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Miles Morrisseau
Indian Country Today

Delbert Anderson was trying to do the right thing when things went wrong.

The Diné jazz musician was having a breakout year with The Delbert Anderson Trio and his jazz/hip-hop ensemble DDAT when he reached out to help a couple who appeared down on their luck.

He lost one thing that cannot be replaced, but was reminded of another that can never be taken away – his love of music.

“The main instrument that I valued most is my Inderbinen trumpet,” he told Indian Country Today from his home in Farmington, New Mexico.

“It's a Switzerland horn, and it's a completely custom horn. And it's not manufactured; it's actually hand-hammered. They don't use any metal bending. It is pretty fancy. And, you know, it took me forever to save up for that horn.”

Read more:
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The prized horn was among a cache of instruments, a laptop full of music, turquoise jewelry and other items stolen from Anderson’s hotel room on May 14 in Tukwila, Washington, a day after a solo performance in Seattle.

The thefts occurred just hours after he treated a couple, who appeared to be homeless, to breakfast at his hotel. He suspects they may have taken the room key from his jacket when he left the table briefly.

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He’s particularly heart-broken at the loss of his Inderbinen horn.

“To lose that, really, you know, that hurt me pretty bad,” he said. “And, yeah, it's just, it's literally, irreplaceable. I'm sure I could get something close … but it'll still be very expensive. At the same time … the first one was the one you are attached to. You can get the exact copy, but it's not that horn that you actually worked for.”

Officials now suspect the thieves may have been posing as down-on-their-luck and may have targeted Anderson. In addition to his personal, work and prized items, thieves apparently took his identity as well - money has been taken from his account. He was without his email and is only now informing his funders and project partners and collaborators about the full extent of the loss.

Police officials did not respond to requests for comment about whether the couple is suspected in any other thefts.

A prized possession

Anderson first heard the Inderbinen Big Bell horn at a showcase at the National Association of Music Merchants in Anaheim in 2015.

“It's the first time I had seen that horn,” he said.

The Big Bell is defined on the Inderbinen website as a mixture of trumpet and flugelhorn tones, with a little French horn mixed in. It was developed and built for “experimental musicians,” the website says.

He asked his teachers and mentors about the horn to see if he might get help buying it. Instead, he got advice.

“They were like, ‘We totally think you should just buy it yourself. Just do it on your own,’” he said. “So from that day, I started saving up. There were a few times where I had to dip into the money, you know, as hard as it is to save for the horn and having a family.”

But the day finally came.

“I was able to purchase it, finally, and be able to say, ‘I got this horn myself,’” he said. “That was the whole struggle of trying to get that horn.”

Anderson is now getting national attention as the leader of the Indigenous jazz group, The Delbert Anderson Trio, and he has branched out to DDAT, a fusion of jazz and hip-hop, all with an underpinning of Indigenous sounds.

He recently received the Arts Forward 2022 award funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and has received the 2021 Emerging/Leaders of Color Program from the Western States Arts Federation and the 2019-2022 Native Launchpad Award by Advancing Indigenous Performance with Western Arts Alliance.

He will begin the Painted Mountain Tour on June 14 as this year’s artist-in-residence for the Bureau of Land Management, traveling to national parks and monuments to do research, provide workshops and perform.

Something was amiss

Anderson was in good spirits on May 14 in Tukwila, the morning after performing in Seattle, when he was approached outside his hotel by a couple who said they were “starving.”

He invited them into the hotel to eat.

“I had breakfast with them for about 10 minutes,” he said. “And then after that, I went back to my room and went to my meeting.”

Diné musician Delbert Anderson was hit by thieves on May 14, 2022, while on tour in Washington State. The scam artists took his prized Swiss-made Inderbinen horn, shown here, along with other instruments, a laptop full of music, turquoise jewelry, and banking information. Police are investigating but he's continuing his tour. (Photo courtesy of Delbert Anderson)

He returned to the room about 4 p.m. and went into the separate bedroom for a rest. He emerged more than an hour later to realize something was amiss.

“When I woke up, I noticed that the front door was propped open with a towel,” he said. “And I started looking for all my stuff and everything was just gone. The only thing left was my clothes.”

Anderson said he’d been given two keys to his room but he could only find one. He knows he left his suit coat on his chair at breakfast while he went to wash his hands, and suspects that may be when the other one disappeared.

Anderson reported the thefts to the Tukwila Police Department, but he said it’s unlikely that his items will be recovered. He has already contacted pawn shops in the area, and left details and serial numbers.

He also posted a brief description of the events and items in an Instagram post.

“Please share and keep eyes out,” he posted. “The Inderbinen should be very easy to spot if in a pawn shop. Anyone with connections to the pawn shops or a place where these items can be listed please let me know.”

In addition to the Inderbinen, he lost a vintage trumpet that he picked up at a yard sale and loves to play.

“I went to a yard sale and bought three trumpets for $20,” he said. “And one of them just happened to be just this super cool, antique horn. Not super antique, but it's a really nice horn. I got lucky on that one. But that one was in there, too.”

‘I literally felt like just quitting music’

It was music that finally brought him back around.

He had been scheduled to perform May 19 at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia with the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band, a 16-piece jazz band of Indigenous musicians.

But the theft made him want to just go home to Farmington. Anderson is co-director of the band.

“That Sunday, the day after everything happened, everything started to set in,” he said. “It really made me feel like I wanted to do something else other than music for a while. Like, ‘Man, can I just go work at a Walmart somewhere?’ You know, it really made me feel that way … I literally felt like just quitting music in general.”

That’s when his friends stepped up. “Julia kind of encouraged me,” he said. “She was, like, ‘I think you should just come to Olympia. Let's figure it out there.’”

He took the first step and showed up for rehearsals.

“I was so numb all over that entire day,” he said. “I don't even really remember what happened. I think my body was in shock or something … It was really hard to go to the rehearsal.”

Then the music drew him in.

“The first rehearsal, I was just sitting there with no trumpet, just kind of watching the music, listening to everybody,” he said. “But I kind of got a little excited about everything. And I started to have this feeling like, ‘Man, I wish I had my horn. I wish I could play with everybody.’ And then afterwards, some of the guys wanted to go out to eat and stuff, and that was fun meeting them, and I couldn't see them because I didn't have my glasses.”

He went back for more, with a borrowed trumpet.

“I started to go into rehearsals every day – we were rehearsing like two times a day,” he said. “Each day as I started to play music and started to be with everyone – they really brought me back. And, you know, when we finally performed on Thursday – by that time I had my glasses, someone gave me a horn. And, you know, it was good to go.”

He continued, “We played a great show. And it was such a memorable thing, too, you know, such a big deal. And after that, for like two, three hours, I felt like nothing had happened. It felt really good. I was just having the most fun.”

Keefe has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help Anderson replace his gear, but Anderson knows his horn can never be fully replaced and the music on his laptop may never be recreated.

But he now knows his love for music can never be stolen and that his support system is strong.

“This is kind of just one of those things,” he said. “It was like the ultimate test of me…Music really heals, you know?”

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