The Horn Whisperer

by Erin Thursby
Do you find yourself tapping your fingers when you hear a tune? Especially one you, perhaps, learned in your youth playing in the school band or jamming around with friends in Daddy’s garage? Some flames never die, they just wait for you to fan them. Music can be that same flame that sparked your youth but that got nearly extinguished by everyday life. You can recapture that fire in your soul, just break out that vintage saxaphone or trumpet and start making music – again. “Music from the soul, is Man’s gift back to God.”
Cruising down Beach Boulevard, you may have noticed statues of the Blues Brothers, frozen in mid-performance. They’re host to a fixture in the Jacksonville music scene: Pro Music, a musician’s music shop featuring a full line of instruments, sound systems and gear that’s been around for over 30 years. They not only sell professional level products, they also have rentals and can repair just about anything a musician can break.
The man behind this local business is owner Dudley Paul. Although he’s played many instruments over the years, rhythm was the first thing to catch him. His father was a photographer in South Florida and one of his jobs was to take pictures for the calendar of the Mai Kai restaurant and their various Polynesian performers. His first introduction to music was a lesson in Samoan slap dance. As a child he performed with them.
His love of music grew further still on the high school football field, though Paul wasn’t yet in high school. Instead, he was tagging along with his big sister as sort of a “reverse chaperone.” When the marching band took the field at half-time, it was the drums that set the tone. By the time he was in high school he was playing drums in a typical garage band.
Though rhythm is his first love, it certainly isn’t his one-and-only. He’s played a variety of instruments in a wide variety of styles. He’s picked up the saxophone, flute, clarinet and, of course, the drums.
But he is slow to toot his own horn. In his office, colorful push pins mark the places on a world map that he’s played in one band or another. He’s spanned the country and the globe, hitting more stops and stages than anyone could count. In the U.S. he’s played in all but three states in the lower 48. You can only imagine the road stories this performance veteran could relate.
Here in Jacksonville he played in a band called the Wingtips, which was a staple on the 80s and 90s wedding and Bar Mitzvah circuit. He was also part of Rush Hour, which performed at the early Jacksonville Jazz Festivals. (In fact, Paul was part of the very first Jazz Festival, when it was held next to the ferry in Mayport.) In Las Vegas he played at the old MGM with a soul R&B band. In Paris he performed at the famed Whiskey-a-Go-Go. He’s ended up as a back-up musician for the Shirelles and has played with the Coasters and Frankie Valli.
Paul believes that a true musician “has to have a lot of styles in his back pocket,” because he’s found himself in recording situations where he can pull out something that sounds fresh to the genre, doing something such as mixing in a pseudo-samba beat into a rock song.
But although he loved playing the music, he says that he “didn’t want to get trapped into the road thing for all my life.” He wanted to have a stable home-life, see his children grow up, and that isn’t often possible if you’re touring all the time. So he learned to repair instruments and eventually opened his shop in Jacksonville.
Their customers have ranged from celebrities to school bands and local churches. The store offers music lessons, sound system installation (for stages, schools and churches) and are best known for their instrument repair services. Pro Music can expertly fix guitars, horns, amplifiers, sound systems, drums, keyboards and more.
Paul’s craft is a tricky one and he works with a variety of very specialized tools. He’s rescued horns run over by school buses and he has re-vamped instruments so that they work well for the disabled who might not have full use of their hands. If experience counts, and here it does, Pro Music has repaired and revitalized enough instruments for local schools – mostly free of charge, by the way – to fill a band bus.
Repair or renewing and horn isn’t really expensive. Most typical repair on horns only run $25-$55. He doesn’t recommend self-instillation of corks (used in many wind instruments), mainly because non-experts often get the sizing wrong. “It’s in ½ millimeter increments [so] there’s a lot of possibilities. A lot of times we have to make and manufacture parts for these instruments because they just don’t make them anymore.”
As the “official” repair shop for the early Jacksonville Jazz Festivals, they’ve worked on a lot of instruments for jazz greats. Through the fest they’ve developed relationships with artists such as Micheal Brecker, who always had Pro Music work on his sax whenever he was in town. Doc Severinsen stopped in last summer. “Somehow he’d dropped his horn. He had an extra horn but but he likes to have two that are ready to go when he’s doing a concert. He was working with the Symphony that night,” says Paul.
He balances his love of music with the sense of a businessman. After all, as he says, if you aren’t disciplined, you’ll stock what you love instead of what sells and you might end up with a wall full of Gibson guitars, which is awesome, but not exactly sensible. Pro Music’s range of instruments go from beginner’s level to the professional’s “let’s get this to the Arena for tonight’s show”.
Despite the economy, he’s held on to employees over the years, many of whom have worked with him for over 15-20 years. Paul’s right-hand is David Dressler, who he calls “my co-equal at the very least.” Dressler does their guitar set up work, is an electronic technician and shares the repair responsibilities with Paul.
Local businesses are often seen as less competitive that popular online and big-box music sellers, but Paul says that “Our pricing is very in-line with internet or big box pricing. If it wasn’t, we’d be gone.” Their experience will help you find the right instrument for you at the price you can afford. And they can show you what to strive for. All musicians need goals…and dreams.

Most instruments need continued TLC. If your’s is a little dusty and needs a little make-over to renew your vintage friend’s sweet tones, typically the repairs and adjustments are minor, but need professional care.
SAXOPHONES, CLARINETS, FLUTES pads; corks; regulation
Pro Music also works on oboes, bassoons, bugles, cornets, flugelhorns, piccolos,
guitar re-strings and set-ups along with amplifiers and sound systems.
Free estimates on site. A member of the Certified Guild National Association of Band Instrument Repair