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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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November 5, 2008 5:35 PM

Ed the Tuba Man, You Will Be Missed.

Posted by Rod Mar

Ed McMichael, known around the city simply as "The Tuba Man", died on Monday, the result of senseless violence on the streets where he performed.

He was easily the most popular and well-known musician in Seattle.

What other local musician can claim he's played in front of thousands nearly every night for over 20 years?

Certainly no one from the Seattle Symphony. Even members of the Husky Marching Band, who play in front of 50,000+, only get to do it half a dozen times a year.

Yet, Ed the Tuba Man, a classically trained musician who once played in symphonies, preferred sharing his music on the streets of our city. And we were luckier to have been his audience, as by the thousands we walked into Safeco Field, KeyArena, Qwest Field, the symphony or the ballet.

Walk the streets of any metropolis and you'll likely encounter street musicians. They play the saxophone, maybe the violin, some drums, a fiddle, maybe a trumpet or two.

But a tuba? Who the heck even plays the tuba, much less carries it around the city performing for money?

Only one.

Ed McMichael even resembled the tuba he played.

Oversized, a little brutish in appearance, deep in sound, dented around the edges from the everyday rigors of life.

I met Ed decades ago. He could be found around Dick's Drive-In, where friends of mine worked. Ed would hang around, and for money he'd try to sell us "energy bars" and other supplements.

His voice, deep as his tuba, would slowly drawl, " to buy bar?!"

Sure, we bought them, even ate them sometimes. And then Ed started playing in our weekend pickup softball games. Ed was a fixture in right field. Usually wearing overalls.

If you deigned to hit a pop fly resulting in an easy out, Ed's mockingly disapproving voice would bellow, "NO...SKYBALLS....!"

Think about swinging at a pitch and then pull back? "HE...HAD...A...NOTION!!!" would rumble in from right field.

We would all laugh. We loved it. Ed loved it, too.

He had a bellowing laugh and a wide smile that easily found its way out of his ruddy face.

That's the part of him you missed if you only walked by him as he performed.

Friends of mine who played in those games now have careers similar to mine in the sports industry. There are still times when we are watching a Mariners' game and when a player hits a pop up, we will say, "NO...SKYBALLS....!!!" Check swing? "HE...HAD...A...NOTION!"

As a sports photographer, I would pass Ed dozens of times in a year on my way into various venues. He never failed to say hello. He'd ask about old friends or members of my family. And he could recall their names.

I'd challenge him. "You still playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame? I thought you were a musician!", I'd tease.

Ed would answer, "Well...Rod...what do you want to hear?"

Sometimes I'd ask him to play "Flight of the Bumblebee". He'd do it, but not before asking my which key I'd like it played in. I had no idea one could coax so many notes out of a tuba.

My favorite piece to hear Ed play, though, was the Fourth Movement of Holst's, "The Planets". If you don't know it, take a listen. There's a sweet, deep melody that runs through the piece. Coming out of his tuba, it reminded me of Ed's own deep laugh.

The full name of that particular movement?

"Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity".

How fitting is that?

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