By Ann Brock
Dr. David Spencer, associate professor of trumpet and jazz studies in the Rudi E.
Scheidt School of Music, says that a person does not choose music as a direction in
life. Rather, music chooses the person. He knows exactly when music chose him.
Dr. David Spencer
As a young boy living in Scotland, Spencer took an aptitude test that revealed that
he would be a good pilot, banker or lawyer. However, none of these professions appealed
“I had started taking trumpet lessons, and I liked music. I wanted to play music,”
A day after he puzzled over the results of the aptitude test, the Scottish National
Orchestra came to play at the school he attended.
“When the principal trumpet player got up and played the first movement of the Haydn
Trumpet Concerto, I was mesmerized. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Thus began a lifelong journey of the pursuit of music, specifically the trumpet, that
has scored him a brilliant career.
Spencer is an American citizen, but grew up in Europe because of his father’s job
with the State Department. He said his parents allowed him to explore his passion
“I come from a long line of military officers in my family, so there was a little
bit of pressure to go into the military, but not really a lot. My parents supported
me very much in doing what I wanted to do.”
The memory of his first major performance is indelibly imprinted in his mind. He was
attending Florida State University and working as a musician at Walt Disney World.
On New Year’s Eve, he had the opportunity to play fanfare trumpet leading up to the
“I stood on top of the castle, looked out at a sea of 30,000 people and the television
cameras were rolling. The spotlight came on me and I thought, ‘What have I done?’
I knew I had to nail it.”
As he started playing the fanfare, Tinker Bell came swooping down a wire, touched
the light switch with her wand, the numerals 1984 lit up and the new year began. It
was a flawless, perfectly synchronized production. He was thrilled with the throngs
of cheering people. “That was a pretty good way to start the new year.”
Spencer, who has bachelor’s degrees in music education and in classical trumpet performance,
a master’s in jazz studies and a doctorate in conducting and contemporary trumpet
performance, has an eclectic range of interests and abilities. He conducts, teaches,
writes music, plays several instruments and is actively involved in the recording
industry. As a trumpet professor, he’s in a small population.
“There are more people in major league baseball than there are trumpet professors
in the United States,” he said.
All the world’s his stage. He has presented concerts in several countries, including
Spain, France, Italy, Brazil, Germany, Korea, Japan, Scotland, Holland, Istanbul and
England. And he played principal trumpet on the Pavarotti World Tour. He remembers
Luciano Pavarotti as being very congenial.
“I’ve toured with a lot of people, and he is certainly one of the most gracious. He
was always fun and always had a smile on his face. I was enthralled when I listened
to him sing. It was a magical thing. He truly deserved his acclaim.”
Spencer has also performed and toured with cruise lines, several Broadway shows, the
Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Natalie Cole, Rita Moreno,
Freddie Hubbard, Michael Brecker and others. Additionally, he is one of the few musicians
who has made Carnegie Hall appearances as both a classical artist and a jazz artist.
Spencer, at far right, is a member of the Memphis Brass Quintet, which also includes
(standing, left to right) Ben Lewis, trumpet; Daniel Phillips, horn; John Mueller,
trombone; and (seated) Kevin Sanders, tuba.
The world is also Spencer’s classroom, which he brings in part to the University of
Memphis. He has students from France, Mexico, Haiti, Britain and China. He holds master
classes and clinics all over the world and is a visiting lecturer at Shanghi Conservatory,
where he goes twice a year.
“The international music scene is really my way of recruiting students here to the
University. Our future is international. I believe that about the whole University,
but I also firmly believe it about the School of Music.”
His most recent international trek was with the Memphis Brass Quintet, the professional
brass ensemble in residence that Spencer started when he came to the University 16
years ago. The quintet spent their own money to go to Belem, Brazil, to work with
a youth program that brings music to underprivileged kids.
“Music is just so much part of the Brazilian culture, and while there may be a lack
of formal musical instruction, music is really a part of everyone’s life there even
though it’s on a very vernacular level. The University is a giant to them because
of the work the quintet has done there.”
But with all of his accolades, accomplishments and worldwide acclaim, Spencer says
that the highlight of his career has been seeing the successes of his students.
“I’ve been very lucky to have an incredible studio here over the last 16 years. The
reason I’ve always taught, in conjunction with having a performance career, is that
it’s important that those who have a passion for music pass that passion on to the