My good friend Molly Skardon, who is the driving force behind the Oral History Project at Governors Island National Monument, has published a piece about military musicians in this month’s edition of the Julliard Journal. I encourage you to check it out. When we think of music and the Great War we inevitably and properly think of James Reese Europe and his jazz men. That is just part of the story, however. Many of the A.E.F. bands have their roots in a program started just before the outbreak of the conflict. Music has always been important to the military. At Governors Island military bands trace their roots as far back as the 1830s. John Philip Sousa led the U.S. Marine Band for years before striking out on his own. It’s difficult for people in the twenty-first century to grasp the cultural impact he still has today. Molly informs us that the Army’s musical tradition began a new chapter in 1911 when the Institute of Musical Art–the institution that became Juilliard–founded the Military Band Department. Some of America’s greatest musicians have learned their art in this musical laboratory.
When the First Army was stationed on Governors Island its band was responsible for performances of all kinds–funerals, parades, state visits, and whatever else the brass came up with. Molly and I, with others, have interviewed some of these people as part of the OHP. Some of these guys are still active as well. We saw one of them play in Greenwich Village a few months back. We never had the good fortune of seeing Michael Rose play, but we did interview him over the summer. Up top is a video of him and his band which he posted just yesterday. Mr. Rose got his start playing as a young trumpeter stationed on Governors Island in the 1950s. He went on to play with Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, and many others.
Remember that next week is Veterans Day. Here is a slightly different link to Molly’s article, with related links to other stories about Juilliard’s relationship with the military. And by the way if you are a veteran of Governors Island’s First Army Band, or were stationed there in any capacity, please contact me about setting up an oral history interview.