The musical career of Hydrick Gass Jr. spans more than 30 years of composing, arranging, producing and playing his treasured trumpet, which was crafted in Paris. As the culinary arts director at Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five's The Technology Center, Gass is equally at ease in the kitchen.
But it was his love of family that brought him to Orangeburg.
"I came here from New York approximately six years ago to help my parents with my sister's two children after she died," Gass said. "Otherwise, I don't think I would have come to Orangeburg. I had an independent label with six artists at that time, and I was writing, arranging and producing. But sometimes, things in life change, as did mine.
"My sister's death was very pivotal in my life. The things I was thinking were important before are not that important anymore. I appreciate my life more now, and I'm thankful that both parents are alive."
"Coming here was a humbling experience," he said. "It has had a certain calming effect on me."
Gass' first reintroduction to a live audience came during April's Showcase Orangeburg, the kick-off Festival of Roses event held annually at Stevenson Auditorium, in which he played the hymn "Blessed Assurance" and a contemporary version of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."
Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center Executive Director Beth Thomas says Gass' performance that night added a unique element of variety to the show.
"He has many talents, but he is such a nice guy and very humble," Thomas said. "During Showcase — we had a very large audience — he really wowed them. When he played the hymn, the auditorium was absolutely quiet. So many people said afterwards how much they enjoyed him."
"Pat Williams with the Lone Star Country and Bluegrass Music Hoedown was so taken with Hydrick, he got in touch with me to have him play there this year," she said.
Having played trumpet in church, during parades and at local clubs in New York beginning at age 14, Gass studied music theory at Queensborough Community College in N.Y. After graduation, Gass traveled throughout North America and Europe, playing with such notable artists as Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Spinners, Bo Diddley and other artists from the Atlantic Records label.
Gass says he was introduced to music by his parents.
"I have always loved music," Gass said. "I sat in front of the TV for hours and watched Doris Day and Gene Kelly and all those great musicals. I saw 'The King and I' on Broadway with Yul Brynner playing the lead role, and 'Oklahoma.' My mom is a gospel singer and always sung around the house. My dad also played a lot of jazz music in our home."
"I've consistently written music during my whole career. I went on the road with Ben E. King for two years during the time he had a hit record, 'Supernatural Thing,'" he said. "I was playing trumpet and piano in his band. During that time, I became a side man playing with other artists, and I made connections with a lot of performers on that label.
"I had the pleasure of playing with Duke Ellington's Band after a woman whose father played bass in the group heard me play and arranged an audition for me. It was wonderful."
Although not in Gass' original game plan, he spent several years in catering after arriving in Orangeburg.
"My first real job was in Columbia, where I was worked with Tronco's as the director of operations," Gass said. "Later on, I started doing catering for Sodexo at Claflin (University) and (South Carolina) State (University). That job was very consuming, so when I started teaching (last) year at The Technology Center, it opened up a lot of avenues."
He said working with food is both creative and therapeutic.
"Whenever I cook, I hardly ever use anything out of a can. Everything is fresh," Gass said. "Occasionally, the two (cooking and playing music) override. Sometimes people will ask me to cater for them, and I end up playing for them, too. I carry my trumpet around with me all the time. When there is a break in the action, I can slip off and practice a bit."
The Technology Center Director Dr. Johnny L. Murdaugh Jr. says Gass has made a successful transition from dealing with adults to students.
"He is very talented and a real go-getter," Murdaugh said. "When we had a function showcasing the culinary arts last fall, Hydrick would play his trumpet for the gathering when he got caught up in the kitchen.
"Being a musician myself, I can see the creative spirit in him because creative people don't follow the norm. Hydrick loves teaching the kids about healthy foods, and he has enjoyed success taking them to competitions."
Gass says his church, St. Paul Baptist, presents a place for something new and exciting to happen in his current work, which he describes as a fusion of musical genres.
"In the last year-and-a-half, God was speaking to me to use my talent," Gass said. "I have become more involved with my instrument. I'm trying to look forward, be better and explore new avenues."
St. Paul's pastor, the Rev. Charcey Priester, says Gass puts his musical talents to good use.
"Hydrick works with our Praise Team," Priester said. "They do the praise and worship during services every Sunday. He has been working with their voices and song arrangement and also plays his trumpet in accompaniment to the choir. He has been an asset to the ministry, and he is very enthusiastic. He also has a personality that fits; he's always smiling and serves to uplift everyone around him."
Gass says he wants his life to be an extension of his faith.
"I'm praying and leaving it to God that it will work out," Gass said. "I'm not trying to push myself, and I'm listening to where He wants me to go. I'm relaxed and feel good about everything. I feel I'm going in the right direction now."