Meet Gabriel Angelo, the 12-Year-Old Playing His Trumpet on S.F. Streets to Pay for Music Lessons

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​It's not often that you hear the theme song of The Godfather while walking down Market Street on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. It's even less likely that you'll hear it played in pure, bright trumpet notes that resonate over the noise of the traffic. This music stopped me in my tracks, so I set out to locate the source. If it wasn't a recording, I imagined it must be a tall, powerful horn player, probably older -- an ex-professional, maybe. But I was looking at the wrong height.

When I lowered my gaze, I saw a meticulously dressed young boy, one hand stuck nonchalantly in his pocket, strolling back and forth as he played in front of a sizable crowd. Gabriel Angelo, 12, plays on the streets to earn money for his music lessons at the S.F. Conservatory of Music and Berkeley Jazz School. However precocious his playing is, though, Gabriel bubbles over with a kid's enthusiasm when he shares his story.

When did you start playing the trumpet?
I've been playing the trumpet for six years. I started because my mom was going to have me take piano lessons at my church's conservatory, but when me and my teacher went to the music room and I saw the trumpet in person -- because I had never seen a trumpet in person, only on TV -- I asked if I could play the trumpet instead of the piano. And he said "Sure, if that's what you want, give it a shot."

When did you start playing in public?
It was May 21, 2009, and my birthday was May 22. X-Men Origins came out on the day before my birthday and I wanted to see it on the opening day. But my mom didn't get her paycheck til after my birthday so I asked if I could make my own money so I could see X-Men Origins. It worked out, so after that I decided to make money for my lessons.

What do you like about playing on the street?
First of all, you get to practice, and then you get to make connections. It gives you a lot of experience and that's one of the main things. To develop my career, I have to make connections.

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Tell me about your trumpet. 
You know Greg Field, who is Henry Mancini's son-in-law? Henry Mancini wrote Moon River. I was by Neiman Marcus playing and Greg Field was getting a suit or something, and he came out when I was playing Moon River. He was like, "Oh my gosh, my father-in-law wrote that song!" And I didn't believe that. I was like, "What, your father-in-law is Henry Mancini?" I thought it was crazy.

When he was about to walk away, he said, "Wait, I'm Arturo Sandoval's producer, you want to come to the show tonight?" Have you heard of Arturo Sandoval? You know, he's a six-time Grammy award-winner and a really famous trumpet player. So [Greg Field] took me backstage during the intermission and Arturo Sandoval said, "Are you going to play "Moon River" for me?" And I was like, "Uhhh ... of course!"

When I went onstage, I was holding the valve flows because they were broken and Sandoval said, "Wait, why are you holding the trumpet like that?" I explained that it broke because it's really old -- it's from 1956. And after I played "Moon River" onstage he said, "You know what, I'm going to buy you a brand-new cornet." Except he gave me one of his, which was custom made by Antoine Curtois.

What are your favorite pieces to play?
The first one is The Godfather, then the National Anthem, and Oh, When the Saints.

What do you do if someone else is playing on your spot? Is there such a thing as street musician's territory?
There's no such thing as territory. Whoever's there is there. Why would you start playing if someone else was playing? There would be two different songs and it would sound weird.

How much money do you make on an average day?
It really depends on how long I stay ... on an average day I would say maybe $30.

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Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you want to be a professional trumpet player?
I actually am planning on making my own money to go to Paris to see the Ralph Lauren car show, because I want to go places. I also sent in an audition for America's Got Talent six days ago.

All the things I want to do are -- I want to be a trumpet player, an actor, and of course, an investor, and a clothing designer, and ... I think that's it!

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5 comments
Diane Harrigan
Diane Harrigan

Gabriel puts such personality into his performance.  Here he is wowing audiences along Market during 4th of July weekend - http://on.fb.me/ifiL7J - adore his style!

NotFrostyFlake
NotFrostyFlake

Good story, great kid.  But terrible video.  Can't see him well, and not his best performance for sure.  

Felicia Lopez Valmonte
Felicia Lopez Valmonte

I work at Neiman's and hear this young man regularly.  Now I know why he is there.  He will see me on payday from now on.  Great story!  

Guest
Guest

I've seen this kid downtown on several occasions and always wondered what his story was. He's obviously very talented and not a "street urchin"—just a kid with a trumpet. Thanks for filling us in!

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