doug robinson

Doug Robinson

Don't Be Afraid to Turn the Page

If you were to think of the Phoenix music scene as Survivor Island, Doug would certainly be a finalist for outlasting, outplaying and outwitting (in a good way) many others that have since come and gone. We've have known each other since playing together at Mesa Community College and in the late Grant Wolf's Valley Big Band. Enjoy Doug's survival tips for finding a mentor, keeping busy, staying sane, and enjoying music for a lifetime.


Don't Be Afraid to Turn the Page
(mp3, 560K)

Don't Give Up
(mp3, 670K)


JK: You seem to have a better grasp than many regarding what it takes to succeed in the local music scene. What can you share with younger players that will help them do the same?

DR: One of the things I always tell my students is to know the history of the area that you live in, and if you move to another town, make sure you find out who's done it before.

The reason for that is because if you're lucky, you might find a mentor amongst the people that have been in that town that would be willing to sit down and break you into the "music biz," so to say. I also think it's an absolute responsibility to for any musician to know the history of music back to the dark ages because it all connects. A "C" that Johann Sebastian Bach played is no different than a "C" that Willie Nelson plays on his guitar; y'know, it's just a different use of that note. So the history and mentorship is, I think, going to take you beyond your education and help morph you into a professional player.

JK: A lot of times those guys can help you avoid situations or people in town that you might not know about, maybe guys that might rip you off. The last thing you want is to go work hard playing for somebody for four hours and then find out the guy's not going to pay you for three months or maybe give you a third of the bread, which we've all experienced.

DR: (Laughs) Yep, we're all jaded! But like we discussed, it's knowing that there's great musicians every where you go, and sitting in a little Holiday Inn in Iowa is some guy that is gonna blow your mind if you hear him play. In every city, in every market, there's a legacy of great musicians. I think that when you go to school, you learn your trade, you learn your instrument and how to open up your ears. But to learn how to be a professional musician, I don't think that's taught in the schools, I think that's taught in the field, as you might say. To be lucky enough to be around musicians like Tommy Golden, and Lou Garno, and our good departed friend Tom Miles, guys like that that would nurture you and literally pass along the art of being a professional musician: the ethics, the conduct, what you need to know, when to talk, when not to. (Laughs)


JK: Learning how to play an instrument is hard enough in itself, but a lot of people, like we all did growing up, tend to think that's the end of it. Once you get good enough, the phone's just gonna start ringing off the hook. A lot of time what you're not taught, or aware of until you meet other musicians or know the history of your area, is that you have to do a lot of work beyond learning the art of playing to actually get to play in front people, let alone make some money at it.

DR: Sure. I know for me, one of the best things I did for my "professional" career, was to get away from the comfort zone of Arizona State University. At the time, I'd been there for quite a while (laughs), and everybody knew me in the music department, and because of that I'd get church jobs, little jazz gigs on Mill Avenue. But moving away from that is when I started working with guys that were real professionals their entire life.

Especially when we grew up, that was on the cusp of the end of the real big band days and there were a lot of great musicians here in Phoenix that that's what they had done. They were professional musicians. It's really important that you learn that part of the business: not just your horn, not just how to work your cell phone, but how to conduct yourself on a gig, the tunes that you need to know. We were lucky that we had guys like Tom Ferguson whose contribution to education was being just a really good professional piano player, as opposed to just an academic cat that's just going to spit the book out at you. He knew what it was like to be in the trenches. He literally said, "Here's forty tunes, learn these and you can go work anywhere that you want." We were lucky to have him in a school environment, or the days that he showed up for class! (Laughs) But he was great teacher in that respect in that he was real about what it takes to be a professional musician. I honestly think, and know I should say, that in any town, any city, you can find guys that are like that, that have been there and done that and are willing to share that information.

There was a great trombone player here in Phoenix named Frank Sharp. "F-sharp" is what they called him. It's pretty hard to find any recordings of him. There's one on this Nadine Jansen compilation. He also played bass, like a lot of guys back in those days used to double on other instruments. He played bass on it, but there's one cut where he plays trombone and it's just beautiful. I remember when I was younger, like with the Tommy Reed band, it was like "Oh man, you should have known F-Sharp."

Lou Garno is another one that I learned a lot from, just being around him. If they accept you as a friend, they'll help you and you'll learn as much from that as from any school, even moreso about what it takes to be a professional musician. I was lucky enough last year to go to the Internation Trombone Festival with a group here in town, we actually won the Kai Winding Large Group Award. Matt Lennex put the group together, and it had Bill Toll, Pete Vivona, Steve McAllister, and it was really neat, we recorded some stuff. One of the things I noticed, it was the first time I'd gone to the International Trombone Festival, is that there's a whole lot of teachers teaching kids to be teachers. There's this comfort that goes along with that. I consider myself a "street" trombone player: I play rock gigs, and clubs, and venture away from academia. By the end of the week at the trombone festival, as neat an experience as it was, I was getting a little tired of college profs teaching their kids to be college profs. I was looking for the guys that, like, "Did you ever play with a reggae band? Did you ever play with a western swing band?" Just finding the variety that exists.

Again, I think when you have the opportunity to mentor with a real professional musician, even if they happen to be the most gifted jazz musician, I'd be willing to bet that more than likely they funded their jazz habit through other means, like playing commercial jobs. Phil Woods has a great article about what it's like to be a professional jazz musician. And in his sarcastic tone, he says have someone round you up at 3 in the morning, stick you on a bus, drive you around in circles for 8 hours, pull you out, stick you in a dark auditorium, play a bunch of rock and roll (laughs), get back on the bus, and do it all over again for six months! He goes, "That's what jazz musicians do." And this is obviously tongue-in-cheek, but he has a point. Here's one of the famed jazz alto saxophonists that we know of, responsible for one of the most well-known rock solos in history on (Billy Joel's) "Just the Way You Are."

That kind of wisdom, it's not going to come to you, you have to go looking for it. We're lucky to have guys like Brad Bauder, who in a heartbeat will tell you stories of what it was like to really be part of the Phoenix scene when there was actually a burgeoning jazz scene going on. After all, this is where everybody laid over on their way to L.A.

A bit of advice that Ernie Watts told me: if a studio musician tells you that he doesn't practice, you tell then that their full of it, because they do, you know! I've heard that from a lot of guys. "Hey Bob, (trumpeter Bob Summers) what do you practice?" "Well, I really don't man, I just play in rehearsal bands." Noooo, man, c'mon!


That's their little "trick." I did notice that with L.A. guys, having a much larger market than Phoenix, there are several camps. If you're lucky enough to be in one of those camps, they will protect everything you do. It's not easy to get in one of those camps, here is Phoenix we have one camp and that's about it. That's just kind of the way they protect their thing.

JK: I did a gig here in town once where a bunch of great players from L.A. came over, and on a break I was talking to saxophonist Gary Herbig, who's a enjoyed a very successful career over there and done lots of recording. We were admiring Ernie Watts sax playing, and Gary shared that Ernie told him once, "You know, it's funny: the more I practice, the luckier I get."

DR: (Laughs) That sound like Ernie, too! Knowing him pretty well from when we toured together, he was a Practice Machine. He was often my neighbor in the hotel, and I could hear his practice routine every day: at that time, three hours on gig days, five hours on non-gig days.

JK: How long had he been playing the horn at this point, forty years maybe?

DR: Yeah, Ernie's probably ten years older than I am.

JK: So even at that point, he was still practicing hours every day.

DR: Absolutely dedicated, but in a very personal way. He didn't really like to talk a whole lot about music. Because he was my neighbor and I had befriended him, I'd say, "Wow, I heard that lick you were playing, what was it?" And he'd say, "I've been working on major triads up the whole tone scale." Two years later, that would creep into his solo. You'd hear it.

He was also adamant about inventing his own practice routine. The cool thing was if he screwed something up, just like your teacher told you, he'd go back and do it again before moving on to the next piece of practicing that he was doing. Of course, hearing Ernie practicing that much, I'm thinking, "Hmmm, gee whiz, maybe I ought to take that as a lesson right there!"

JK: Speaking of learning, what was that story you were telling me about the speech you gave to a bunch of band directors?

DR: I was asked to give a lecture at the Music Educators National Conference some 14-15 years ago, not on the subject of trombone, but on the subject of how to keep junior high aged boys interested enough to continue in high school with their band activities, which became a very challenging subject. I had talked to several band directors and finally went back to how I became involved with music at a different level. The hook that I had was bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago—horn bands from the late 60s and early 70s— because all of the sudden I hear bands that have turned up rock and roll guitar solos, which is what I was into at the time, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, only they had horns, they had a trombone in the band. I thought "Wow, there's a band I could play in." So I thought when I gave the talk I would just refer to my own experience going from a basketball-interested 8th grade student to actuallly becoming a serious musician in high school.

I had a whole room full of band directors, which in itself is a scary thought. My first approach was to suggest that maybe they sit down with their students and find out what they listened to just on a daily basis. And one step further, suggested that they maybe watch a glimpse of MTV here and there, whether they liked it or not. Well, it was at that point that four or five guys got up and walked out; just the mere mention of MTV. Now MTV is just what it is, it changed commercial music, made it more multimedia, but that's where their information source, especially at that time, was coming from.

Then I went on to suggest that when I was younger cartoons were a big influence, and in particular, the Warner Brothers cartoons—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and so on. I have this recording call the Carl Stalling Project and it's all out-takes of Warner Brothers sessions. One minute they'd be recording Gershwin to dixieland to country-western to Stravinsky. Carl Stalling was a stone-cold genius and the musicians were fantastic on these sessions. And while I don't think I recognized it as the Grand Canyon Suite that I had heard on a cartoon, my mom would play the Grand Canyon Suite and I'd say "That came from the Bugs Bunny show!" She'd say, "No, that's Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite." That's one that I learned a little bit about what this music was. So this is the mid to late 90s when I had to give this lecture, and at the time the Nickolodeon cartoons Ren and Stimpy were very popular, which I watched with my kids. They didn't just do excerpts, they'd full versions of the score, they weren't arrangements of the orchestral piece, they used the actual score. So I mentioned the story about watching these cartoons with my kids and a day or two later I'd play the Debussey piece that was maybe featured on the show, and as soon as I mentioned Ren and Stimpy, three or four more guys got up and left the room as well. They just couldn't wrap there minds around the fact that there's information sources other than the Belwin First Division Band Method book. And those cartoons are pretty tame compared to the stuff that we see these days, Family Guy, South Park and stuff. I really think educators need to know what young people are into.

JK: I'd be interested in hearing you run down your musical history as far as the progression of the types of playing you did. You told me you started in an orchestra, then played with rock bands, latin bands, and so on. What were your stepping stones?


DR: In a nutshell, because of my mentor teacher that I had during high school, Bob McAllister, my first gigs in town were basically with the Phoenix Symphony as a sub on Pops concerts and a couple subscription things.

JK: That's a good way to start, eh?

DR: (Laughs) Yeah, a scary way to start! At least until I got to know them a little bit, and then found out that they're people just like everybody else. And then I kind of fell out of the desire to be an orchestral musician—although luckily to this day, I still get a chance to play a couple times a year with an orchestra, which is a blast—but not what I wanted to do as a full-time career. Just like you, basically trained to be a big band player in high school and college, and was lucky enough to play at the same time with the Southwest Brass Quintet. That was some of the first traveling I did, locally here in the state doing "arts grants" type gigs. Also at the same time, was working with a really good big band, the Bill Hunter Orchestra, that was working two to three times a week—for scale, by the way—even through the summer.

JK: Was that at the Registry Resort?

DR: We did the Registry, we did the Hyatt, and we did a couple other things. He was pretty good about landing us a couple nights a week. It was a great band, some really fine players: Tom Golden; Dick Wrighten, great piano player who had just gotten out of the Airmen of Note and of course all the pals, John Wise, you, Rod Larkins...

JK: I remember that book really kept the chops up.

DR: Yeah, and it was a pretty swinging book. So that consequently cost me the brass quintet gig, because the leader of the quintet didn't feel it was right to be out playing commercial jobs. I thought, "Man, I worked really hard to get these commercial gigs, I think I'm going to go with these." But still keeping in mind that versatility was what I was after at that point.

These were the days when your Friday night casuals were still big band jobs. The WWII Glen Miller generation was alive and well and that's what they wanted to hear on the dance floor. As time progressed, these big band started to shrink down to ten-piece bands, pretty soon you're playing disco tunes and things like that mixed in with the big band tunes. So the "casual band" kind of morphed into rock bands, which is basically what it is today.

One thing I didn't mention is that from about 1989 through the late 90s I spent a lot of time playing in latin bands, and that was a great education. I was really lucky that one of the latin gigs I did was a steady Wednesday night with Abel Valentino and the Salsations. Not realizing how fortunate we were to have this Wednesday night, middle of the week gig, for years. I could walk to the gig, by the way, from my house...and then crawl home! The first set was always latin jazz; no salsa, no singers it was tunes. We'd do standards as mambos, we had Pancho Sanchez arrangements, Tito Puente arrangements, lots of blowing. I learned a lot about improvising on that band.

JK: And playing in time.

DR: And playing in time, exactly! And with the sound, by the way, 'cause there's no where to hide in a latin band. And then the next couple sets would be with the singer and we'd do dance music, what they call "salsa." Able would only do one cumbia and one merengue a night. It was total New York/Puerto Rican style type music. Then the last set would often be a descarga, or jam, where we'd cats to come up and play with us, lots of good players, and often it would just end as a percussion thing at the end of the night. Those are very fond memories, I mean when that band was working, it was like a machine. I'd look over and see Frank Sanchez, sweat just rolling off him, but it would be so locked in! On the other hand, when it wasn't happening, it was not as much fun, let's put it that way. So the latin music was really good to me. That's changed over the years, the style that's played in town, there's not quite the New York style going on now that they used to play. And frankly, it doesn't pay that much money, and I think that's universal. It's great music, though, and I miss playing that style a lot.

After that, the big band thing was starting to fade, and I was lucky enough to get on the Bobby Caldwell's band and tour for about four years with them all over the western part of the country and to Japan.

JK: You were also doing shows at that time, weren't you?

DR: Yeah, well the first show I did was 1976, I think. I remember my first contractor, Bill Clifford. He was one of the only guys I've known that had an actual obit in DownBeat magazine when he passed, because he'd been a string player on the "Bird with Strings" album and had been a contractor for that stuff. But Bill hired me at first to play bass trombone. I really wasn't much of a bass trombone player yet, and he just said, "Play loud."

So that started my experience playing shows, and back in those days there were half a dozen show contractors in town. So I worked with Bill, Bob Miller, Frank Pratt, Chuck Craig, Pat Trapani quite a bit, then had my tenure with Tommy Reed in the early 80s where we'd play three or four shows a month, mainly for corporate events. At that time, Chuck was booking the Buster Bonoff series. The shows I was involved with ran up to pretty much four or five years ago, and then the demographics changed considerably. So I still get a few shows here and there, but nothing like the old days. Sammy Davis was, I think, one of the best shows I've ever played. These guys treated the band like gold. Rosemary Clooney, with the Basie book, was a highlight. I think Bobby Caldwell was maybe the best singer I've ever worked with because I heard him night after night after night. He just knew where his voice was at. I'll mention the Mills Brothers as being one of the swingingest shows ever, and nicest people in the world. Percy Sledge—again, I like R&B a lot—when he sings "When a Man Loves a Woman" you can't help but just go "Ahhhhhh." These guys very much treated the band like contemporaries.

JK: That's worth a lot.

DR: It absolutely is, without a doubt.

JK: It makes people play better, too.


DR: Some of the great shows: the Steve and Eydie show—we've played that together—which is basically Nelson Riddle charts, I remember doing Linda Ronstadt after she came out with the Nelson Riddle albums, we did that with a full orchestra. Plas Johnson was a featured soloist; he, of course, recorded the Pink Panther theme, and the first notes out of his horn were like, "That's it, man!" So I've been real lucky, and I know you have been, too, to be able to catch the tail-end of the big band era and the Vegas-style shows, to play with some of these great singers and musicians. The Motown shows were always a blast: Martha Reeves, the Temptations, the Four Tops (I always loved that show).

I played an awful lot with AZZ IZZ, with was basically a "world rhythm" band, a lot funk, reggae, what a really good band they were. When that band was rockin' man, they could take down walls, the groove would be so fat. And delightful people.

I played a little heavy metal. In fact, lost a little of my hearing at one time in the studio, I'm sure of it. I thought it was so cool 'cause I was standing in front of Marshall stacks. We'd track a tune, the horns, and then the guitar player and bass player would come out and we'd rehearse a tune. I remember we were rehearsing this next track, and I'm standing in front of this Marshall stack of amplifiers, and all the sudden I hear this twitch in my ears, and yep, a little bit of my high decibels came down at that point. (Laughs) But, you know, what can I say?

One of the things we did a lot back in the 80s was record a lot of TV tracks for things like PBS here in town. That was back before sampling, which took away the jingle work, because who needs live instruments when you can just press a key. So there was a little bit of a recording scene going on in this town, too.

Also in the 80s, was fortunate to play with Grant Wolf's big band, a jazz big band as opposed to a dance band, the Night Band. Joey Sellers big band was also a lot of fun to work with, the Tempe Jazz Workshop back in those days.

JK: The Valley Big Band, that was really a neat hang for a lot of guys.

DR: Oh, absolutely.

JK: Not just socially, but it was a weekly chance to play in front of people, with people you liked at a high level of musicianship.

DR: And to have someone like Grant run the band. He really had an affinity for how to run a big band, a jazz band. I ran a combo last week at the MCC jazz camp and one day with my combo I said, "Rhythm section, I just want you guys to play a blues—no solos—I just want you to play until you've found the 'pocket.'" And it took about 10 minutes. I told the kids, Grant used to do that a lot. We'd show up, we'd all be in place, and he'd say, "Rhythm section, let's just find the pocket for a while." And then even before we played a tune, he'd say, "Ok, let's just go around and everybody play a couple of choruses." He knew how to work jazz musicians, as opposed to just diving right in on the reading. Of course, Grant was always famous for opening solos up and allowing us to be jazz musicians.

JK: He never had to rule the band with an iron fist.

DR: Never.

JK: But everybody knew he was in charge.

DR: Absolutely. And Grant was famous for counting off a tune with one hand, all the while telling the most off-beat joke that you could imagine, and as soon as the punch line came, he'd go "One, Two, ah One Two Three Four" and we'd all be laughing and trying to recover to be able to play the first note! "Did he just say that?" (Laughs)

So again, the mentorship of Grant Wolf was helpful to not just me, but a lot of people in town.

JK: When I was in school at Mesa College, that was a neat introduction for me to a lot of the jazz players in town, as he would use that as an opportunity to say, "Hey, why don't you come over and run with the big boys for a little bit."

DR: Yeah! And if you recall, the big boys from out of town would come down and sit in, like Gary Foster, Lew Tabackin, Steve Huffstetter. If they were in town on a Monday night, all of the sudden, they're there. That was just a hoot.

By the way, I forgot to mention the importance of the summer jazz workshops when I was still in high school. Meeting Blue Mitchell for the first time.

JK: Don Rader, Supersax, Lanny Morgan.

DR: Yeah, Lanny Morgan. That's the first time I met (trombonist) Pete Vivona, who's a good friend of mine to this day. Hanging with Bruce Fowler for a whole week, being such a good cat to all us young guys, bringing a whole different perspective to what it was. Dick Grove, another one; the theory stuff we learned back in those days. Those workshops that Don Bothwell, a very important figure by the way, and Grant put together were priceless. Watching Joe Pass from five feet away. Those were really special. I was there, surrounded by great friends, one of my closest friends, John Wise, we hung hard at those things and to this day we still talk about it. Heavyweights like Tom Scott came, Ladd Macintosh was there. These guys were the ones that probably catapulted us into being serious about music and enjoying it. Because remember, those were always a lot of fun.


JK: So what do you see going forward?

DR: For myself?

JK: Yeah.

DR: Well, I'll be fifty-five this year. I'm not real optomistic about the use of trombone in commercial music, especially in a small market like Phoenix. I know there will be some jobs there, so what I'd like to do is tailor myself back a little bit and do some things I've always wanted to do. I've contemplated a CD project, for my own benefit, not caring whether it sells, but just a chance to have a goal to work on some tunes and maybe some creative projects. The cool thing about music is that it's always changing, so who knows what's really gonna be around the next corner. We're not too sure about it, but as lucky as I feel to be able to make money playing music, I'm not sure I want to be sixty years old and playing teeny-bopper music, and I'm not even sure how much room trombone is gonna have on that stuff down the road.

My wife's a clarinet player, so we've contemplated joining Rob Hunter's community concert band and having a night out each week with each other and just playing some music, going out afterwards. Again, I'm looking for something that's new. The older I get, maybe I'm getting a little selfish about my interests. Don't get me wrong, I still love going out and knocking out a rock and roll gig, and if I get an opportunity to play some jazz, in particular, at the schools I teach at, then I'm jumping on that. One project I'm involved with right now is with the Chris Parker band, a very successful rock band. They do these show covers, Billy Joel, Abba; that's in conjuction with Terry up at Skye, the club. Right now we're in the process of putting together a note-for-note transcription of Chicago music for a show.

JK: Full circle!

DR: Exactly! Full circle, that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to be James Pankow, my horn setup is the same one he uses. So we've been doing a few rehearsals pulling that together, and it's quite challenging. Pankow wrote all those horn parts and he was the stud of the horn section. So I've got my work cut out for me on that, but it's a blast because it's all music I know. Like you said, full circle, coming back around and playing tunes that influenced me into getting into music to begin with.

Something Ernie taught me, he said "Don't be afraid to turn the page." And what he meant by that was basically, if you find yourself in a rut, which is very possible in this business, don't be afraid to try something new. Sometimes that takes you out of your comfort zone, but it keeps things fresh. And like I was saying earlier, for me it's gone beyond just performing, it's gotten into learning more about the music business-dash-industry, and I'm lucky enough to be a part of the Local (musician's union) here. I once made the fatal mistake of one time asking to learn a little more about the business, and boy! (Laughs)

JK: Ve vill teach you zee bizness!

DR: (Laughs) That's right, that's about it! It's like, ...

JK: "Click!" There goes the handcuff.

DR: Exactly, tied to the post. But it's been great. It's been eye-opening, it's not always been pretty down there, but I've learned an awful lot about that side of the business. In the past, I've done some contracting and know that side of it, and now I'm interested in making sure the musicians get paid a decent scale. The nice thing about the Local here is that they're all playing musicians.

So the "turn the page" concept has rung true to this day, and at the age I'm at I'm ready to turn the page and not think so much about taking every gig that I have to morphing myself back into some things that maybe I wanted to do a long time ago and just never got around to. I still love the music, and I'm ready to dedicate myself to music that maybe doesn't have a dollar sign beside it. NOT THAT I DON'T WANT GIGS! (Laughs) I gotta be real careful and not jinx the gig gods, you know!

What I always tell serious-minded young players that I've had a chance to work with is keep an open mind, not just about music, but life in general. Don't let anybody tell you you can't do it. Don't let anybody tell you you cannot do it, because you can. And enjoy music, enjoy the challenge, enjoy the musicians you run into, the people, have fun with it. It's a great way to go!

—July 2012


Artist Info


Jazz Arists

Sitting two chairs away from Snooky Young on a big band gig. Impossible not to swing with Snooky playing lead! Playing in the house band for a jazz party, and as Joe Williams was singing, getting tapped on the shoulder by the great Al Grey and being instructed to play some riffs!


Sammy Davis Jr. might have been the best show I ever played. Not only was it a great book, but Sammy was a prince! Playing the Bobby Caldwell Big Band gig for four years was probably the best regular gig for me. Great band of mainly L.A. musicians, playing a mix of straight ahead big band tunes combined with Bobby's great R&B funk tunes. Bobby hung out like one of the cats!






▸Cell Phone: (602) 573-0166



▸Small bore tenor trombone: King 3B. Mouthpiece: Bach 6½ AL
▸Large bore tenor trombone: Conn 88H and Bach 42B. Mouthpiece: Bach 5GS
▸Bass trombone: Yamaha YBL612. Mouthpiece: Bach 1½ G

Gig Bags



Playing the world premier of The Harlem Nutcracker. Great local big band combined with N.Y. musicians under the direction of Duke Ellington expert David Berger. I gained a new respect for the music of Duke Ellington and the musicians in his bands.


Listen with an open mind to all styles of music. For jazz style in general, start with Louis Armstrong. After all, the history of jazz is recorded!


Two albums that are a must for any jazz listener:

▸Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue
▸John Coltrane's Giant Steps


The Inner Game Of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey

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