Kenosha native will watch the Oscars from the orchestra pit
By Elizabeth Snyder
While all eyes will be on Oscar show host Ellen DeGeneres and the A-list celebrities inside the Dolby Theatre today, at least some people will be looking at the orchestra pit.
That’s where you’ll find Kenosha native Dan Fornero.
He’s playing trumpet for the Oscars orchestra, under the direction of musical director Bill Ross.
This is the veteran performer Fornero’s first Academy Awards house band gig, and he says, “I can only assume that one of the musicians who has done the show in the past was not available this year, and I’m grateful to get the nod.”
He has played in the house orchestras at other awards shows — Emmys, Grammys — and says the experience “can be pretty intense due to the nature of live TV.”
As he explains: “Anything can happen, so we always have to be ready for the next direction coming at us from the musical director. He has a producer, and a director (or directors) in his ear constantly giving orders, and other than playing the next indicated cue, our job is to make any necessary adjustments as smooth as possible.”
Outside the Oscars
He recently released his first album — “Dan Fornero: Not So Old School” — which he describes as “a collection of eight tunes from different musical genres that have had a large influence on me.”
“Six of the songs are originals of mine, one is a composition by Wally Minko, and one is a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here.’ ”
The album is sold through his website (www.danfornero.com) and is available for digital downloads at what he calls “the usual places like iTunes, Amazon, etc. I’m really happy with how it came out, and considering that we don’t have the marketing support from a major label, the initial response has really been overwhelming.”
Roots in Kenosha
Through his many years of touring with such big names in music as the Woody Herman Band, Tom Jones, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Phil Collins and Neil Diamond, Fornero has never forgotten his start here in Kenosha.
“It is never lost on me how fortunate I am to have been born and raised in Kenosha,” he says. “Music was everywhere, and the music programs in the school system were really fantastic.”
He rattles off some of his early influences (which read like a Kenosha “Who’s Who” of public school music programs): “I first learned how to play a bugle from Al Sabo, who, before teaching at Lance Junior High and Bradford High School, was on staff with the Kiltie Kadets Drum & Bugle Corps in Racine.
“Joe Bolyard, my band director at Lincoln Junior High School, then taught me how to play a trumpet. I had a fantastic private trumpet teacher throughout my junior high and high school years named Jack Yorton.
“My band directors at Tremper High School were Al Harris and Jim Firchow. Stanley Nosal was the orchestra director, and he included the brass in the orchestra every day.
“It was just phenomenal. My high school had a concert band, a symphonic band, a wind ensemble, a chamber orchestra, a full symphony orchestra, two jazz ensembles, a marching band and six choirs.
“We had Band-O-Rama and Orchestra Festival, and our jazz ensembles put on a Variety Show every year.”
Such a strong background helped Fornero during his college years at North Texas State University, where, he says, “My first year of music theory was a review of the music theory class I took at Tremper in my junior year.”
It’s no surprise that Fornero was asked to be the guest artist and clinician at the Kenosha Unified School District’s first Jazz Festival in 2008.
And he hopes today’s students enjoy “this strong emphasis on the arts programs. The musicians I played with were very advanced at a young age. We pushed each other and fed off each other’s talent.”
Fornero will be performing April 4-5 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as part of the Woody Herman Jazz Festival.
“Curt Hanrahan, the professor of jazz studies at UWM — and my longtime friend and backyard neighbor from Kenosha — invited me to perform. I’ll be playing with the UWM Jazz Ensemble and the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra, as well as doing a trumpet clinic and working with some of the high school jazz bands.”
But before that Wisconsin performance, he’ll have a front-row seat today at the Oscars and — maybe — he’ll have to “play off” a long-winded winner who just can’t stop thanking her many agents and lawyers.
Dan Fornero: 5-second bio
Born: In Kenosha to Robert and Theresa Fornero. He now lives in Los Angeles.
Schools: Lincoln Junior High, Tremper High School (1977 graduate)
College: North Texas State University, where he played first trumpet in the famed One O’Clock Lab Band.
Has performed/toured with: Music stars including Phil Collins, Tom Jones, Linda Rondstadt, Brian Setzer, Neil Diamond and Lyle Lovett.
Movies and TV: He has played on soundtracks for numerous movies, including “The Simpsons Movie,” “Happy Feet” and “Toy Story 3” and has performed on TV shows such as “American Idol,” “Boston Legal” and “Dancing with the Stars.” He has also played as a band member for celebrities performing on various TV talks shows.
Family: “My folks moved away from Kenosha some time ago. After moving to Arizona for a minute, they spent some time in Lombard, Ill. They then spent several years in Mequon, and now my folks are finally settled in Cedarburg. My guess is they just want to be closer to the mighty Green Bay Packers! My wife and I own a cottage ‘up north’ in Three Lakes; our retirement may well end up where we have six months of winter.”
Previous Oscars appearances: This is his first time playing with the show’s “house band,” but he performed with singer Adele on the show last and has played at the post-Oscars Governors Ball with several different bands over the years.