Don Butterfield, a tuba player who performed with such stars as Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Sinatra and whose work can be heard on the “Godfather: Part II,” has died at age 83.
Butterfield died Monday of an illness related to a stroke he suffered about a year ago, his wife, Alice Butterfield, said Wednesday.
Born in Centralia, Wash., Butterfield wanted to play the trumpet for his high school band but was handed a tuba by the band’s director because there were no more trumpets. He went on to study at the Juilliard School in New York.
During a five-decade career, Butterfield performed as a studio musician, recording with notable artists, and for television commercials and movie soundtracks.
Alice Butterfield said her husband played in just about every music club of note in New York. He was a member of the American Symphony and the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, and toured the country.
“He just loved the tuba when he got it, that was his instrument,” said Alice Butterfield, who said her husband’s stroke left him unable to play music. “He just fell in love with it.”
David Demsey, a professor of music and coordinator of jazz studies at William Paterson University, said Butterfield “brought back the tuba and took the oompa out and added a melodic tone.”
In a 2003 interview with The Record of Bergen County, Butterfield acknowledged that the tuba could be viewed as ungainly and unglamorous. He compared the instrument to “an interstate truck driver.”
“We’re not going to be racing in the Indianapolis 500,” he said. “At the same time, we understand that we have a certain function in the orchestra.”