Seventy-year-old Will Gillon has lived a life of contrasts.
By day, the former public school music teacher would stand before curved rows of young musicians, raise both arms and conduct the squeaks and honks he heard into some semblance of a melody.
By night, he would steal away with his saxophone to blow notes in the smoky jazz clubs throughout Charlotte.
As a youth he would practice eight, 10, sometimes 12 hours a day. Once, a bleary-eyed neighbor working the third shift called Gillon's mother to ask if the young saxophonist could please take a break so he could sleep.
Never miss a local story.
As an adult, his fingers haven't taken their familiar places on the keys in nearly 15 years. An accident causing nerve damage to his little finger has kept him from sounding the way he remembers in his prime.
"Playing was my love," Gillon said. "That's all I wanted to do."
He realized this when he was a new student of music, taking up the clarinet at Centerview School in Kannapolis in the 1940s.
Like ending a first crush for a true love, he left the clarinet for the saxophone. "It started out of necessity," he said. "I wanted to play the jazz."
To join The Swingsters, the school jazz band at A.L. Brown High School, musicians needed to play saxophone.
This was the instrument that would lead Gillon to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After graduating with a music degree from East Carolina College, which is now East Carolina University, he landed an audition with The Glenn Miller Orchestra.
The well-known band, started by its namesake in the 1930s was one of the leading big bands of the swing jazz era that swept across the country.
Acing the audition, Gillon was offered the first alto saxophone position on the spot and given his wardrobe, two powder-blue shirts and coats and two pairs of black slacks. The blue color served a unique purpose in the days of black-and-white television.
"The blue was whiter on television than white," he said.
From 1964 to 1967, anytime The Glenn Miller Orchestra performed on shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason and Mike Douglas, Gillon was there.
His wife, Anne, stayed in North Carolina and met him during the band's frequent dates in New York City.
"I played with them all over the country, living the dream I had had since high school."
Gillon continued playing after his first son, Jay, was born in 1965 but decided to make a change upon the arrival of his second son, Jeff, in 1967.
"When he was born, I came home to be a father and a husband like I should be," he said.
From then on, the professional saxophonist taught elementary school music in Charlotte, introducing students to their instruments and teaching their first lessons.
"I started thousands of students," he said.
But he never stopped playing himself.
So in 1967, local jazz clubs began hearing the familiar saxophone player once again.
Gillon retired from teaching in 1993 and continued playing his saxophone until 1996, when a restaurant chair he was sitting on collapsed, sending him hard to the floor, permanently damaging his finger.
Now, every Thursday Gillon can be found practicing with the Singing Seniors, a group of retirees in Concord who perform locally. Forced to set down one instrument, he has picked up another and plans to continue making music for years to come.