The legacy of John ‘ Squirrel’ Mosley

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It was a chilly rain laced windy day on the first day of school at Schenley High School in September of 1967. My mind was in a tizzy. I was told that if you were a freshman, seniors were given permission to kick your “butt” at any time during your first week of attendance.

My exterior demeanor could not have remotely exhibited how petrified I was as I entered the south entrance of the school. One of the first classes that I had signed up for was band. It was the sixth period, right after lunch. I had gotten through the initial five periods and lunch period unscathed and without any major injuries to report but my upcoming band class could be another matter.

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JOHN ‘SQUIRREL’ MOSLEY

All during my final year of “grade school” I had been hearing about Squirrel Mosley residing at the “big house” of Schenley and sitting in the first chair in band and was first trumpet and the concertmaster of the school orchestra.

He was a brass player that could play every brass instrument from tuba to trumpet and anything in between, including French horn, Baritone horn and trombone. He was a player that according to legend was the grandson of Louie Armstrong and the long lost nephew of “Dizzie” Gillespie. He was also reportedly related to Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.

As a matter of fact according to one of my most reliable sources Jerry McKeithen of Lawrenceville, John Mosley could walk on water and make a trumpet play by itself just by snapping his fingers. As I wound my way up the long winding staircase, a small boyish, almost impish-like figure appeared beside me, horn in one hand and a pile of sheet music tucked neatly under the same arm. He looked at me and said, “You must be on your way to band class and you also must be a freshman.”

Now I was really scared, did these seniors have ESP. I said, “How did you know I was on my way to band and how did you know that I was a freshman.” Squirrel answered, “First of all, why would you be all the way on the end of the hall if you weren’t going to band and you still have your class schedule in your hand. Only freshmen have to do that.

“What’s your name, Freshie?” I answered, “Aubrey.” “Do you have a last name?” “Yeah,” I said, now feeling confident, “Bruce.” “Mr. Bruce, do you have a nickname?” I said, “Peanut.” “Well Peanut, I have a new name for you. You will now be known to me as “Peanutiest.”

I had known this guy for less than five minutes and he had already given me a new name. I asked; “What’s your name?” He simply smiled and I will never forget that moment as long as I live. He said; “Just call me Squirrel.”

We entered the band room and Squirrel unceremoniously announced to everyone including Mr. Borrelli, our band and orchestra teacher that my name was “Peanutiest.” When Mr. Borrelli inquired as to what was the name that was listed on my class schedule card, John Clifford Mosley Jr. answered with a sheepish grin. “Oh that, his real name is Aubrey Bruce.”

He would become my lifelong friend, no, more than just a friend, we were closer than brothers and he would call me “Peanutiest” for the rest of his life.

He must have really liked me “right off the bat” because I didn’t realize until a few weeks later that if Squirrell gave you a nickname, you were “In like Flynt.” The following June he graduated and left a void in band and orchestra at Schenley.

I vividly recall on the day before senior day, the band played the Alma Mater song of Schenley for the last time with John Clifford Mosley Jr. sitting in the first chair. His passing now leaves a similar void not just in my life but in the lives of all the musicians that he has touched and mentored.

John C. “Squirrel” Mosley Jr. came onto the music scene on Dec. 7, 1950 in Pittsburgh, PA. He took his final “pause for the cause” on Dec. 15, 2010, just a week and a day after his 60th birthday.

He grew up in the Homewood-Brushton section of Pittsburgh and began playing trumpet while attending Lemington School.

He was all world in music, including but not limited to; All-City Band and All-City Orchestra. He was also a member of Upward Bound project at Mount Mercy College.

His private studies were with Anthony Pasquerelli of the Pittsburgh Pops Orchestra and Carnegie Mellon University. After he graduated from Schenley, he made his way to New York after accepting a musical scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music. He also took summer classes at Julliard.

After he left the Manhattan School of Music he enrolled at Mannes College of music where he studied with Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Kenny Durham, Jimmy Owens, Dizzy Gillespie and Woodie Shaw.

Squirrel Mosley became one of the most accomplished and acclaimed recording and performing sidemen of the 1970s through the 1990s. He toured with the Isley Brothers and was a member of one of the top R&B/Jazz fusion groups in the last 50 years, Roy Ayers & Ubiquity for more than a decade. He was also a member of the house band at the world famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem. At the time that he took his final “stage break” he was a member of the Union Baptist Church Jazz Workshop where the focus is on tutoring young musicians.

The life of my friend and mentor Squirrel was not without a speed bump here and there. Pastor Robert W. Tedder of Union Baptist Church who also delivered the eulogy put it so eloquently when he said, “Sometimes Squirrel might have hit a wrong note in the melody of life but the melody in his heart remained pure.” From a personal perspective, I have met everyone from Liza Minnelli to Ronald Isley just from my association with John C. Mosley Jr. Speed bumps and all, most people would love to have lived his life and experienced his triumphs and tragedies. As someone said at his memorial, “Move over Gabriel, here comes Squirrel.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@new­pittsburgh­courier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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