30 June 2008
Looking back, I see that my posts from Memphis frequently refer to evenings in the lounge.
For those who have not yet attended a Navy Musicians Association reunion, let me emphasize that our get-togethers are not mandatory drunk fests.
Whereas some reunion organizations have hospitality rooms somewhere in the hotel, NMA members traditionally gather in the lounge at night. Rhythm section equipment is always available, members bring their axes, and we fill the joint with music and fellowship.
There's plenty of spirit, but alcohol is absolutely optional. Many of us enjoy the fun without drinking. I, for instance, hit the lounge nightly and--this will lift the eyebrows of those who knew me in the good old days--I haven't had a drink in decades.
This is not to say there aren't a few bleary-eyed MUs wandering the hotel lobby in the morning. But, as we used to say, if you're going to hoot with the owls . . .
29 June 2008
LT David LaTour conducts Navy Band Mid-South in "Army of the Nile" during the patriotic opener for the Saturday night dinner/dance.
NMA President Terry Chesson thanks Navy band Mid-South with the highest possible accolade one musical organization can offer another: an invitation to dinner with head-of-the-chow-line privileges.
As much pride as we former Navy musicians take in our service, our history and our musical abilities, today's active duty MUs are without equal.
Of course, these youngsters have an advantage. Nowadays they use these new things--"dynamics," I believe they're called-- that really add interest and variety to marches. If we'd had such gizmos back when I conducted the 7th Fleet Band, we might have given them a run for their money.
Goodbye, "Li'l Darlin'" played at the right tempo.
Goodbye, young sailors in laser-white uniforms playing a rendition of "Anchors Aweigh" that brings bent-over old men to ramrod attention.
Goodbye, bartenders who scuffled each night to keep things flowing.
Goodbye, volunteers whose sweat made this go so smoothly.
Goodbye, Marriott, hotel by whose high standard of service all our future venues will be judged.
Goodbye, Tex and Dee and Terry and Howard and Bill and John and Mel and Lee and Ralph, Merv, David, Bob, Kim Debbie Chris Doyle Wilbur and an entire boatload of friends who have made this and unforgettable week.
I'll be home tomorrow and resume posting. There's a lot to add.
Last goodbyes are going down in the lounge.
There is much to say about tonight's banquet. And I will say it. I plan to provide a wrap-up report when I get home. More pictures. More sea stories.
But not now. It's late and tomorrow comes soon.
Now, taps. Taps.
All lights out.
Maintain silence about the decks.
28 June 2008
You see MUs and spouses wandering the hotel in their Saturday evening best, and we look pretty good.
Which is appropriate. I've just found out we're having a visit from Navy Band Mid-South this evening. Last year's performance by the CINCLANT band--or whatever it's called now--was the screaming, hollering highlight of the week, and we're expecting no less from this group.
It's good to be dressed for the occasion.
Sorry to blog in advance here, it will be a busy night. No doubt we'll wind up back in the lounge for late-night farewells.
And I'll be on the spot with the poop, the scoop and the skinny.
If I can stay awake that long.
I also look forward to Ralph Hasty's dry sense of humor throughout the year.
I never knew either of these gentlemen during my Navy days. I met them both at NMA reunions of the past.
Membership in the Navy Musicians Association has done more than reunite me with old friends; it's given me a boatload of new friends.
And it doesn't stop. This year I've met John Branam, Bob Powers, Jim Richards, O.J. Casoli. While we never served together, we share the common experience of past service and present camaraderie.
All the more reason to look forward to next year in Virginia Beach.
At last night's concert, Mel Leketa performed Hoagie Carmichael's "Memphis is June." I suppose in 2010, we'll have a vocal group doing the Mills Brothers' "Across the Alley from the Alamo."
-- It is said that at the trip to Graceland, an NMA spouse prostrated herself on Elvis's grave.
-- The veracity of this story however, is contradicted by Tex Waldron's claim to have seen Elvis at a local 7-11.
-- As yet, there is no explanation for the unplanned conglomeration of simultaneous saxophone solos during the Seven O'clock Band's performance last night. It was an intriguing moment for performers and audience alike .
27 June 2008
Which refreshed me for the Friday night Concert Band performance. This group gets better every year, and they were darn good the first time I heard them a few years ago.
More about this later. The action will continue in a few minutes with Big Band performances, in which I'll play. And then, well, I suspect one or two or a hundred of us will head to the lounge to keep things going.
Drummer: "I don't have a part."
3rd trombone: "It wouldn't do you any good."
Piano: "My third page is missing."
3rd Trombone: "So play the second page twice."
Bari Sax: "I gotta go to the bathroom."
4th Trumpet: "Who's got the solo at 'D'?"
1st Tenor: "I can't play at seven in the morning."
2nd Alto: "You can't play at seven at night."
Drums: "Where'd you get that coffee?."
4th Trombone: "None of your damn business."
1st Trombone: "I feel like someone dropped an anvil on my head."
1st Alto: "Is this straight or in swing?"
Bass: "What's the difference?"
Director: "One, two, one, two, three, four."
26 June 2008
Actually, this is all I ever wanted out of joining the NMA: a Navy ball cap.
Old men in ball caps (OMBCs) would come up to you after a concert in the park and tell you they were in the Navy in the Spanish American War, so maybe you knew his friend, Ebeneezer Smith. And you'd smile and be polite because that was your job.
And now, I'm gonna be one of those guys. Every time a military band comes to my town I'll put on my ball cap and drive the bandmaster crazy with my incessant questions.
He'll be polite to me and call me sir and say he's enjoyed talking to me; that's his job.
Nope, the excuse didn't work."
"But I haven't played with a big band since the school."
That one didn't work either. John Johnson isn't the first former MU to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the bandstand.
And to make it easy for John, the director called up a Buddy Rich chart; you know, one of those easy-listening affairs with alternating bars of 3, 7, and 13 1/2.
No problem. We're not here to cut each other down. We're the best audience a rusty MU can play for; a room full of MUs.
NMA Executive Vice-President Bob Leketa's efforts are visible at every reunion; he's been organizing them since the last century.
Over breakfast Bob told me what goes into selecting the hotel for an NMA reunion.
Once the board of directors has settled on a geographic region for a coming reunion, Bob goes to work. He contacts prospective hotels and examines their informational packages. He weeds out the "impossibles" and creates the shortlist.
As the process narrows down, the negotiations begin. Bob gained his expertise by OJT--on the job training--and has learned to spot the b.s.
"I'll tell them, 'I'm not a rookie,'" he says. "'Just give me the bottom line.'"
Bob's double-secret weapon: nightly NMA jam sessions in the hotel lounge.
Management often balks at the unique requirement that the NMA take over the lounge for the duration of the reunion. But Bob knows how to overcome this resistance. "I tell them they'll break records on bar sales. That's all they need to hear."
This all happens months and years in advance. The board has made its decision on the region for the 2010 reunion, and Bob will soon go to work.
And that reunion will be held in . . . well, I'm not at liberty to say. The region will be officially announced on Saturday at the business meeting. As soon as that happens, you'll read it here.
Along with the regular b.s.
Would members get the word of the change?? Would they show up, after a long, busy day? Would the quality be sufficient to perform a concert in only a few days?
Yes, yes, and hell, yes.
Conductor Wilbur Smith had wondered how many players would come, but the rehearsal room was packed. Even those sections that are often shorthanded were full, including a luxurious four man--and--woman french horn section.
Like any first rehearsal, there were rough spots. But after the players were warmed up, things started to click.
Sure, I love the jazz, the jamming, the jive of these reunions. We all do.
But the concert band's performance always lifts us in a different way.
The audience sits back and enjoys movie themes, marches and medleys. But a point comes when things get serious. Those vital components of Navy band concerts--"The Navy Hymn," "America the Beautiful," "Anchors Aweigh"--mean more to us now.
As the recruiting posters used to say, it's more than just a job.
25 June 2008
This is the last chorus of "Lady is a Tramp." There's the stinger. It's over. Applause.
You can hear Tex Waldron's voice over a four-horn front line. There it is again.
Lee Hudson is tuning his bass. Good, Lee. We all thank you. (Lee is my arch-enemy. I've forgiven him--sort of--for the duration of this reunion. Let's just say he's on probation.)
Now it's "Night and Day" as a Latin. Seems to work.
I'll be back later.
2nd Trombone: "Could you back it up to letter 'M' so we can try those triplets again?"
1st Tenor: "How about that unison section at 'G'?"
Lead Trumpet: "Man, we gotta nail that double-forte line at 'C.'"
Director: "Take it from the top."
And the new guy needs to make it clear who the boss is and how he's gonna do it. It can be a battle royale.
But not this morning. At 0915 our new director, John Branam, stood in front of the big band for the first time, surveyed the situation and made the right decision.
"Number 151 in the book," he said. "'Li'l Darlin.'"
The gig today starts with 0900 rehearsal, right here in the hotel, of course. Because this is the first day of the reunion, we'll have to set up first: fronts, drums, piano, amps, cords, bari saxes, cases. All this accomplished by half-asleep MUs bitching about the hour, complaining about the room, the lights, the rug and the state of the Brazilian economy. Sound familiar?
As far as last night is concerned: we rocked the lounge. Lee Hudson, my former arch-enemy, now NMA buddy, brought his tuba and joined us in a few rounds of dixieland. We did swing tunes and a bumping-grinding version of "Girl Talk" that almost made me start stripping behind the piano.
Because there are no admirals looking over our shoulders, we took rather long breaks. When the MU audience wanted more music, they banged on the tables until the next set started.
I've played a few gigs in my life and I have to say--that was the first time the table-banging was a request for more music.
24 June 2008
They'll return to the hotel soon and start drifting into the lounge. We'll put a rhythm section together, they'll start playing and, before the first chorus of "A Foggy Day" is done, horns will come out of cases.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe we'll all have a glass of ginger ale, wish each other nitey-nite and be in our beddie-beds before the sun goes down.
And maybe pigs will fly.
My old nemesis, bassist Lee Hudson, sits at the bar alone, pondering his mistakes and planning his repentance. When he finishes, he will join the festivities.
And I will welcome him, for I have learned to let bygones be bygones.
That, and we need a bass player tonight.
I'll say this for Wilbur Smith: He was fast.
I was talking with Kim Holl at the bar. It was only mid-afternoon, but the MUs had discovered the lounge.
Smitty must have thought he could outshoot me. But you don't live as long as I have without knowing what's going on behind you. I figured he'd be gunning for me, and was on my toes. Something told me it was time; I turned and, before he could draw a bead on me, nailed him with my Canon 510.
Yes, Smitty was fast.
Fast, but not the fastest.
I got hungry just looking through this new publication, available at the NMA ship's store.
It's got everything except Frank Mullen's Sunday Morning Hangover Remedy. My famous recipe is a lifesaver when unexpected guests arrive and all you've got is a jar of pickled pigs feet, a stick of butter and of couple of raw eggs.
Yep, MUs are checking aboard. Debbie Holl has opened the registration room. The ship's store is here, too, featuring new shirts and windbreakers. I've got my eyes on the shipment of new NMA ball caps.
The rhythm section equipment is now set up, ready for the early jamming that is likely to begin in a few hours.
The tide is coming in.
In the lobby I spotted John Branam. I've seen him at reunions before, but never met him. He was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That led to stories of that era, of course, but we quickly came back to the present.
John is taking over as rehearsal director this year, a job that Terry Chesson handled before his election to the NMA presidency. He says he's looking forward to the job of organizing Big Band rehearsals, and won't wait too long to begin. If we have enough players, we'll start tomorrow morning.
That's ambitious; it' s hard to predict who will be here, what instrumentation will be on board.
But our sessions are not only about musical excellence.
"It's about the camaraderie," John told me.
As I talk to the officers and volunteers, I hear that word a lot.
My estimate was low, according to Bob Leketa, NMA Executive Vice-president.
"We're up to 620 this year," he tells me. "Our annual growth rate is 11.8 percent."
The Marriott is experienceing its own growth rate today as the MUs file in. I'm headed to the lobby to see who's wandering around.
Terry also says a couple of my old bosses will arrive today: Tex Waldron, my old bandmaster, and Jack Dye, my first MCPOW (Master Chief Petty Officer of the World).
Also scheduled to arrive today: my arch-enemy, Lee Hudson. Hudbucket and I have been at war with each other since the Newport Wars of the mid-1980s. Seeing him for the first time in a quarter-century will be a test: can we take the high ground treat each other with dignity and respect, or will our relationship devolve into snipery, slander and barroom backstabbing?
Should things deteriorate, we know whose fault it will be . . .
Fancy, schmancy. The lobby of the Marriott is quiet this AM. This will change as the days goes by--30 members will file in today. Four other organizations are meeting here, and scores of other guests will be in attendance.
And the combo will set up in an alcove between the lounge and the lobby. What this means is that the cozy conversation pit in the lobby pictured here will soon be prime seating for the evening jam sessions.
I'm off to see what's what and who's who. NMA President Terry Chesson is here, and I haven't seen him yet.
I'll be back later this morning or early afternoon with more scoop and poop.
23 June 2008
But my wife and I are at the Memphis Marriott, safe, sound, and impressed by the facilities. The hotel is visible from the interstate and easy to reach. It's within walking distance of an IHOP, Arby's, Popeyes, Taco Bell, a Chinese restaurant and other fine dining opportunities. The Marriott has a restaurant, of course, but Jo and I went to IHOP for road food.
This old MU doesn't trip the light fantastic with the endurance of his younger days. Bob Leketa and Kim Holl are out on the patio having a drink. I'll join them for a few minutes and then crash.
(Bob says that we've got 30 rooms reserved for tomorrow night. Looks like it's the usual routine--the yakking and jamming will begin the day before the reunion officially begins.)
Hasta la manana, amigos.
22 June 2008
- -- Guitar, Electric, 1 each.
-- Amplifier, portable, 1 each.
-- Gigbag (Cords, picks, etc.), 1 each.
- -- NMA shirts, polo, two pair.
-- NMA shirt, tee, 1 each.
-- Trousers, presentable, 4 pair.
- -- Road atlas, Rand McNally, 1 each.
-- Weather radio, portable, 1 each.
This site has had about 200 visits in this last week. Many MUs who can't attend the reunion this year have told me they'll get the highlights here at Navy Lyres.
- -- computer, laptop, 1 each.
-- Camera, digital, 1 each.
- -- Sea stories, 20,000.
21 June 2008
As the band's chief, I was the referee of a Texas cage match among sixteen professional wrestlers.
I was the marriage counselor for the sax player who got the bad letter from his wife.
I was trip planner who had to beg for an admiral's barge so the combo would be ashore in time.
I was the guy who sucked up to the laundry petty officer so the trio would have clean whites for the captain's reception.
I was the whipping boy for the MCPOC who hated the band and would have reamed out my boys if I didn't let him unleash it all on me.
I was nursemaid, babysitter, tour director and music theory teacher.
Sometimes I was even the chaplain, the shepherd who brought comfort to the desolate.
And when I got the call in the Indian Ocean that my father was dying, my boys did the same for me.
At times, I wanted to crawl into the nearest empty locker and hold my breath until the cruise was over.
And there were times I felt sorry for everyone in the world who was not, at that very moment, on a ship of the United States Navy in the Indian Ocean conducting this ragtag collection 16-piece bagband through "Anchors Aweigh" during unreps.
Most people, despite their love of country and their respect for our service, cannot understand this.
You, my shipmates, understand.
See you soon in Memphis.
20 June 2008
Old Men with Computers are trying to email this blog. This cannot be done. This is like wedging a popsicle stick into an alto sax mouthpiece, blowing on it and expecting "Prelude to a Kiss" to come out the bell.
Here's how to get in touch:
To contact me: use the email link on the sidebar on the right.
To leave a message--a "comment"-- here at Navy Lyres for the Entire World to see: use the Scuttlebutt Message Center link on the sidebar on the right.
Don't be an OMC. Say hi to an old shipmate. Chew him out. Give a shout to your old band. Whatever.
19 June 2008
From: Frank Mullen in Illinois
To: NMA shipmates across the country
A reminder for those who are driving to the reunion in Memphis: the Midwest is takng on water. The Mississippi River has crested--reached its highest point-- in northern Illinois. This cresting, and its associated travel problems, will move south over the next few days. Other rivers have yet to crest.
An underwater highway or closed bridge can really put a damper on travel plans, so check ahead. Here's a list of sources of travel information for states that may be affected. Click on each state for up-to-date info:
Iowa . . . Arkansas . . .Missouri . . . Tennessee . . . Illinois
And don't forget weather.gov/, your one-stop shop for info on all weather-related warnings.
This list is provided by my wife, St. Jo the Compassionate. She has scoured the internet for the lastest flood-related travel information. Here is her summary as of Wednesday evening, 18JUN08:
----------------------------------------- Interstate travel might be fine, but be prepared for closures of the smaller highways/roads.
--- Especially travelling across Iowa...I-80 is open now,but exits may be closed, so don't count on getting your Big Mac.
--- Mississippi River at St. Louis cresting above flood stage this weekend. Anticipate road closures.
--- Ohio River at Cairo (Illinois) cresting this weekend above flood stage.
--- Flooding along Arkansas River.
--------------------------------------Remember that conditions can and will change. Save yourself headaches by checking ahead.
See you in Memphis, safe, sound and dry.
18 June 2008
Packing up after a trio gig at the Treasure Island officers club, I was trying to upend an elephantine Fender Rhodes piano onto a dolly. Keeping my summer whites from contact with this gritty monster required awkward bending, arm's-length reaching, the gnashing of teeth and the swearing of oaths.
Dale looked up from the trap case in which he was stowing his gear.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked.
"What does it look like?" I said. I was very smart when I was a seaman.
"It looks like you're going to break your back and ruin your uniform."
Dale put down a cymbal stand. "You're doing it wrong," he said as he crouched on the opposite side of the Rhodes. "Don't use your back."
We lifted the piano upright. "Use your shipmates," he said. "That's what they're for."
16 June 2008
(Special to Navy Lyres) -- Jo Knox, wife of NMA member Frank Mullen, has announced the formation of Spouses Sick of Sea Stories, a support group whose mission is "to provide spouses of former Navy Musicians a place in the Marriott where they they will not be subjected to repetitive recollections of the good old days."
Jo is inviting NMA spouses to her room at the Marriott for a sea story-free evening of chocolate and television. "Whatever's playing on The Movie Channel," she said, "has got to be more entertaining than those endless sailor fairy tales."
"That's it--no more Show Band stories," Jo Knox warns Terry Chesson at the 2006 NMA reunion as her husband watches in horror.
Ms. Knox is not against the telling of sea stories in principle. "These guys want to get together in the lounge at night and rehash old glories. Believe me, I understand." But her eyes narrow as she considers the plight of the NMA spouses. "We hear this crap all year long. How many times do we have to listen to tales about the time the ship was doing unreps in WESTPAC and the OOD told the MUC over the 1MC that the CO wanted ABC to XYZ the FBI? "
Information on the S.S.S.S gathering will be circulated at the reunion.
But there's lots of other stuff here; band rosters, reflections on past reunions, complaints, the ever-popular Navy Musicians Lexicon. You can poke through the contents in the sidebar on the right.
15 June 2008
Normally it would be a simple day's drive from point A, Mercer County, Illinois, to Point B, Memphis, Tennessee. If you look on the map, however, you'll see that much of line A-B is, essentially, the Mississippi River. With the current flooding, taking this direct route would be a Med cruise.
Fortunately, my wife is a superb navigator. She'll find a viable, dry route to Memphis
If she'd been on the bridge of the USS Blue Ridge, we would have spent a lot less time drifting in circles.
13 June 2008
But many find Navy Lyres as a result of searching for something or someone at Google, Yahoo or another search engine. In these cases, the super-secret 'ware tells me--cue the "Twilight Zone" theme--what you were searching for that brought you here.
This is a long way of saying, Yo, Cliff McCoy and Jim Lamb--people are searching for you.
Just got back from the barber. He cut off a more than I expected; quite a bit more, in fact.
I look like a damn sailor.
Though our reunions always begin officially on Wednesday, a handful, like me, come early. I'll arrive in Memphis sometime on Monday, June 23, to schmooze, strut and begin blogging the reunion.
Each year, increasingly more members show up on Tuesday. This means that the night before the reunion has even started, the lounge is jumping with MUs, jamming and jiving.
Wednesday, registration day, is naturally the day that former MUs pour in. But attendees continue to arrive through the week.
At the Friday night bash in the ballroom, we're all together for the first time. The evening's highlight is a performance by the reunion bands for the most appreciative of all audiences: peers, shipmates, brothers and sisters.
And when it's over, many adjourn to the lounge for the jamming and jiving that began the week.
12 June 2008
-- Bob Grindle, who went through the Assistant Bandleader Course while I was on staff at the School of Music won't be at the reunion; his community band is entering its festival week.
-- Everett Crouse, another SOM shipmate, says he's also unable to attend, but his friend, my old rock 'n' roll band leader John Johnson, will make an appearance.
-- B.A. Waltrip, retired for 34 years now, has just found out about this site. He suggests that when NMA members get together, they're a bunch of "Navy Liars."
Also heard from: George Hand, who left the navy in 1961 and Norm Detoy, who retired in 1979.
I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment here at Navy Lyres or email me.
10 June 2008
FrankGrams went to email address on the NMA roster. Many of them bounced back as undeliverable.
This means many shipmates don't know that the highlights of the reunion will appear here at Navy Lyres.
You can help by passing the word. All past and present Navy Musicans, NMA members or not, are welcome.
05 June 2008
For those who don't know, the NMA is a growing group of former and active duty members of U.S. Navy bands. We are one-hitch sailors and career MUs. We have worn seamens' stripes, petty officers' chevrons, chiefs' anchors and officers' bars.
Once a year, we gather for a few days of camaraderie, sea stories and music--big band, concert band, jazz and rock. At Navy Musicians Association reunions, performance is optional; enjoyment is unavoidable.
If you can't attend this year--or you're not yet a member of the NMA--you can get a taste of the reunion without leaving home.
I'll be "live-blogging" throughout the week of the reunion. This means you'll be able to follow the action here at Navy Lyres.
From Monday, June 23 (two days before the official opening) until Sunday, June 29 (departure day for most attendees), you can come right here, night or day, for:
- highlights of each day's activities
- hi-tech photos
- low-tech videos
- jam sessions
- bull sessions
- assorted reports, rumors and revelations, heavily censored in case your children or grandchildren use your computer
Between now and the reunion, I'll be blogging frequently; stop by any time, check it out, leave a message.
Drop me a line if you have any questions, and please pass the word--forward this URL to any past or present Navy musicians that you're in touch with.
I'll be sending occasional short "FrankGrams"--reminders, notices and dire warnings that will link you to the full story here at Navy Lyres--to NMA members whose email addresses are listed on the membership roster. If you're not a member, you can still get these delightful messages; just send me your email address.