Musician Of Queens: J. Walter Hawkes, LIC

Staff Writer

The Emmy-winning composer, arranger and performer said he was “originally drawn to [the trombone] for the funny noises it would make” in the cartoons he watched as a kid; now, as a professional, he has given a musical backbone to shows from Blue’s Clues to Sesame Street to The Wonder Pets.

For Hawkes, this work is rewarding in the humor and creativity that it demands.

“I love taking a script and bringing out the humor,” he explained. “I really enjoy adding the things to make people laugh even more than they would if they only heard the joke.”

“I also enjoy the incredibly huge musical palette I get to work with in the shows I work on, especially with [the PBS show] ‘Peg + Cat,’” he added. “One episode is in outer space, the next one might be on a farm and the next one could be in Indonesia. It’s always changing and I learn something every time.”

J. Walter Hawkes wails on the trombone.

J. Walter Hawkes wails on the trombone.

When he’s not working in his studio – a Long Island City space called the Blat-O-Box – Hawkes can be found performing a wide range of music with different groups.

He has masterful control of the trombone, capable of making it murmur, sing or wail as if it had vocal cords. Although he said he is drawn to loudness and calls himself “the Blat Boy,” he is comfortable playing any style, from searing swing to soft ballads.

Hawkes plays Latin Jazz with the Willie Martinez La Familia Sextet, traditional jazz with Kevin Dorn’s Big 72, Tin-Pan Alley tunes with the Pre-War Ponies and collaborates with fellow Long Island City-based composer Pat Irwin, with whom he will perform at the LIC Arts Open in May.

The trombonist is also accomplished on an instrument with an entirely different personality: the ukulele.

Hawkes said that before he picked up the instrument, he “would have never considered playing something like the ukulele.” But when he was given his grandfather’s ukulele, he found it was “a beautiful instrument, made of Hawaiian Koa wood in the late thirties.”

“It can sound pure and clear, like a harp,” he went on. “At the time, I lived in an SRO on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, and trombone music was not very – uh – popular with my many close neighbors. I found myself practicing that little beautiful sounding instrument quite a bit during that era, both in my little apartment and while I was on the road extensively. It’s small enough to practice in the back seat, and quiet enough not to really disturb anyone.”

Music fans who want to hear Hawkes on either instrument can visit his website, On April 28, he will accompany Queen Esther on Billie Holiday tunes at Minton’s Playhouse in Manhattan.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, or @JNStrawbridge.

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