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For Bogner, a lifetime of drumming

Local musician Robert Bogner was a noisy kid. Whistling, talking, singing, even beating on things. He would make such a vocal racket that his father would offer him a dollar if he’d keep his mouth shut. His teachers also heard him, seeing a musical ability in that vocal expression, an ability that was also quite rhythmic. Come grammar school, he was offered a spot in the school band as a drummer, all at the recommendation of a teacher. That sparked a lifetime of drumming.

Currently, Bogner holds it down behind the drum-kit for the jazz band from Stillwater Music. It’s safe to say that Bogner, born in 1932, is the oldest drummer in town, still making a racket whistling and banging on things – this time that racket swings.

He was serious about drumming from the get-go.

“My career really started when I went into high school,” he said. “About half a semester through, and the band leader came and said, ‘Come and get in the car with me, I’m going to take you somewhere.’ He took me to the projects where a fellow lived named Tommy Merra, my first teacher. He was in the first graduating class from Julliard in percussion, and he was a graduate of Julliard in the Navy, and I stayed with him about four years. He taught me everything.”

After playing in numerous bands in college at ASU and the University of Arizona including concert band, the marching band and the faculty band, he started playing with pianist Howlett Smith. Smith introduced him to a new genre of music that stuck with Bogner through today.

“That was my first introduction to jazz, and from then on I fell in love with it and that’s just what I did,” Bogner said.

Now a professional musician, Bogner would play shows at the old Tucson Inn early, and close down the smoky bars in some of the more interesting, swinging clubs, the ones always located on the other side of the tracks throughout the city.

“Tucson was a segregated town, even when it was officially nonsegregated, it was segregated,” he said. “Across the tracks was what they called ‘Black and Tan’ clubs. You could go there and play, nobody cared what color you were or anything. It was the best time of my life. Everybody liked everybody, everybody got along, and it didn’t matter what color you were or anything.”

After a quick stint of playing drums in a Scottish bagpipe band, Bogner started a family and put down the sticks for two decades. But passion keeps you productive and dedication to an art means you’re doing things, and Bogner ended that 20-year hiatus at the encouragement of his son, who told him to “Get his chops up.”

“I was terrible. I was so bad, I got choked up and thought, ‘Gee, I’ve never played this bad,” Bogner said. “And Mitchell would say, ‘It’s OK, Dad, go home and practice.’”

So, he did, along with taking lessons, even returning to ASU to study jazz and Latin drumming. In 2012, he moved to Durango and got involved with Stillwater. That included learning a bit about rock drumming. But he swings too much to be a rock ’n’ roll drummer, joking, “He’ll never be a good rock musician because he plays too much jazz.”

Bogner currently practices daily in the music room in his home, while also rolling down to Stillwater once a week to play with the jazz band. To Bogner, it’s as much fun in 2022 as it was in 1955.

“I used to say, ‘Man, I’m gonna die on that bandstand. I love it. I can tell you that if I’m in a group that is clicking, if you’re in a groove, if everybody’s together, things are going good in this tune, you’re just feeling it,” he said. “It’s like utopia. Everybody’s good, there’s no sin, there’s no bad stuff in the world. There’s not anything like that, everything is beautiful.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.