In the final decade of the 20th century, as was so often the case, the United States Navy Band developed in ways that reflected the times and the world around it. If over 60 years of changes and evolution had defined the organization up to this point, the stability over the following years was just as notable. A group that began as a large concert and ceremonial band now had a permanent jazz ensemble, a mixed choir and a country and bluegrass band. This basic structure would remain in place for years with the addition of just one core ensemble. The increasing ceremonial commitments and the demand for the Navy Band's Specialty Groups brought steady functions and responsibilities to the organization.
In many ways, this mirrored the position that the United States as a whole found itself in as it transitioned out of the generations-defining Cold War. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked an end to an arms race that had lasted for decades. Instead of continuing to build up forces, the United States found itself needing to repurpose its military as the world's only superpower. Similarly, the primary units and functions of the Navy Band were well-established at this point and drastic changes or growth were not in its future. Instead, new initiatives, different kinds of events and further support for state functions accented what was now a full set of commitments and day-to-day responsibilities.
Commander Philip H. Field took command of the Navy Band on April 28, 1989. Cmdr. Field originally joined the Navy as a clarinet instrumentalist in 1956 and served in a number of Navy Bands both on shore and sea duty. He served in four positions within three separate tours at the School of Music. Cmdr. Field held the positions of Administrative Officer, Operations Officer and Assistant Leader of the U.S. Navy Band before becoming Commanding Officer of the School of Music, the Atlantic Fleet Band and finally the U.S. Navy Band.
Cmdr. Field's most notable events at the Navy Band were largely dictated by world events. Improved diplomacy between the United States and the United States of Soviet Russia would lead to an arrival ceremony that the Navy Band participated in for U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. A mere two years later, it would be Russian President Boris Yeltsin for whom the Navy Band would perform an arrival ceremony. The bulk of the Navy Band's assistance would not be for support of diplomacy with Russia, however. Instead, they were needed most for the Persian Gulf War.
The Persian Gulf War is largely recognized as the first war with live news from the front lines. Although the conflict lasted only 6 months, the rise of cable news necessitated a major military band presence in the media. In 1991, Chief Musician Michael Stein's song "We Are With You" was performed on ABC's "Good Morning America" and TNN's "Nashville Now." Upon the conclusion of the war, The Navy Band participated in the National Victory Celebration Parade in Washington, D.C. and the "Operation Welcome Home" Parade in New York City.
1991 was not without its importance for some of the Navy Band's own important initiatives, however. That year the Navy Band's International Saxophone Symposium moved to George Mason University Center for the Arts for the first time. George Mason's impressive concert hall and various other spaces would allow the Navy Band to more easily manage the increasing number of events throughout the symposium. This move proved to be a big success as the event remains at George Mason to this day. Just as important a development that year was the institution of the Navy Band's Music in the Schools program. Over its long history, the Navy Band had at one time or another been involved with educational initiatives, but the Music in the Schools Program was designed to be a more permanent solution available to schools. Over the years, the program has grown to be a large part of the educational outreach of the Navy Band.
On April 24, 1992, Cmdr. Field retired and handed the reigns to a familiar face. Capt. William J. Phillips had served as Leader of the Navy Band from 1978 to 1984. His second assignment as Commanding Officer of the Navy Band made him the first and only person to hold the position twice. That was not the only important first for Capt. Phillips, however. A change in the regulations for limited duty officers made it possible to attain the rank of Captain. Capt. Phillips was the first music officer to receive such a promotion in Navy history. By this time, it was common for the directors of the other premier military bands to hold such a rank and Capt. Phillips' achievement was an important one for establishing parity with those ensembles.
Capt. Phillips retired after three years in his second tour with the Navy Band. Major events during his tenure included playing for the Bicentennial of the U.S. Capital and reinstallation of the "Statue of Freedom" to the U.S. Capital dome in 1993. The latter performance included a collaboration with acclaimed actress and singer Liza Minnelli. In June of 1994, the Navy Band performed the opening ceremony for a World Cup Soccer Match at R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, D.C. Later that year, the Navy Band again returned to national airwaves on NBC's "The Today Show" honoring Veterans Day. Phillips was also instrumental in establishing the first Newly Published Music Workshop at George Mason University on Sept. 17, 1994. This event, dedicated to new works and editions, ran for a number of years thereafter and included some of the most prominent composers and conductors of the time.
With an expansion of military bands in the U.S. and abroad leading up to and in the 1990s, a grand tradition from Europe began to make its way across the globe. Military tattoos trace their origins back hundreds of years to the Dutch Army and the shows that grew out of the routine of calling soldiers back in from the towns that resided near garrisoned fortresses. These marching-oriented shows with dancers, drummers and bagpipes have become exceptionally popular. By the 1990s, a number of very prominent international military tattoos had taken hold in various countries. In high demand to attend such events, the Navy Band has participated in a number of them to date. In 1992, the Navy Band performed in the International Swedish Army Tattoo in Stockholm, Sweden. It proved to be such a successful trip that the band participated in smaller versions in the U.S. including the Memphis in May International Festival Tattoo in 1993 and The American Military Tattoo, a joint project by all of the military bands in the National Capital Region, in 1995. In 1998, the Navy Band returned to the tattoo in Sweden just 6 years after the initial visit.
All huge successes and positive outreaches, perhaps none of these tattoos had the same gravity and poignancy as the events in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, Russia in July of 1996. The Navy Band took part in two celebrations that entertained over 300,000 Russian live audience members and countless others over Russian television. Concerts included a celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Russian Navy in St. Petersburg and the Baltic International Festival of the Fleets in Kaliningrad. Over the course of four days, the Concert and Ceremonial Band, Brass Quintet and a jazz combo performed eleven total engagements. The trip reflected both continued improvements in relations with Russia and the popularity of large-scale military band performances.
Presiding over that trip to Russia was Capt. Phillips' successor, Lt. Cmdr. John R. Pastin. Lt. Cmdr. Pastin entered the Navy in 1968 as a woodwind instrumentalist, but he quickly diversified his skills to include voice, music arranging and conducting. That training allowed him to distinguish himself as a leader of both the Atlantic Fleet Show Band and the Rehearsal Division and Jazz Studies at the Armed Forces School of Music. He attained the rank of Warrant Officer in 1982, leading ultimately to his commission and the successful leadership of a few Navy bands including Navy Band Orlando. His experience and diverse background would ultimately prove useful after taking command of the U.S. Navy Band on June 1, 1995.
Along with the military tattoo engagements, there were a number of important ceremonial events during Lt. Cmdr. Pastin's years with the Navy Band. The Navy Band performed at the Korean War Veterans Memorial Celebration in 1996 and at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Dedication the following year. In 1998, the rededication of the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina was an event that included former President George H.W. Bush and Buzz Aldrin. Lt. Cmdr. Pastin also oversaw the Commodores Jazz Ensemble's performance in Ireland at the request of Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith for the American Embassy's July 4th celebrations.
Musical highlights with the Concert Band included another performance at the 50th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic with Karel Husa and a Carnegie Hall performance in March 1996 with the Sea Chanters. Combined concerts like the Carnegie Hall performance were very popular and formed the backbone of one of Cmdr. Pastin's lasting legacies with the Navy Band. Although the band drew a close to the "Lollipops" concerts for children and the Summer Pageants at this time, a new tradition began in the summer of 1997. The Concert on the Avenue became the new premier outdoor combined concert that persists to this day. These spectacular shows at the Navy Memorial include members from virtually all of the Navy Band's major units and featured a wide variety of music aimed at pure entertainment. In many ways, the Concerts on the Avenue are a culmination of the diverse units of the Navy Band and the ultimate proof that the Navy Band can, in fact, perform just about anything.