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‘Pancho’ Romero: A jazz legend keeps playing, teaching, giving back


Frank “Pancho” Romero has a doctorate in trumpet performance; he is also a trumpet doctor.

In fact, when it comes to the trumpet, Romero can play it, teach others to play it, compose and arrange music for it, clean it, repair it and rebuild it. His doctoral dissertation at the University of Oklahoma was published, so he also has written about the trumpet.

Romero retired in 2021 after 20 years as a trumpet professor at New Mexico State University. He has been principal trumpet for the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra for the past 22 years, plays trumpet in the NMSU Faculty Brass Quintet and has performed with the El Paso Symphony and the Juarez Symphony.

Romero founded both the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra and the Border Jazz Orchestra in Las Cruces, was in on the ground floor of the Mesilla Valley Jazz Happenings Jazz Festival and, with Bob Burns, was a founding member of the Mesilla Jazz and Blues Society more than 20 years ago. He has also served as president and treasurer of the New Mexico Jazz Educators Association.

Romero has performed across the country and around the world, playing with Rita Moreno, Reba McEntire, the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Supremes, among many others. He was a cultural envoy for the U.S. Department of State, working with the Ministry of Culture and teaching and performing with band students and directors in Colombia, South America where he took the NMSU Symphonic Band and faculty in 2007.  Romero was invited to a reception at the White House that same year because of his work in Colombia.

Since retiring two years ago, Romero is playing the trumpet “more now than ever,” he said.

“I went from full time-plus to just full time,” Romero said. “All I feel I’m doing now is giving back.”

And that is Romero’s philosophy: “Give as much as you receive.”

Romero continues to help lead a monthly jam session for music students of all ages at Mom’s Coffee along with another Las Cruces jazz musician, Roman Chip. He conducts musical instrument repair workshops for NMSU students – they cleaned and repaired 86 instruments last summer. As president of the Mesilla Jazz and Blues Society, along with MVJBS board members, he oversees the selection of college and high school music scholarship recipients, runs the society’s monthly meetings and helps organize the Jazz and Blues Festival (Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2023, in Mesilla and Las Cruces).

Romero regularly performs with the Border Jazz Orchestra, the Faculty Brass Quintet and other classical and jazz ensembles. 

Romero first picked up a cornet (a brass horn that is a little smaller than a trumpet) when he was in the second grade.

“I think it was probably chosen for me,” he said.

His grandfather played the violin as a resident of Taos Pueblo; his father, Litra, played the trombone and his brother, Donald, played the euphonium in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Romero grew up. His father, two uncles, brother and seven of their cousins were musicians, music teachers and band directors in various parts of New Mexico.

Initially, “I was not a very good player,” Romero said. But that changed with guidance from his father and the mentorship of Sam Trimble, another great trumpet player, who taught at NMSU, UTEP and North Texas State University.

“Sam was a huge influence in my life,” said Romero, who was also influenced by the music of jazz performers Stan Kenton and Woody Herman.

With guidance from his father and Trimble, Romero continued practicing and performing.

One of his first lessons was with legendary Mexican trumpet player Rafael Mendez (1906-81), who was performing with the West Las Vegas High School Band that Romero’s father directed. Romero also played with Mendez when he performed with the NMSU Symphonic Band when Romero was a member in 1974. (At about age 10, Mendez performed for Pancho Villa at his campsite, became Villa’s favorite musician and traveled with his army for several months.)

After earning a bachelors degree from NMSU and masters’ degrees at North Texas State University in music education, Romero spent a year “on the road,” playing jazz and commercial music “in a different town every night,” he said.

“It was fun and exciting at first,” Romero said.

He settled in Albuquerque in 1978 and went to work for Bob Farley at Farley’s Music Center.

“It was a great learning experience for me,” Romero said.

As a music education specialist, he sold, rented and repaired instruments and worked with Albuquerque Public Schools music teachers.

Romero went into business for himself and opened Romero Family Music in 1986. He closed that business in 1992 and took a job at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he taught until moving to Las Cruces to join the NMSU faculty nine years later.

“My legacy? – my students,” Romero said. “I am so proud of my kids.”