The time was 1951, the place, Bellflower California. I was eleven years old and my parents decided I would play a band instrument. I did not ask to do this. My brother wanted to play in the band in high school, and they said no. My brother was then in the Army in Korea and my mother was worried sick and probably feeling guilt for not giving my brother his heart's desire. That's me in the picture , top row, third from the left, next to Mrs. Reeves. This was taken at Arlington National Cemetary in 1955. I was first chair trombone at that time. Let's hear more of the story.
Walter P. Reeves was the band director. He was in his sixties, he had played cornet in vaudeville and one time he was complemented by the famous band director and cornet vituoso, Edwin Goldman. The Reeves had an all girl band for young people in San Diego, ten years before. They had relocated to Bellflower and the band was mostly boys with a few girls.
Mr. Reeves had a lovely wife named Gladys, silver hair and a big smile. There were two sons. I believe Gladys was his second wife, perhaps the first had died. There was a small building where the sections practiced. I was given a trombone because my arms were long. The trombone section met once or twice a week. Mr. Reeves wanted us to learn to sound like trombones. One illustration he did was to take a rag and rip it. He said thats how you should sound when playing the music "slid'n some."
The junior band met in a large garage. The instruments were not by sections. Each week we were allowed to challenge the person ahead of us, to move up in our position. I remember once challenging a kid with drum sticks playing on a chair. Often we would march in a circle learning to march and to play our music. Mrs. Reeves was marching in front of me and I kept hitting her in the head with my trombone slide. I was so embarassed.
The regular band was as any band, intruments were in sections. We played every Saturday in the big garage. I remember the first few parades I was in. I was told to only pretend to play, but to keep in step, marching with the band. The band had won numerous awards, but Mr. Reeves was tired of the politicians. They wanted him to give favors to their own kids, he would not.
In the five years I was in the band before Mr. Reeves retired, we went to many parades. I remember playing one night in Long Beach for the Christmas parade. It was sooo cold and this is where I drank my first cup of coffee. Another parade was in Artesia, a Portugese religious parade, so slow, we marched playing the saddest music, people marched with Catholic banners. Afterwards we were in for a big treat. Tables of food. Big dish pans full of the best beef stew. Big hunks of beef and big hunks of french bread to sop up the wonderful broth. They also had kegs of wine, but we didn't drink that. We toured the national parks in California, We went to Milwaukee wisconsin and later to Atlantic City New Jersey, marching on the Board Walk. In the final years I was the first chair trombone. Mr. Reeves gave me a complement. We sounded good while marching and playing.
Mr Reeves was strict, so strict that he called the Boy Scouts "Boy slouches," by comparison. We were taught good manners. When we ate at cafeterias we could order what we wanted, so long as it was less than one dollar and twenty five cents. In that day that bought a good meal. We always said please and thank you when served.
Was it by chance that I was trained on the trombone? I don't think so.
Music: "Them Basses", from a record the band made in 1955.
Reeves Memories and History
John and Jim Reeves
Reeves Band Newspaper Clippings