AUGUSTA – Donald Paul Stratton was born December 12, 1928, in Reading, Massachusetts, to Charles Pettengill and Ruth Orcutt Leavis Stratton. He was predeceased by his brother, Dick; and his parents. He died at home on April 24, 2016, and is survived by his wife, Sheila; his cherished daughters, Anya, Abigail and Meredith; niece, Dian Stratton; nephews, Jim and Pete Stratton; several great-nephews, great-great-nieces, stepsons and grandchildren.
Don lived in Bangor, Maine, from infancy until age nine when his family moved back to Reading. He graduated from Reading High School in 1946. One of his passions was research, a passion which lasted his lifetime. Another was music. He was given a trumpet when he was nine and he played his first paid gig at age fourteen.
After high school, Don moved to Boston where he joined the Boston Musician’s Union at age sixteen and was a dues paying member until his death. He eventually commuted to NYC for gigs while still living in Boston and moved to Brooklyn in 1951. Don chose to be a professional sub, which got him gigs and recording session with many great musicians and bands such as Tony Pastor, Charlie Parker, Phil Woods, Herbie Mann, Lester Young and many more. He subbed at venues including Birdland, Radio City Music Hall and played in the pit on Broadway for “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” and “Hello Dolly.” He toured with bands large and small up and down the east coast.
While living in NYC in the ’60s, Don became a student at Manhattan School of Music (MSM) where he got his BA and MA in Music Theory, then became the school’s registrar. Together with brother Yusef Lateef, Don helped initiate MSM’s jazz program. While he was still a student, Don arranged and produced a concert which included Gregorian chants and historical music for voice and instruments. He also established a program at MSM for sight impaired musicians.
In the early ’70s Don returned to Bangor to teach music theory and composition at the University of Maine at Orono. At his students’ request he agreed that if they would do the work, he would lead the 20th Century Music Ensemble, a touring big band playing his and their own compositions and arrangements. While professor of music at UMO, Don also organized and presented “Phuong! A Requiem for Maine KIA/MIA in Vietnam.” It was performed from bridges and towers across Bangor by 280 musicians. Don was active in the community, founding the “Bagel Shop Trio,” performing weekly with his quartet at the Hilton at Bangor International Airport, as music director for Bangor Community Theatre’s “Kismet,” and working to keep Eastern Maine Medical Center from turning upper Hancock Street into a parking lot.
In 1992, Don moved to the University of Maine at Augusta as a professor in the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program, teaching trumpet, advanced music theory, composition, and improvisation.
After retirement, Don continued to teach private students and to compose for himself and for colleagues, as well as arranging music for Augusta’s Unitarian Universalist Community Church Occasional Orchestra (UUCCOO). In 2014 Don composed “KTAADN,” based on Thoreau’s “The Maine Woods,” which was presented at Bangor Public Library. His original compositions are archived at BPL.
Don will be remembered by all his friends and family as an avid learner and deep thinker; a man with generosity of spirit, compassion, and a sense of humor. Friends and family will gather at his home on May 22nd. Remembrances may be given in his name to: Augusta Children’s Discovery Museum, Augusta UUCC and HOSPICE.