said. “It’s fun. It makes me happy.”

By McAllister’s estimates, she was 3 or 4 when her mother began teaching her to play the trumpet. Her mother was an accomplished musician as well, performing with numerous bands in Seattle, often as McAllister listened in.

“She was playing with all these different bands all the time and I would hear them when I was only a baby,” McAllister recalled. “So I would learn all those old pieces just listening to them [during] their rehearsals.

“My mother made it so I was able to read music and everything by the time I was 6 and I never looked back. She was a really good teacher too.”

When asked how many songs she can play from memory, McAllister said, “I could never tell you. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. They’re all up in my head.”

A couple of her favorites are “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” written by George Bassman and first recorded by Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra; and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.”

Unfortunately, macular degeneration has claimed McAllister’s ability to read sheet music, but thanks to her memory and her ability to play by ear, her songs are not lost. It seems this is McAllister’s only age-related hindrance to playing; she said she doesn’t even get winded while playing.

“I still walk a lot, do my housework, go up and down stairs and just stay generally busy,” McAllister said when asked how she keeps her lungs in good shape. But lungs aren’t the only important thing when it comes to playing the trumpet. Embouchure — the way that a trumpeter presses his or her lips to the mouthpiece — is an important part of playing as well, and requires the player keep the lip muscles developed.

“The muscles in your lips — if you keep playing a little bit, it helps,” McAllister said.

Aside from playing with the band, she said, she doesn’t practice anymore, one of the perks of playing for as long as she has. But for those with less experience than her, McAllister said there is one thing that all up-and-coming trumpeters must have.

“Desire,” she said, adding with a healthy laugh, “If they do it, they’ll have fun.”

When asked if she has had fun playing the trumpet, McAllister doesn’t hesitate for a second.

“Always,” she said. “I have no complaints.”

— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com.

Yvonne McAllister plays her trumpet during her 96th birthday celebration at Casa Mexico in Keyport. (Nick Twietmeyer/Kitsap News Group)

Yvonne McAllister plays her trumpet during her 96th birthday celebration at Casa Mexico in Keyport. (Nick Twietmeyer/Kitsap News Group)

Yvonne McAllister reads a birthday message during her 96th birthday celebration at Casa Mexico in Keyport. (Nick Twietmeyer/Kitsap News Group)

Yvonne McAllister reads a birthday message during her 96th birthday celebration at Casa Mexico in Keyport. (Nick Twietmeyer/Kitsap News Group)

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