Q: Hi. Okay, I’m interviewing you to find out about you and playing the bass and why you wanted to be a bass player and what’s happened this summer to the symphony and to your bass and all that kind of stuff.
Pastorek: All right.
Q: So. What’s your name?
Pastorek: Robert “Red” Pastorek.
Q: How did you get the nickname “Red”?
Pastorek: My older brother, when I was born, took a look at me and said, “He’s got red hair!” And everyone started calling me Red.
Q: Did your parents have any musical history?
Pastorek: My father was an accountant, but my mother was an untrained-but-very-talented singer. She performed on Polish radio in Chicago.
Q: Really? What kind of stuff did she sing?
Pastorek: Polish songs. Popular radio, back in the 30’s, in Chicago.
Q: Okay. So your household was fairly musical.
Pastorek: Eh, it was not really all that musical. I was introduced to playing a ukulele when I was very small, through the Arthur Godfrey show, and everybody had to play the ukulele when Arthur Godfrey played the ukulele.
Q: So you guys would sit around and listen to the radio and play the ukulele. At what age did you decide to pick up the bass?
Pastorek: Well, the ukulele graduated into a guitar, and when I got into high school, some of my friends were joining the band, the high school band, but there was no room for a guitar player in the high school band, so I came on as a percussionist. Glockenspiel, initially, and other percussion instruments. And when I was a freshman in high school, the band director was looking for a bass player to play with the dance band, the stage band, and he said, does anybody know how to play bass? And I said, if I can play guitar, I can play the bass. That’s where it started.
Q: What kind of stuff would you guys play?
Pastorek: Just all the regular swing band stuff — Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller.
Q: And you would play, like, at the high school dances?
Pastorek: High school dances, and we also played outside engagements, which of course led to smaller combos that we formed ourselves to start playing for money, outside of weddings and bar mitzvahs and whatever.
Q: And you always focused on the swing/big band aspect of it? You never played rock and roll?
Pastorek: Not if I could help it. Although I did play with an Elvis Presley impersonator for many years.
Q: Why did you never take to rock and roll?
Pastorek: I hated it.
Q: Can you be more specific?
Pastorek: I never liked rock and roll or other children’s music. It’s just a bunch of noise. It’s deafening, it’s not played very well, it’s not written very well, it’s just garbage. Aside from that, it’s wonderful.
Q: When did you decide that what you wanted to do with the rest of your life was play bass?
Pastorek: I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know. It just kind of evolved. It was just something that was happening.
Q: But at one point, you definitely made the transition from playing in swing bands to playing classical music.
Pastorek: That was probably when I got into college. I went to school to become a teacher — I was going to be a band director. It was a regular music program, but in the education department. And while I was there, I was introduced to the classical field, and I went to the Chicago Symphony and joined the civic orchestra over there and decided, that’s what I want to do.
Q: So how old were you at that point?
Pastorek: About eighteen, I guess.
Q: And then when you left Chicago, you went where?
Pastorek: Well, I was in and out of Chicago that whole period, off playing with dance bands — the old Wayne King Dance Band — I toured with them, and I toured with the Mantovani Orchestra—
Q: What was the Mantovani Orchestra?
Pastorek: We played old people’s music. (laughs) It was listening music. Elevator music.
Q: When was the first time you were in an official quote-unquote symphony orchestra?
Pastorek: I guess it was 1961. I went to Orlando, Florida and played with the Florida Symphony.
Q: Did you like Florida? What’d you guys do?
Pastorek: Oh, Florida was fun, yeah. It was a short season — it was fourteen weeks that first year, and then I think it was fifteen and then seventeen in the three seasons I was there.
Q: Were you making enough money as a musician to support yourself doing just that?
Q: So what other kind of stuff did you do?
Pastorek: I was an usher at the WGN studios. I drove a taxicab one summer, spent some time installing air conditioners. You name it, I did it.
Q: That’s very glamorous.
Pastorek: Very glamorous, yes.
Q: When you went back to Chicago, did you stay at home?
Pastorek: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Q: Were your parents supportive of what you were trying to do?
Q: Did your dad want you to be an accountant?
Pastorek: No, he wanted me to be an undertaker.
Q: Who — why an undertaker? Who had an undertaking business?
Pastorek: His friend had an undertaking business, and he was convinced that that’s where all the money was. Everybody’s going to die, so they go to the undertaker and spend their money.
Q: So he and his friend had pretty much planned that out for you.
Pastorek: Oh yeah. They were going to set me up.
Q: Did you ever have a conversation with him where you were just like, you know what, I’m not an undertaker, I’m a musician, deal with it?
Pastorek: Well, sadly enough, I didn’t converse much with him. We did not get along.
Q: Did you come to Houston straight out of Orlando, or were there stops in between?
Pastorek: That was the next job, yeah. I’d been auditioning, and got Houston. I auditioned for Detroit, New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston. I had contracts for New Orleans and Dallas, and Houston — and I chose Houston.
Q: What made you choose Houston?
Pastorek: Because Barbirolli was conducting. And a good friend of mine was already playing here and he said this was the place I should come.
Q: At that point, was the orchestra renowned?
Pastorek: It was a small orchestra. There were few orchestras that were renowned, as you might say. It was a twenty — let me see — twenty-one week season, and we were making $105, $110 a week.
Q: So did you have to pick up odd jobs in Houston, too? Did you play with dance bands down there?
Pastorek: Every dance band I could get, yeah. Everything. In fact, I started — after a number of years, I took a job as a sailmaker. I’d gotten into sailing, and was looking for something as an alternative to music, possibly, as a business. A friend of mine was a sailmaker, and I came in and started working for him, making sails. That was a dead-end street.
Q: What made you think you needed an alternative business from music-making?
Pastorek: Because music was a terribly difficult business, and there was no money in it. There just didn’t seem to be much of a future. But oddly enough, as the years progressed, we were able to negotiate better and better contracts, until we now have a pretty good business.
Q: What made you stay in Houston and not keep moving around after that?
Pastorek: Well, I came to Houston in 1964, and fell in love with sailboats, and it’s an ideal place to sail. So I just stayed here until an odd occurrence happened in 1971, and ever since then, she wouldn’t let me go anyplace else.
Q: I’m sorry — did you just refer to my mother as an odd occurrence?
Pastorek: (laughs) Something like that. I was very fortunate to run into this lovely young lady who agreed to marry me, and she has taken very good care of me ever since. And we’re here.