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Noted Hemet band teacher Jeff Tower dies at 63

By CRAIG SHULTZ | cshultz@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise PUBLISHED: July 5, 2017 at 12:42 pm | UPDATED: July 6, 2017 at 6:03 am
 
Jeff Tower, whose large presence and personality helped bring international renown to the Hemet High music program, has died.
 
Tower, 63, succumbed Tuesday, July 4, from the effects of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
 
“Jeff Tower was and remains a gift to music education, to Hemet and to jazz, and he lives on through his students, the community and colleagues who all loved him dearly,” former student Sean Longstreet wrote in an email. “He gifted me many profound life-forming opportunities and lessons, and a large part of how I reached my current destination can be traced back to his influence. I’m a band director myself now, and I will always be grateful to have received his tutelage and friendship.”
 
Tower came to Hemet High in 1977 and was an educator until 2007, teaching marching band, concert bands, jazz bands, a jazz combo, chamber music, musical theater orchestra, jazz improvisation, music theory, pep band, multimedia and contemporary music history.
 
Under his leadership, Hemet High bands recorded albums and toured the nation and the world. He was part of a music program in Hemet schools where elementary and middle school teachers such as Larry Mattox, Bob Waner and Mel Smith prepared students for the high school band.
 
Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown was a member of Tower’s bands when he was a student.
 
“Aside from my father, Jeff Tower had a more profound impact on my life than any other person,” Brown said. “He instilled life lessons, values and ethics like no one else could; commitment to excellence, personal accountability, work ethic, integrity and honor. He taught it all through music. We all lost a hero.”
 
More than 35 alumni followed Tower into the music education field and several teach locally, including Dan Boulton at Hemet High, Holly Hunter at North Mountain Middle School in San Jacinto and Jeremy Pietsch at Tahquitz High in Hemet.
 
“He had a positive impact on a thousand, if not more, kids in their career,” said Hemet Mayor Linda Krupa, whose daughter, Jennifer was in Tower’s bands and is now a professional musician. “He was just outstanding in what he did for kids.”
 
He also taught Jessica Arellano, known as Jessy J, one of today’s top smooth jazz and Latin pop artists.
 
“He didn’t sugarcoat life and always treated us (students) like adults,” wrote Longstreet, who graduated from Hemet High in 2002. “He was demanding but was also a big softie who loved his students as much as he loved music.”
 
Dozens of Facebook posts praised Tower.
 
“You approached band and music with the passion and intensity of a football coach,” Hemet Teachers Association President Billy Valenzuela wrote. “You loved us and had fun. You made us feel special and demanded us to live up to your high expectations. You were what so many of us wanted and needed in a band teacher.”
 
Kim Blair, a social studies teacher at Hemet High who knew Tower as both a colleague and band parent, said he had a way of getting the best out of every musician.
 
“My brother in 1979 played in Jeff’s band,” Blair said. “He was brand new to the trombone and Jeff said ‘I’d rather have 10 Kennys that work hard than someone with great talent.'”
 
Tower also was known outside of the school world and is a member of the California Alliance for Jazz Hall of Fame.
 
His musical training began with the violin in third grade, but he switched to the trombone by sixth grade. He continued to play trombone professionally with jazz bands and as a studio musician until he became ill.
 
A concert to remember Tower and raise money for his family will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 13, at the Diamond Valley Arts Center in Hemet.
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