Larry Curtis, Professor Emeritus and Director of Bands from 1969-1994, passed away Saturday, June 13, 2020. Professor Curtis served CSULB for 25 years as conductor of the University Wind Symphony and director of the "Big Brown Music Machine."
Born on June 25, 1937 in Dallas Texas, Larry was a musical prodigy and had early success as a jazz drummer in various big bands and jazz quartets, appearing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and touring with the Trini Lopez band.
At age 16 Larry was accepted to East Texas State University on a jazz drumming scholarship, where he also studied clarinet and violin performance. He later earned the Master of Arts in Music degree from Adams State University in Colorado. Upon graduation, Larry began his teaching career in Colorado before moving to California in 1965 to take on the role of Director of Bands at Pasadena High School. With great success at the high school level, he interviewed to be the Director of Bands at California State College, Long Beach (now CSULB) and assumed the directorship in the Fall of 1969.
Professor Curtis’ twenty-five-year tenure as Director of Bands at CSULB became one of the most productive for the university bands program up until that point. He continued to build the bands program to international acclaim with performances at two Edinburgh Military Tattoos (1980 and 1987), two Japan Band Clinics (1981 and 1991), and tours throughout Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Australia. He developed a national reputation with performances at five Western Division Conferences of the College Band Directors National Association, two National Conferences (1975 and 1983) of the CBDNA, and one performance at the American Bandmasters Association Convention in Phoenix, Arizona (1980). Larry Curtis’ Wind Symphony was considered to be one of the nation’s finest collegiate instrumental ensembles.
The growth of the band program at California State University, Long Beach directly correlates with the growth of the marching band. Curtis said "…it was a good group, and a good recruiting tool for us." By 1977, the marching band had reached 300 members, and made its first, and only, appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Professor Curtis retired from the university in 1994 but continued to be very active as a professional conductor. He was the principal conductor of the Long Beach Municipal Band and led the band for nearly 700 performances during his 27 years with them. In 1999 he established the American Winds Concert Band, a professional wind band which performed its inaugural concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Curtis also guest conducted many groups, including the Pacific Symphony, Americus Brass Band, Long Beach Community Band, San Diego Winds, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Curtis’ love for music and life was evident to anyone who had the honor of performing under his baton. He was passionate about creating a musical experience for the audience that would lift them from their everyday life to a place of wonderment and elation. One needed to only look into his eyes and hear his gregarious laugh to know that all things came straight from his heart. That is the way he lived, and that is the way he will be remembered.
Curtis is survived by his wife of 29 years, Linda; his son, Kurt (Dawn), and daughters, Heather Anderson (Lance) and Lindsey.