Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's no wonder NMA bands are so good

During the last Navy Musicians Association reunion, I began to suspect that some members have been practicing their instruments during the year.

I had no proof of this, as many musicians are loathe to confess to such chicanery. I decided to search for evidence.

The situation turns out to be far more serious than I thought. I have found proof that certain NMA members are actually performing, both professionally and as members of academic and volunteer musical organizations. I suspect, but cannot yet prove, that some NMA members even lead these musical ensembles.

I submit, for example, this video of NMA member Rabbit Simmons performing with a jazz group in Cocoa Beach, Fla. last August.

Rest assured, friends, any time I find conclusive evidence of between-reunion performing by NMA members, I will post it here. Perhaps a little old-fashioned shame will keep these guys in line.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thanks for the memories.

One day in December of 1975, a trombone player banged on my barracks door, shouting,"Liberty is cancelled! Jump in your dungarees and get to rehearsal: we're doing Bob Hope's Christmas show tonight!"

It was news to me. In fact, it was news to all of Navy Band San Francisco. But when it came to entertaining American troops, Bob Hope got what he wanted, and what he wanted was to perform that night at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. Some travel snafu had given him an unscheduled day off, and, instead of resting, this show business legend had found a worthy audience. Not having his band with him, he called the nearest military band and said, like they did in those old movies:

"Let's put on a show."

And we did. Hope's manager delivered the charts to the band spaces, MUCS Skip Poole rehearsed us and, that night, led us in accompanying Bob Hope and his cast of supporting acts before an audience of wounded warriors in wheelchairs and rolling hospital beds.

Bob Hope's Christmas Tour of Asia and the Pacific, mid-'60s. Advance
to 48:00:00 to see Bob's shows on USS Ranger and USS Coral Sea.

Imagine what would have happened if the Hope organization, wanting to entertain troops on the spur of the moment, had been required to call a music contractor and say, "Can you give me an 18-piece band for a rehearsal in 45 minutes and two-hour performance tonight, no pay, no travel expenses, no cartage fees?"

Don't tell me Navy bands are fluff. They do thing civilian bands couldn't dream of.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Yes, we still remember

On Veterans Day, the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch published a column I wrote about a young MU from my area, Jerry Cox, who died, with all of Band 22, on USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (I've posted it here.)

Recently, I got a letter from a man who read the column, telling me he remembers Jerry Cox from his childhood. In the '30s and early '40s, when he was a youngster, his father ran a neighborhood grocery store in East Moline. Jerry Cox lived down the street and stopped at the store often, a big kid with a lot of musical talent.

He said he was surprised at the memories the column brought back. Mostly, though, he was surprised that, after all the years that have passed since Musician 2/C Gerald Cox died, anyone would remember him.

I've written back and told my correspondent that the story of Band 22's sacrifice has always been remembered by those who have served in U.S. Navy bands. We remember that Navy musicians were among the first American troops in World War II to give their lives. We remember that "in harm's way" is not a destination unkown to Navy bands. We remember that bands are not mere decorations, trifling sequins and ribbons to be admired and discarded, but binding threads woven into the very fabric of the Navy.

How can we not remember?