Thursday, June 5, 2008
A Big Band with a Big Heart
This article appeared eighteen months ago in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and I post it tonight in honor of Mr. Millard Stanforth, who passed away a week ago (see post below).
An unusual friendship that started more than 65 years ago in San Diego schools lives on in the big-band beat of the Brass, Key & Wind Band. With a stroke of his conductor's wand, Jim Baker launched the group's 184th concert yesterday morning during a holiday carnival in Balboa Park. Passersby tapped their toes and clapped their hands – but none could have guessed that Baker and the six remaining original band members started to pal around in the Class of 1944 at Hoover High School. Some have known each other since the early 1930s.
“We have been fast friends for . . . many decades,” Baker said. “Not many people can match us.” Along with a recently deceased member of the “gang of seven,” the boys entered the Navy together after graduation and scattered across the globe. They kept track of each other through letters. When they all returned home, they celebrated by exploring Yosemite National Park. In 1946, they enrolled en masse at San Diego State College, only to find that life was pulling them in different directions again. A few transferred to other schools, and they all eventually got busy with careers and families. Their instruments – one of their pastimes as children – were shelved.
That changed in 1994, when Baker and Millard Stanforth were asked to play the Hoover fight song for their 50th reunion. They did – but “not very well,” recalled Stanforth, peering at the band's scrapbook through dark glasses. Within a few years, one of men suggested they get together and toot on their horns for fun. It was ragged at first, and they seemed to laugh more than they made music. “We all loved to play, so it was just sort of a natural thing,” said trumpeter Truman Jensen.
The rest of the original band is Gene Edelbrock on the trombone, Bob Stanford on the baritone and Don Jackson on the C-melody saxophone. Bill Tanner, who died in 2005, played clarinet. His wife still attends concerts. Eventually, the friends found their sound and started belting out 1930s and '40s favorites such as “In the Mood,” “Sentimental Journey” and “It Had to Be You.” Today, they play at nursing homes, private birthday parties and churches across San Diego County in hopes of enlivening the older crowd with a repertoire of some 200 tunes. The band doesn't charge, but it does take donations to cover expenses, including the recording of a third CD in February 2008.
“It seems like society has been so good to us,” Jensen said. “We are trying to pay back a little bit if we can.” Despite the friends' upbeat mood, time is starting to take a toll. Each of them turned 80 this year. Stanforth gave up the trumpet when he no longer could perform as well as he wanted. Today, he's the band manager. “I can't not (attend),” he said. “I am too close to them.”