by Robert Moore
J.D. Flanary, our band director, had a passion for dance band music and he was eager to teach it to his students. And we were just as eager to learn how to master a different kind of music, which included many old classic songs and jazz improvisations. We gladly practiced after school hours, using special arrangements from big bands and some written by Flanary himself.
When we had finally accumulated enough music, and made ourselves known locally, it became time to “hit the road”. That meant that Flanary would try to book some engagements for high school proms, country club dances, etc, for pay. The guys in the group loved making some spend money. There was one problem, however. We needed a female vocalist to dress up the band and the likely candidates had trouble getting permission from their parents to travel with a bunch of teenage boys. So that meant either one of their parents had to agree to go along or Flanary had to provide a chaperon. Fortunately, Flanary’s wife could sometimes fill in that requirement, as she had the trust of the band member’s parents.
The band built a good music reputation, but there were challenges. For one thing, it seemed that every engagement we had was accompanied by a crisis of some sort-we called it a “panic”. For example, on one trip the drummer forgot his sticks and brushes, and ended up playing with pine branches which Flanary tore from a tree at the last minute. On another occasion, our lead trumpet player got sick and threw up in the car all over the rest of us in our “uniforms”. We had to pull into a service station and try to wash our clothes before the dance. Needless to say, the band literally “stunk” that night, since the clothes were still trying to dry as we played. There were numerous other “panic” situations to include missing music, no lights for the stands, etc. And during one prom night, late in the evening, a sleepy trumpet player lost his balance and fell backwards off the raised platform in the school’s gym. He knocked down all the decorations behind with a loud crash. It sort of spoiled the magic of the evening for the dancers, if you know what I mean. I don’t think we were ever invited back.
As our playing experience matured, Flanary allowed some of us to play with older musicians in smaller combos, with the permission of our parents. Some of the players had actually played jazz music in New York and Chicago before giving up the lifestyle and “retiring”. We were paid “union scale” per hour, which seemed like a fortune to me at the time. The downside was playing well past midnight in places like the Copper Kettle in Norton, and then having to find a ride home. Mom never really approved of my late Saturday night “gigs” and was not amused at my sleeping in so late on the following Sunday mornings.
The experience from this time in my life later allowed me to help cover some expenses while in college, as well as continue to play for personal enjoyment. In fact, my “bro” and I had a mean little sax duet going at one time. It was called the Brothers Moore. He had all the background music computer generated, with a full sound system in support. I’m sure he continues to honk away at times, if his neighbors and cats will allow it.