Bassist Peter Huffaker considers himself a lucky, lucky man. I suspect the stars aligned for him on July 7, 1956, since Peter was born at the very moment Duke Ellington’s orchestra was playing at Live at Newport, and Paul Gonsalves was performing his historic nine-minute solo that almost caused a riot. If you’re not familiar with that act, check out a 15-minute video on YouTube. It’s incredible!
Peter’s luck begins in California with the musical family into which he was born: non-professional musician parents, and three siblings. His family would visit Disneyland where they heard the big bands of Count Basie with Sarah Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, and more.
His luck, or his drive if you prefer, continued with his playing electric bass by ear and, inspired by his cousin, forming a rock cover band good enough to play paying gigs by Peter’s senior year in high school. He moved into an original band in which he composed fusion music. And he still had no formal training. But, boy, was he having fun.
He started community college with a goal of becoming an architect but took music theory as an elective. Here’s a turning point: the theory teacher was just not getting through to any of the students when for some reason a sub came in. In one lesson, he lit the lightbulbs over the heads of everyone in the class. Peter was so captured, he arranged to study privately with this teacher for the next 6 months.
Realizing his passion, it was clearly time for a change in majors to music. At Fullerton College, he had the luck to have an amazing music faculty and classmates. Just think…his voice teacher was Sara McFerrin, mother of Bobby McFerrin. Then at Cal State in Long Beach, he became lifetime best friends with John Pattitucci. Meanwhile, he had the opportunity to play professionally at Disneyland, where he had been brought as a child. Livin’ the dream!!
In 1980, he moved to Denver to join the fusion band Kinesis and had the good fortune to meet Jeff Jenkins. He thinks of that move as his “lucky break,” because it took him out of his comfort zone. I think just playing with Jeff is lucky enough!
Peter studied with Ray Brown, John Clayton, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, and several amazing orchestral bass teachers.
For a while, he left Denver for Chicago, where he studied at DePaul University and played classical music with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. One great experience there was presenting the world premiere performance of Sketches of Spain with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. From where I sit, having done that and having backed Kurt Elling just boggles my mind. Yes, I have my favorites, too.
Peter’s varied and rich experiences include twice touring with the official Broadway show Les Miz. I asked what was the best thing about that experience and he said he did love the travel but he found it inspirational in that excellence was absolutely required. There could be no improvisation, but the required attention to detail was a driver.
Another group you’re familiar with that Pete toured with is Rare Silk.
Somewhere in there, he earned his Master’s degree in music performance at the University of Northern Colorado.
If there’s one thing missing in this lucky life it’s that Peter would love to play bass in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Well, it’s still out there playing, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he did this, too.
Today he is a member of Orquesta La Brava, the Raul Murciano Quartet, and the Colorado Mambo Orchestra and is Principal Bass in the Lone Tree Symphony. But his primary work is freelance, which he loves for the variety. He plays jazz, rock, gospel, R&B, and many varieties of what could broadly be called Latin. I wondered which of these gives him the most joy. He gets his greatest satisfaction from playing music that is true to the style that’s being played.
You will not be able to define the style that’s being played if you take my advice and go out to the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa on a Wednesday evening (5 to 8 p.m.) to see him play with the Raul Murciano Mambo Quartet. Is it mambo? Yes, but so much more—including fun!!
Photo by Jack Sasson Photography
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