- A Message from the Commanding Officer
- An Interview with Branford Marsalis
- Pioneers of Navy music:
A history of African-Americans in the Navy music program
- Spotlight on...
Senior Chief Musician James W. Armstrong, III
A Message from the Commanding Officer
March and April are a busy time for the Navy Band as our two largest performing ensembles, the Concert Band and the Sea Chanters chorus, embark on national concert tours. Touring is one of our priority missions and it is a great way to share our Navy message to people all over this great country. The Navy’s slogan, “America’s Navy – A Global Force for Good,” truly describes what we are about. Music can be a global force for good in many ways and I believe our tours are the embodiment of this slogan on a national scale. We look forward to making new friends and seeing old acquaintances as both groups travel to the Northeast. The tour schedules are available on the website, so please go there for concert information. In advance, I’d like to personally thank our tour sponsors. Our success on these trips is largely due to their preparatory work behind the scenes. I urge each of you to support us with your attendance when we visit your area.
I’d like to mention several historic events that took place recently in which your Navy Band participated. The Ceremonial Band performed for the state arrival ceremony for Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, the Ceremonial Band participated in a special ceremony at the Capitol building, and musicians from all of our ensembles performed two special concerts on the Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I also want to thank our Ceremonial Band and staff for the top-notch professional job they do each day as they honor our country’s veterans and heroes.
In closing, I want to mention that our 34th International Saxophone Symposium was a huge success. We enjoyed near-capacity crowds for both Friday and Saturday night performances. My thanks go out to Senior Chief Musician Timothy Roberts and his staff for all their efforts that made the symposium a success. Special thanks to all our wonderful soloists, especially Mr. Branford Marsalis, who was featured on both evening concerts.
An Interview with Branford Marsalis
by Senior Chief Musician Aaron L. Porter
The Navy Band was honored to have renowned soloist and recording artist Branford Marsalis as a guest artist at the 34th International Saxophone Symposium in January. Marsalis also took the time to be interviewed by fanfare. The following is a condensed version of that interview. The full interview is on our website www.navyband.navy.mil.
First of all, I want to thank you for what you’ve done so far, and for what you’re going to do with the band this weekend at the Saxophone Symposium. We very much appreciate it, and appreciate your taking the time to do this interview.
Branford Marsalis (BM): It’s a pleasure; I’m having a great time.
Now, you’re known as someone who has a background in jazz, of course, but also many other idioms such as classical, commercial and R&B. Tell me a little about your upbringing; were you exposed to both classical and jazz at the same time, or jazz first and then classical? How did that come about?
BM: I was exposed to jazz first, because my father was a jazz musician, and New Orleans, while not really being a jazz town people think it is, is one of the few places in our country where you can hear jazz on a regular basis, and more traditional jazz than modern jazz. We had bands that accompanied funerals, playing traditional New Orleans music, parades. There always was an opportunity to hear this music and you grow up hearing these sounds, and you become accustomed to them. I started playing with the youth orchestra when I was nine years old, playing clarinet (I started on clarinet when I was seven), (and) I joined an R&B band when I was fourteen. I started playing jazz with (my brother) Wynton and some local musicians, Johnny Vidacovich on drums, David Torkanowski on piano, and Jim Singleton on bass. They were an established trio, and they hired Wynton and I to play at this small club called Tyler’s Beer Garden on Magazine Street. I really wasn’t a jazz player, but I was playing jazz tunes, and really doing the best I could, and the guys were really encouraging us to play, because we were the progeny of Ellis Marsalis, who was a really successful musician in New Orleans. I was never really put in a situation where I had to decide; I didn’t have to define myself. Once I got to the East Coast, suddenly there was this thing: “Well, what are you? Define yourself.” It was weird. I refused to do so. You know, other people, they create the labels, they do what they do; that’s fine.
Regarding both idioms, of course you’re known for several…
BM: Well, now it’s just jazz and classical. I don’t really do a whole lot of the other stuff any more.
|Guest soloist Branford Marsalis performs with the U.S. Navy Band Concert Band at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. The concert was part of the Navy Band's 34th International Saxophone Symposium.|
How do you keep up your proficiency in both? Is it a juggling act or a problem to stay proficient in both?
BM: Well the thing about jazz….the hardest thing to learn in jazz is how to play jazz; how to phrase, how to have a sound, how to project, and how to play in a variety of situations. Most of that is based on emulation of sound. There’s no real….jazz has its own technical hurdles. It’s a little overrated, in my opinion, in jazz. There are a lot of guys that can play really, really fast. In classical music, because the composers don’t know you personally, and they don’t know your habits, they don’t write pieces to suit you. They just write pieces. So, suddenly, you’re in a situation….for instance: most jazz musicians, when they play in the altissimo (extremely high) register, they tend to pinch down on the reed, and growl.
One of the first guys to really use altissimo significantly in jazz and popularize it was John Coltrane and that’s the way he did it. If you listen to guys like Frankie Trumbauer, who did it in the ’20s and ‘30s, they played it more like classical players, the notes just popped out of the horn. When Charlie Parker played it, there are recordings of him playing altissimo notes that just popped out of the horn. Coltrane used it as an effect, and he would pinch and growl through the horn, and it really was effective as a device, as a sound, which more in line with something you hear coming out of the Pentecostal Church. It’s one of those funny things, a lot of people who talk about Coltrane, and writers who write about Coltrane, don’t really understand the significance that the church had on the sound of jazz, which is why a lot of their hypotheses are often incorrect about what the music is, because they don’t understand. But back to the original topic…..I don’t find that I have to practice jazz per se, as much. So most of the time, when I practice, I practice on the alto. And now I’m starting to play tenor pieces on the tenor, because I noticed that I was allowing my tenor playing (to deteriorate)….I was never really a good tenor player. I was always a pretty good musician, but I never was a good tenor player, so I started getting some tenor music and started working on it, and it immediately made my tenor playing better. So, jazz has…well, classical music has it as well: expressiveness and delivery. And the delivery in jazz can be questionable. We have a lot of great jazz musicians who have questionable delivery, but it works. It’s not really possible in classical music to have questionable delivery and be successful. You want to be able to express the music, but the delivery is pretty important. You can’t miss notes and bend notes. There’s no cheatin’…and I think for a guy like me, that’s been really great discipline for me. So, mostly what I practice, is classical music, and to learn jazz, I spend time listening to jazz records, singing along with it, and learning the sounds from some of the older guys. It’s a weird thing…the more I listen to some of the earlier music from the ‘30s and ‘40s, the more radical my jazz playing becomes. When I was trying to play (more modern jazz), it started to become clichéd, in my view.
As you know, our Saxophone Symposium is in part geared toward younger musicians and music students, with recitals, clinics and masterclasses. What would you recommend to a young, aspiring jazz or classical musician, who’s interested in a performing career? What would be your advice to them?
|Guest Soloist Brandord Marsalis performs with the U.S. Navy Band Commodores Jazz Ensemble at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. The concert was part of the Navy Band's 34th International Saxophone Symposium|
BM:You need to listen to as much music as you can, because you have to understand that people who buy tickets don’t understand (that) when we study, we put an over-emphasis on the process, and the process becomes the product. The process is important, but the process is not the product—the process is the process. So, you have to have a better reason for playing a piece other than the fact that it has, you know, five consecutive triple Gs with a slap-tongue and a growl at the end. Those are the kind of things you practice at home because they’re hard. But never mistake that for actually being something that people want to hear, and then get mad at the people when they don’t want to hear it. So, when you listen to a lot of different types of music…for instance, when I started playing classical music, I said, “Well, who do I want to sound like?” I settled on opera singers, because opera singers are probably as close as singers get to being instrumentalists. Successful singers understand the emotional role of their characters, and are able to convey emotion through their sound. The singers who are on stage thinking, “Oh God, please let me hit the high C,” they tend to be less successful than the ones who just sing, and understand their parts emotionally. This is one of those things that…as modern musicians….this is a department where we struggle. We (instrumentalists) don’t spend much time talking about the emotional purpose of the piece, or the sound of the piece. We kind of focus in….in classical music, we tend to focus in on the notes, on the notes and the technique. In Jazz, we focus on harmony, so it’s always harmonic analysis, what are the changes in those songs. It’s a simple thing: just play the song, play the song. It’s an interesting thing, playing with the Commodores, we have a song, and they said, “Do you want to expand this piece?” For my solo…and I said, “No, two cycles is fine, two choruses is fine.” And they go, “Really, don’t you want to do more?” And I said, “Man, nobody wants to hear four, five, six choruses.” And they say, “Yeah, but we do…” And I said, “Yeah, but that’s the problem. (If) we do what we want to do, nobody shows up.” It’s this thing that I’ve learned, when I got older, when I stopped focusing on playing changes, and got to playing songs, playing what the song requires. Songs have things that they require to be successful, and if you’re listening, they do tell you what they need, it’s just a matter of whether you’re paying attention.
Could you give me your impressions about your rehearsals today with the Concert Band and the Commodores?
BM: Well, it’s been known (that) some of the best musicians in our country are in the Navy. I think in my Dad’s time, the Marines had a pretty good band. But when I was a kid...I definitely didn’t want to be a jazz musician when I was a kid, I wanted to become an R&B guy. My Dad and I talked seriously for a couple of weeks about me joining the Navy and getting in the (music) program, because they’re so many different types of bands. And he said if you stay in long enough, they might let you play in a couple of bands, rather than just playing in one band. It was an earnest discussion, because I was wide open….I didn’t have the goal (of): I’m going to go to New York (and become a musician there). I wound up deciding to major in history and going to Southern University in Louisiana, and marching in the band there for two semesters, and then moving to Berkeley, and on to New York. But there was a discussion about joining the Navy because the bands are great.
The Commodores are doing some arrangements of songs by you or associated with you. How’s that going in rehearsal?
BM: Yeah, they did all the arrangements….awesome! There was a song that was a big hit in Holland, and a minor hit in Europe, and one of the guys (Chief Musician Robert Holmes) arranged that song, it’s called Another Day. And they’re playing another song by my Dad (Swinging at the Haven, arranged by Musician 1st Class Jennifer Krupa), one song by Joey Calderazzo (Mikell’s, also arranged by Holmes), who’s my regular working pianist, and also Mo’ Better Blues by Terry Blanchard (arranged by Chief Musician Stephen Williams). But those are all songs that are associated with me.
How has getting your feet wet in different idioms shaped or affected you as a musician?
BM: Well, classical music is the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s completely nerve-wracking. All other forms of American music are basically played at one volume…loud. Playing and listening to classical music has helped (my jazz band) play with way more dynamics than most, because jazz bands tend to play either really loud, or really soft. They’re a lot of soft playing jazz bands right now…the music is kind of floats, and is ethereal, and everybody plays soft. But we go from really, really soft to really intense loud. That is definitely the Gustav Mahler effect. Because Mahler’s music is a stereo’s nightmare, or a headphone’s nightmare, because he goes from so soft you can barely hear it, to so loud that it just blows you away. The jazz influence (in my playing) is really helpful because I tend to take chances with the music…I respond to what the orchestra’s doing. I learn the piece the way I learn the piece, because I’m always practicing with a metronome anyway. I call it choreography…I’m learning the choreography. Then, when we’re playing the piece (in rehearsal) as I get familiar with everybody, the piece just starts happening on its own. And sometimes that gets me in trouble, particularly with pieces like this one (Talahatchee Concerto for Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra by Jacob Ter Veldhuis, arranged by R. Mark Rogers) …it’s real complicated where (players make their entrances) it’s not the typical piece where the orchestration leads you into when your melody comes in, like a Glazunov concerto or (the Jacques Ibert Concerto), so if you’re not constantly aware of where the beat is, sometimes you come in a little early, or a little late, and then you have to catch yourself and know the other parts in order to make the adjustment. But I tend to just play the piece and let it happen in the moment; I never try to play it the same way (twice). That is definitely one of those things I think the jazz experience has helped a lot with.
And, finally, when you’re not performing or rehearsing, what do you do with your free time?
BM: Practicing is a great avocation of mine. Now, I didn’t start practicing for real until I was in my 40’s, so I’ve been practicing for about 10 years. As opposed to my brother (Wynton), who started practicing when he was 12, three hours a day, every day, until he was 30. I love reading, and I love watching the New Orleans Saints…win!
So would you say that your practicing is now a result of playing more classical music later in your career?
BM:: Definitely. If I was in a situation where I knew that (as a jazz player), I had an established sound, and I could rest on my laurels, and get away with it, I would probably be the kind of guy to do that. So, classical music has definitely gotten me out of my comfort zone. And that’s been the best thing for me. My classical tone is very different than most saxophone players’; it’s a very different tone. (With regard to classical playing), for a long time, I felt like the guy who’s treading in deep water and the water level is up to here (indicating a line just below his eyes). That was me for years. Now, the water’s just below my mouth, and I’m treading like crazy. It’s been a marvelous experience for me, (playing classical music) because I’ve had to stare at weaknesses that I would never have had to. I never had to deal with that, because in most American music (jazz, pop, commercial) there’s so much emphasis on personal style above all else that if there’s anything you can’t do, you just say, “Well, this is what I choose to do.” Whereas, in this music (classical), there’s no hiding! You have to play the piece! If you start playing (Jacques Ibert’s) Concertino da Camera, and you realize that you can’t play (certain passages), you have to address that. You can’t just say “Well, this is my personal style.” Which I did for a while! All of these things like breath control, or the position of the instrument, which really weren’t an issue in other forms of music….it was an eye-opening experience! And it changed the way I played in a way that I’m eternally grateful for. (The way I used to play classical works) would have had a lot of emotional conviction, but it wouldn’t have been technically convincing at all. So, it’s really been a godsend for me.
Thanks again for taking the time for this interview.
BM: It’s been my pleasure. I’m really looking forward to the concerts. ff
Pioneers of Navy music:
A history of African-Americans in the Navy music program
by Chief Musician Michael P. Bayes
On Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010, the Navy Band presented a program entitled “Pioneers of Navy Music: A History of African-Americans in the Navy Music Program” at the Smithsonian Institute’s Baird Auditorium in the Natural History Museum. The program was conceived and written by the band’s head archivist, Chief Musician Michael Bayes, with help from the Naval Historical Center, and included performances by several Navy Band musicians. The entire video of this presentation can be seen on the Smithsonian’s YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/watch?vwBcZ4dOYATE. The following is the text of that presentation, edited for length:
“Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.” -Martin Luther King
|Chief Musicians Michael P. Bayes, left, and Tia F. Wortham, right, in a lecture-recital at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.|
These words, spoken by a pillar of American history, provide the sense of power that music has to open hearts and minds. As military musicians we see this first-hand. A 2005 State Department study suggested that the power of music and extending our culture abroad is equal to or greater than the “guns of the field” in winning the hearts and minds of a people. African-American Sailors have served the United States Navy since its inception and have seen first-hand the power that music brings to a nation. Unfortunately, until recently, their stories of struggle and sacrifice have been largely ignored.
Naval Historian Dennis Nelson once noted, “It is a remarkable fact that African-Americans were carried upon the rolls and records of the early American Navy without reference to racial identity.” In the Navy, the need for able-bodied seamen has almost always superseded any racial boundaries and considerations. States such as Rhode Island, South Carolina and Georgia, among others, offered freedom to slaves if they fought for their new Navy. During the American Revolution, some 1,500 African-Americans served the Navy. African-American musicians, like violinist John Marrant, were often used to sound battle stations, assist with drills, signal daily activities and entertain troops.
During the War of 1812, African American sailors comprised 10 to 20 percent of the total force in the Navy. These brave men stood toe to toe with their fellow Sailors in defense of our new independence. When asked about the quality of Sailor that was being sent to the Battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Isaac Chauncey echoed the sentiment of the Navy towards all when he said, “I have yet to learn that the color of skin, or the cut and trimmings of the coat, can affect a man’s qualifications.”
African-Americans continued to serve and fight for their country during the Civil War. In his paper entitled “Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War,” Joseph Reidy concluded that at the height of the war some 23 percent of the United States Navy consisted of African-American sailors. Again the need for able bodies exceeded any consideration of race. In 1861, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles began to allow former and runaway slaves to enter Naval service. He offered these Sailors the pay of $10 a month. One instrument that was finding its place and becoming very popular in the Navy at this time was the banjo. It can be argued that this African-born instrument found its way aboard Navy ships with the arrival of former slaves.
|Senior Chief Musician Keith M. Arneson, left, and Chief Musician E. Daryl Duff, right, perform in a lecture-recital at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.|
Through their work “A History of African American Theater”, Errol Hill and James Hatch trace the roots of minstrelsy to the Irish and African communities. They suggest that, because these two cultures often lived in proximity to each other, the two rival groups would poke fun at each other through music and gestures. It was through this type of chiding that the minstrel was born. Hill and Hatch state that, “early minstrelsy was not only about race, but also class and region; it was as much anti-Southern as it was anti-black“. They argue that black minstrel shows brought the issues of slavery to white Americans, especially in Northern cities. Additionally, minstrel music encouraged the growth of popular music. They state, “Because both white and black men were composing for the productions, both reaped the rewards of the notoriety.” It can be further argued that black minstrelsy provided the first large-scale opportunity for African-Americans to enter show business.
During the post-Civil War period and Reconstruction, the Navy became more divided. Jim Crow laws began to take hold nationally, white supremacy groups gained a foothold and, without an opposing civil rights voice, African-Americans became socially marginalized. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson signed the National Government Act which segregated all government offices.
While racial segregation began to grip the Navy, music remained a unifying voice, and several African-American Sailors found music provided an escape from the pressures of the racial divide. One example of this was the great American composer and World War I veteran, William Grant Still. In his words, “There was a navigating officer...who loved to dance, loved music and everything. When he found out that I played the fiddle…all I had to do was play in the middle of the day and play a little for dinner. Nothing else to do but sit around, never swabbed any decks.”
In 1919, the United States Navy closed its doors completely to first enlistments of African-Americans. These doors would remain closed until 1932. By the 1920’s, African-Americans accounted for less than one-half of one percent of the total Naval force.
|Senoir Chief Musicians James P. Logan, left, and Juan Vazquez, right, in a lecture-recital at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.|
At a time of such racial segregation, one Navy musical ambassador stood tall. This was Alton Augustus Adams, a Virgin Islands musician, composer and teacher who believed that education was the path to equality and that music was its voice to affect social change. In 1917, on the brink of entering World War I and fearing the German navy would build a submarine base close to its shores, the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark. At the time, Mr. Adams was bandmaster of a community band on the Islands and had already established an international name for himself through articles he wrote for journals like “Jacobs’ Band Monthly.” They solidified his stature as one of the pioneers of the band movement.
In order to bridge the social gap between itself and the local population, the Navy turned to the music of Mr. Adams and his “Juvenile Band.” On June 2, 1917, this community band was renamed the United States Navy Band of The Virgin Islands, and these musicians became the first African-American rated musicians of the modern Navy, with Adams as its Bandmaster, the first African-American to receive this rank.
While aware of the social injustices that plagued the United States, Adams believed that change could come through the arts. To support his belief, he embarked upon a Navy-sponsored tour of the East Coast of the United States in 1924. This tour became one of his greatest achievements. Although the tour was intended to promote the Virgin Islands as a vacation destination, it had a much stronger effect towards the social causes of minorities. As historian Mark Clague points out, “even if the Navy intended to use Alton Adams as a shield to ward off criticism of its racial policies, this event soon escaped the Navy’s control. Navy officials could not have imagined that Adams would co-opt the Navy’s own agenda and make the military an unwitting collaborator in the Harlem Renaissance. Within six months, the Navy’s token ‘colored band’ would be parading through the streets of Harlem, and Adams would pull off a publicity coup of his own.” In the words of Adams himself, “Above all, the tour had a profound and lasting impact upon the minds and attitudes of African-Americans, who saw our accomplishments not only as a vindication of the race, but also an opportunity for better treatment and greater equality.”
During World War II, groups continued to lobby then-Secretary of the Navy William Knox to open all ratings to African-Americans. In a response to the chief attorney to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Thurgood Marshall, Knox stated that “the policy of not enlisting men of the colored race for any branch of the Navy except the messmen branch was adopted to meet the best interests of general ship efficiency.” He was adamant that it would be very destructive to attempt to integrate the Navy during a time when the nation was in the midst of a world war. One catalyst for social change in the Navy came when a messman named Dorie Miller distinguished himself in December 1941. A citation for his valor reads, “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”
For his valor, Miller was initially awarded a Letter of Commendation, recognition far below what he deserved. The media, notably the Pittsburgh Courier with its double “V” campaign, heard of Miller’s story, and pressured President Roosevelt and other government officials to give Miller proper recognition for his service. Further, they used the opportunity to make a stronger appeal for the Navy to integrate the ratings. Months after the event, the President ordered Secretary Knox to award Miller the Navy Cross, one of the Navy’s highest honors.
By 1942, the social pressures against Roosevelt and Knox became too great. On March 31, 1942, Roosevelt ordered Knox to open all ratings to African-Americans. In his executive order, however, the President would limit those ratings to shore billets, and much of the Navy would remain segregated.
|Captain Brian O. Walden, left, greets Alton Augustus Adams, Jr., right, after a lecture-recital at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.|
In the same year as Truman’s order, Marshall Hawkins entered Naval service. A musician with many talents, Hawkins found himself immersed in a career that would take him through many ports. Eventually, he would become the first African-American master chief musician. Hawkins was in the first wave of musicians who entered the newly integrated Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. Later returning as an instructor, Hawkins was known as tough and fair, and never sacrificed his high standards in preparing future enlisted leaders and officers. In 1969, when the Navy created its premiere jazz ensemble, the Commodores, he was called upon to help chart a course of professionalism that remains to this day, a hallmark of this famed ensemble. In 1971, Hawkins retired from active duty.
In 1972 then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt signed directive Z-116 which opened all Navy ratings to women. That year, the Navy Music Program welcomed its first rated female musician, Evangeline Bailey, who also happened to be African-American. The daughter of a career Navy man, Bailey told Ebony magazine in 1972 that she “was tired of the day to day of college. I left school and thought the Navy would at least offer meals and spending money.” Enlisting as a hospital corpsman, Ms. Bailey was stationed at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., when a member of the Navy Band in Washington, D.C., requested that she audition for the band. She did and that same year made her debut on a European tour with the Navy’s premier rock band, Port Authority.
African-American musicians have stood by their fellow Sailors in the cause of freedom and liberty around the world. These Sailors not only served their country, but also fought for social justice. Their story is a rich narrative of the spirit of our nation’s complex history.
We end as we began, with the words of Martin Luther King:
“Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable. I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart.”
Musician James W. Armstrong, III
by Senior Chief Musician Juan Vazquez
The U.S. Navy Band performs countless ceremonies honoring those who served before us and those we serve with today. Ceremonial Band Unit Leader Senior Chief Jim Armstrong oversees all aspects of this time-honored mission.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Duquesne University. Throughout my high school and college years, I studied with Bob Hamrick, the principal trombonist in the Pittsburgh Symphony. Following graduation, I moved to Chicago to attend graduate school at Northwestern University and study with Frank Crisafulli, second trombonist with the Chicago Symphony. After about five years freelancing in Chicago, I was lucky enough to win a temporary position in my hometown orchestra back in Pittsburgh. Toward the end of my time there, I saw an advertised opening in the Navy Band. I knew very little about service bands, but during my time in Chicago, I became friends with Senior Chief (ret.) Mike Cizek who was in the Band in the seventies. He had joined the Navy right after high school and later decided to leave to pursue a college degree. A few years later when Mike’s old Navy Band job re-opened, he took the audition and won his old job back. Mike is an impressive bass trombonist and I thought if he was in the Navy Band (and wanted to return to it) that it must be a job worth pursuing, so I auditioned.
What is your present position?
Along with being a trombonist for nineteen years, for the past three years I’ve been the unit leader of the Ceremonial Band. I am responsible for over-seeing all facets of the band’s performances at military and government ceremonies. Ceremonial performances include many types of events such as official arrival ceremonies for foreign dignitaries, funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, changes of command and providing music for other government functions. In total, the Navy Band performs over a thousand ceremonies every year. Each one requires making detailed arrangements with the sponsoring organizations as well as managing dozens of details to ensure that when the band performs, the performance is guaranteed to go smoothly.
What intrigued you to become the Ceremonial Band’s unit leader?
The primary purpose of a military band is to offer musical support to various military and government ceremonies. It is important work with very little room for error. A military band is a very visible representative of the nation and the government. The quality of its performance enhances our national prestige in the eyes of the public and visitors alike. For me, having a hand in ensuring the quality of this aspect of our work is a way to contribute to the band beyond my individual work as a performing musician.
Are there any memorable performances?
When I’m asked about memorable experiences as a performer, my thoughts run in two directions. First, for any ensemble musician, the enjoyment you derive from performing often comes from the simple pleasure of playing with truly fine musicians. The Navy Band is filled with such players. It makes even ordinary rehearsals a gratifying experience. Performing with the trombone section in particular has been a true privilege and has never been anything but great fun. In a more typical respect, you always remember performances that are associated with significant historical events. I’ve participated in four presidential inaugurals, the funerals of Presidents Reagan and Ford, the dedication of the World War II Memorial and commemorations for September 11, to name just a few. The prominent “I was there” sort of ceremonies such as these always stick with you because the surrounding events are part of our collective memory. Sometimes you just remember a ceremony because of its uniqueness. During the last inauguration, the ceremonial band supported two of President Obama’s inaugural balls, including the nationally-televised Neighborhood Ball. It was a real kick for the band to spend the evening backstage with all of the A-list entertainers who appeared on the telecast.
What do you enjoy doing when not working?
When we’re not working or chasing our kids around, my wife (who is the band’s ombudsman) and I like to start projects around the house (and occasionally finish one of them). I enjoy reading, dabbling in digital photography and tinkering with computers. I also like to do some freelance performing around the D.C. area when I have the time.