A recent Tuesday at 4:54 p.m.: A captive audience waiting for the crossing light to change their way couldn't help but watch in amazement as a 12-year-old boy dressed head to toe in Brooks Bros. blasted a growling version of "Puttin' on the Ritz" with his trumpet. His right leg moved almost uncontrollably to the beat. The taps on his shoes snapped on a steel grate. His left arm flapped with a bird's grace as his right hand danced over three mother-of-pearl valves. The growing audience dropped coins and bills in his instrument case.
Gabriel Angelo, the "trumpet kid," as many have come to know him, started studying the instrument when he was 6. For the better part of two years he has entertained outside the Mission Street parking garage across from Bloomingdale's. He said he got his moves by watching old Fred Astaire movies and listening to trumpet gods Louis Armstrong and Dizzie Gillespie.
"I feel awesome when I play trumpet. I feel a connection," Gabriel said. "It's like walking. It becomes you. It's just like everyday breathing - you don't think about it, you just do it."
Gabriel said he doesn't do it for the money. He aspires to practice six hours a day and could choose to do it at home or on the sidewalk. Most days the decision isn't a hard one. His mother, Maria Teresa, goes with him every day after school. Together they take BART from the East Bay and set up in front of the parking garage. She stays close, working on a laptop in an out-of-way corner next to a soda machine while Gabriel entrances passers-by. "As much as he loves playing the trumpet, he loves his audience more," she said.
His trumpeting hasn't gone unnoticed. Last year he was asked to play "Moon River" onstage with famed trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval gave Angelo a valuable, French-made cornet when he noticed that the boy's instrument was in dire need of repair. That's the one Gabriel usually plays for downtown shoppers and workers. "It's a big chunk of time," Teresa said. "You don't get a second chance with your kids. To me, everybody is a star, and that's what I teach my son."