Saturday, June 18, 2016

2016 Taps

Taps. Taps.

Lights out. All hands return to their racks and maintain silence about the decks.


Saturday-night Dinner & Dance

It moves so fast. A few moments ago, it seems, shipmates were greeting each other, tuning together and preparing for a few days of music and camaraderie.

Too soon it comes to a close. The Saturday-night social hour begins in a few minutes. Then we'll eat, we'll dance, listen to speeches, play in the big band, tell more stories.

Then we'll pack up the gear, load the truck and meet in the lounge for goodbyes.

Out-of-town reunions always bring surprises, and our visit to Kansas City surprised us with new members from the Midwest, old members who drove from the West Coast and unexpected musical talents.

And, oh, the stories. I even heard a few about me. Shock. Awe.

I'll be back tomorrow with the news of tonight....

2016 NMA General Membership Meeting

In one word: "Terrific."

That's how President Terry Chesson described the 2016 NMA reunion at this morning's General Membership Meeting. There was no objection from the floor.

Highlights of the meeting include reports from a few members of the Board of Directors:

David Blakeley, editor of Leger Lines, said that there's only one thing he loves more than getting promises to send him photos for publication in our newsletter: actually getting the photos.

Equipment Manager Leon Harris thanked members who wish to donate musical instruments to the NMA. He added usability and condition are important; we do need a good electric piano, but a contra-bass bassoon with a cracked barrel and its key rusted shut would not be particularly helpful.

Marshall Hawkins, manager of the NMA archives, offered his thanks for the help of Mike Beegle and Randy Fendrick and added that the search for a permanent home for the archives continues. Hawk concluded his remarks in less than 60 seconds, leaving us with the questions, "What happened to the real Marshall Hawkins?" and "Who was this impostor?"

When the floor was opened for comments from the membership, two things became clear.

-- Our new members were particularly grateful for the warm reception accorded by old-timers.

-- All members of the NMA are recruiters. Even in this high-tech world, many MUs still don't know about our organization. And some still believe that ours is a "retiree's" organization.

President Chesson concluded the meeting with the observation that the Navy Musicians is not an organization for retirees. It's not for officers. It's not for one-hitch MUs; the NMA is for one-hitchers and retirees and enlisted musicians and officers.

"Anyone who has worn the MU's lyre is eligible," he said. There being no objection, the meeting was adjourned with the hopes that next year's gathering in Virginia Beach will attract even more newcomers to the NMA.

All hands now muster in the ballroom.

This morning will be devoted to talk.

Well, yeah, that's pretty much all we've been doing this week: talking, rehearsing, talking, performing, and talking.

But this will be important talk. Saturday morning at an NMA reunion is when we hold the member- only All-Hands meeting. We'll share reports, plans, suggestions, gripes and, I'm sure, a lot of thanks for the people who worked to hard to make this Kansas City reunion such a success.

So, I'll be away for the rest of the morning. And this afternoon, I'll share with you the results of this official gab-fest.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Still nervous after all these years.

I now head downstairs for the traditional Friday-night concert of the Navy Musicians Association.

It's just a bunch of friends playing for friends and family, MUs gathered together for music, snacks and talk.

And I'm nervous. I always am, every time we do this. Just a little bit, but still.

I have a small speaking role in the show's patriotic closing. Between the Navy Hymn and final service medley, I'll recite the narrative "We Serve With Honor" as the band performs Carmen Dragon's arrangement of "America, the Beautiful." Navy bands have performed this since the 1960s; I've done it a hundred times, in the Navy in the '70s and with the NMA in this century.

And I still get nervous.

It's not because my part is hard; it isn't. It's not because I'm afraid I'll screw it up; I won't.

I think it's because doing this--honoring our Navy, our armed forces and our shipmates--is more important to me now. Along the way, I've developed a perspective on naval service that is independent of the morning musters, haircuts, shoe-shining, bitching and beer that were once part of the daily routine.

So here's what happens: as the band plays the Navy Hymn, I think of those with whom I served. Especially those who are gone. I think of my father and grandfather, my wife's father and grandfather, all of whom served honorably in the United States Navy during times of war. I think about my first NMA reunion, when I found myself surrounded by the people who once molded me as a musician, a sailor, a citizen. I think about how proud I am to have been a part of all of this.

And then, I have to somehow hold it together and act like a grownup during "America, the Beautiful."

Liberty Call

An NMA reunion keeps MUs busy. Finally, we get a break. We had our final rehearsal this morning. Our first performance is this evening.


A Unique Concert Band

During my time in the Navy, concert band was something you had to put up with, an annoyance like haircuts, morning inspections and master chiefs.

But, thanks to the NMA, I've come to enjoy concert band. So much so, that, even though I don't play in it, I actually go to the rehearsals.

And I'm not alone; rehearsals of this ensemble attract a dedicated audience. I've been involved in Navy concert bands since 1975 and this is the first one whose rehearsals are attended by people who are not there under direct orders.

The final rehearsal.

An Artie Shaw Tribute, the Star Trek Theme, a West Side Story Medley; tonight's concert band program will be varied and challenging. But you can be sure that we'll also pay musical honor to those who have served our country in uniform. That is, after all, what we've always done.

Beats the hell out of me...

I don't know why, but this year, the registration room's display table is unusually intriguing. Something about it combines the elusive essence of the quiet hero with the in-you-face manliness that women admire and men envy.

I can't quite put my finger on it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Who's here?

I hear that some of you wonder who's here.  If you want to know who's here, here's who.

Hear, hear.

Show Band West

I walked out of the registration room and into a photo shoot of Show Band West alumni. "Charlie," I yelled, and Charlies Sweet joined us. My old Show Band pal John Derby is here at the reunion, too, and another opportunity may arise for a more comprehensive group portrait. Maybe not, but one way or the other, I'll get a photo with John in it, or my name isn't Photoshop.
Everett Crouse, Russ Hunt, Jim Hayward, Charlie Sweet,
Otto Harry, Dale Vanderpool, Frank Mullen

Delayed Call

You always get suspicious when an umpire hesitates before making a call. So the fact that I'm posting this photo three days after we went to see the Royals and Indians deserves explanation. The explanation is OMD: Old Men with Devices.

To get this photo to you required the photographer to send it from his device through the magical ether to my computer. Many failures were involved. Then magical success; I now get multiple copies of the photo.
So here they are.

Hope you like them.

Shipmates Today and Yesterday

Bob Montgomery joined us during our jam session last night. It was the first I'd seen of him this year, and it was great to hear him play again; Bob knows how to operate the alto saxophone.

After we finished, we said hi. I must have had a pensive look about me, because Bob asked, "What are you thinking about?"
Bob in his NMA dress blues in Virginia Beach.
So I told him. As much as I enjoy the music at our reunions, the real attraction is the shipmates. Some are old friends; last night I played a few tunes with Dale Vanderpool, whom I hadn't seen in--gulp--forty years. Some are friends I never met while on active duty. Bob Montgomery is, like me, a regular reunion attendee. I've come to know and respect him over the years, and he's become one of the many reasons I look forward to our reunions throughout the year.

And I'm always meeting new members. Terry McKenzie saved the day yesterday when bass players were in sort supply. In fact, I'm going downstairs to the registration room right now to see who has checked in. Some names on the roster will be old friends and some will be the names of friends I haven't met yet.

Corny? Well, if you think so, you haven't been to a reunion lately.

Report to the Quarterdeck

Like reporting aboard a ship, arrival at an NMA reunion requires a visit to the quarterdeck. This year, our registration room is easy to find; walk into the hotel lobby, walk through the lounge and report aboard..
The sign-in roster provides up-to-the-minute
information on who has reported aboard...

... and information on Navy musicians of less-recent vintage.

We interupt this reunion for a special message.

We are having one hell of a time in Kansas City. It's only the beginning to our second day together and we're having a blast. Last night we were up late jamming and talking. Now we're up and doing it again.

Our big band plays morning and night;
some of us are there the entire time.

Where two or more MUs are gathered
together, stories will be told.

The reason there were no empty seats
during concert band rehearsal:
Smitty was sitting in half of them.

Verbatim: The Elusive Percussionist.

Setting: Concert band rehearsal.

Wilbur Smith, the conductor.
A certain percussionist.

As the curtain rises, a Certain Percussionist leaves the bandstand and walks toward the door. Smitty stops the band and addresses the percussionist.

Smitty: Where are you going?

Percussionist: I'm going to get another snare.

Smitty: Where is it?

Percussionist: In the Philippines.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Slander Roll #2

The Slander Roll is not intended to embarrass. It is a simple reminder that failure to attend an NMA reunion greatly increases one's chances of becoming a topic of discussion. Death does not immunize MUs from inclusion on the Slander Roll.

Slander Roll #2 lists the names of MUs not present at the reunion whose names were heard mentioned in sea stories during a recent five-minute period in the lounge:

Leo Keiswether
Rabbit Simmons
John Fluck
Gary Seitz
Jim Etters
John Bledsoe
Mike Alverson
Johnnie Long
Jim Lamb

Welcome Aboard.

Step into the lounge and we'll tell you where
to go; just like we did back in the day.
Folks often wonder: what should I do if I arrive at the reunion venue in the evening when the registration room is closed for the night?

Here's the three-word answer:




As you enter the hotel lobby, the lounge will be on your left. You're likely to find a shipmate or fifty ready to welcome you. You may even find music in progress.

Don't worry that you haven't officially signed in yet. You can do that in the morning; the registration room opens at 0900 and is easy to find.

Tonight is the time to make yourself at home.

The Growing Roster

I was worried we'd have a small turnout for this on-the-road reunion in an area we've never visited before.

We never expect everyone to be on site on Wednesday morning. Our life schedules are varied and demanding, so MUs, guests and spouses arrive daily throughout the reunion. But our bandstands were full today. And more folks will arrive this evening and sign in tomorrow when registration continues. And they'll keep coming through the day.

This is what I get for worrying: record-setting first-day attendance.

Concert Band: Wow!

The amazing happened again this afternoon: a scheduled rehearsal began on time.

Again, a volunteer crew worked through the morning to have our room ready for a productive rehearsal. And productive it was. This is my 11th reunion, and I have never witnessed a first concert band rehearsal like this one.

The repertoire is challenging. We have a number of newly-arranged pieces, an Artie Shaw tribute, a West Side Story medley as well as patriotic favorites and vocal features. And the band rose to the challenge, maintaining focus through a 3-hour rehearsal.

I think there are two reasons behind this. First, our band gets better every year. While our goal is musical camaraderie--the sharing of ourselves with each other through music--the years have taught us how to prepare a full concert with three rehearsals.

Equally important, though, is was this year's attendance. Often, half the chairs are empty at our first rehearsal, as many members are still en route to whatever city we may be visiting. But today, the room was full.

I look forward not only to our Friday night concert, but to the coming rehearsals. I enjoy sitting in a room full of Navy Music's best.


A-one and A-two.

Interesting. Odd. Unusual.

Rehearsal director John Branham kicked off dance band rehearsal at 0909 this morning. That's nine minutes after nine for you civilians, and that's amazing for you MUs. It usually takes us quite a while to wake up, set up and tune up; generally, an NMA rehearsal that gets going by 0930 is amazing.

Sure, we did a good job of being on time. But someone else did a good job, too: a set-up crew that did so much work yesterday so we didn't have to spend precious time getting ready today.

Thanks, guys.

Rehearsal Warm-ups

Greeting old friends is an integral part of warm-ups.

We were taught that the scheduled time for a rehearsal is not the time you show up; it is the time you are warmed up and ready to play. We remember this and prepare ourselves fully so we'll be ready for the 0900 downbeat.

It is also necessary to mill about smartly.

But nothing is more important than preparing the embouchure.

Getting Underway

Last night, rehearsal director John Branham
prepared diligently for today... did so many of us.
I now head downstairs for the beginning of the 2016 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association. This is the moment we've all been looking forward to for months.

The launch won't be without its hitches. If past reunions are any guide--and they are-- at 0900, MUs will be wandering around with coffee and chatter, tuning their trumpets and digging fairly-new reeds out of their alto cases. The ride cymbal will be in the wrong room and the first trombone part will be on the fourth trumpet stand.

We'll grumble and complain. And then we'll start swinging.

I'll be back throughout the day with more, but I've got to get going I thinking I hear the sound of bitching and moaning.,,

Unofficial Jam

Yes, I know it sounds like something your great-aunt Elma entered at the county fair recipe competiton, but unofficial jam is a delicious appetizer before the main course. That main course starts today at 0900. But we were here last night, the lounge was full, so why not?

And by the way, although I hate to say it, I've got to be honest: there's a big problem with Jim Hayward's sax solos; I get so involved in listening that I forget to keep playing.

It's all his fault.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Take me out to the ballgame.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
Terry Chesson, Jim Edwards, Everett Crouse, John Johnson.
A landing party of 20 MUs stormed Kauffman Stadium as the Kansas City Royals defeated the Cleveland Indians.
An appropriate  moment of silence was observed.