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For Tom “Bones” Malone, it’s a way of life.

Malone (’69) is part of the CBS Orchestra with Paul Shaffer, which performs on the Late Show with David Letterman weeknights on CBS.

Before that, he played in the original Saturday Night Live band for 10 years, which led to a role in the movies The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000.

On the Late Show, Malone serves as the band’s principal arranger. That means he typically gets a call at 1 p.m. from Shaffer, asking him to write parts for that night’s segments.

“Dave always wants to have a fresh show, so we pretty much do everything on a last-minute basis,” Malone says.

The show records each day at 5:30 p.m. in the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. The band comes in a few hours early to go over the evening’s lineup and rehearse briefly.

“Time in the studio is expensive, so we usually only do full rehearsals if we’re backing up that night’s musical guest,” he says. “We spend less than 10 minutes on daily cues (the pieces that accompany bits).


The top 15

But Malone says that’s business as usual in TV land. And his days in the lab bands at North Texas prepared him well.

“Leon Breeden (UNT jazz director from 1959 to 1981) really emphasized that the first time we played something was the most important, because in the professional world, you usually only get one chance,” Malone says.

“He wanted us to be professional, so he treated us like professionals. That’s what made us so good,” he says.

While Malone was a student, he played lead trombone in the One O’Clock Lab Band, lead trumpet in the Two O’Clock and other instruments in other bands. Professionally, Malone now plays 15 instruments.

He plays six on the Late Show, although trombone is his principal instrument.

He decided he should play as many instruments as possible when he performed with Little Stevie Wonder in college.

“When I saw him out there playing all those instruments, I figured there was no reason why I couldn’t do the same thing,” he says.


All-star lineup

During his college weekends, Malone would play backup for musicians when they toured Dallas. In addition to Little Stevie Wonder, he played with Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and the Temptations.

It was during his time in Denton that he also started working as a studio musician.

Today, he is one of the most in-demand studio musicians in the recording business. He has recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, Steve Winwood, Lou Reed, David Sanborn, B.B. King, Diana Ross, Harry Connick Jr., Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Lou Rawls, Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, David Byrne and James Brown.

To name a few.

He has toured with Frank Zappa, Gil Evans, Billy Cobham, the Blues Brothers Band and Blood, Sweat and Tears.


Live from New York

After he graduated from UNT with a psychology degree, he went on the road briefly with Woody Herman’s big band. In January 1970, he settled in New York City, where he played gigs around town and soon made a name for himself.

He secured a spot in the Gil Evans Orchestra, which turned into a 15-year association with the group. It was while playing with Evans that he met Howard Johnson, who later got the call from NBC to recommend horn players for Saturday Night Live.

Johnson recommended Malone, who became part of the original SNL band and later served as musical director for the group from 1981 to 1985.

“I still clearly remember the first SNL performance,” Malone says. “We’d finished rehearsals, and we had our outfits on, and the call came across the studio, ‘Two minutes to air.’ And I started thinking about how many millions of people would be watching, and that we’d be live, and if I missed a note, everyone would hear it. And I got nervous. Then the ‘10 seconds’ call came, and everything went calm.”

The rest is history.


Worldwide fans

Since that first broadcast, Malone has played close to 2,000 TV performances between SNL, the Late Show and a few other gigs, including the closing ceremony for the 1996 Summer Olympics and Bill Clinton’s 50th birthday celebration.

The Olympics audience was easily the largest for which he has ever performed. More than 87,000 people were in the stadium, and the ceremony was broadcast live to 142 countries.

He no longer gets nervous before a show.

After all, the Ed Sullivan Theater only holds 468 people.


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