THE BACK STORY:
I started playing trumpet when I was in grade 5. Mrs. Kitty Carson at Kerrisdale Elementary said, “We are going to have a band this year. Does anyone want to play trumpet?” Five of us got up. My oldest brother had shown me how to make a sound on his trumpet. She liked my sound the best so I got to play trumpet. My brother took lessons from Gus Sheedle who played in the symphony. He used to come to our house and I would listen to his lessons. I played all through school. In high school, a classmate by the name of Bill Dudlets put together a swing band and I remember we played in the first Vancouver Stage Band Festival at David Thompson Secondary in 1972. We had a good stage band at Point Grey and a good concert band because all the stage band guys played in the concert band.
I was 14 years old when I auditioned for the Beefeaters in 1970. My first trip was to the Calgary Stampede in 1972 where we played in the Stampede parade. We had a very competitive band that year and took the top 5 prizes out of 6 that were awarded.
In 1973, the entire first trumpet section couldn’t go on the planned trip to Hawaii that summer. They had to work to make money for university in the fall. Mr. Olson auditioned all the remaining trumpets and bumped me up ten positions to be right behind Ross Noble and Ken Olson. Mr.(Gordon) Olson said to my mom, “I can’t believe how much Jamie has improved.” My original audition had not been very good so I had started in the band way down on third chair. In Hilo, Hawaii we marched in a big parade. At the end of the parade we were just sweating and ridiculously hot because of our wool uniforms. When we got back to the bus we begged the driver to turn the air conditioning right up. A couple of days later we were setting up in a courtyard at an elementary school getting ready to play a concert. All of a sudden we heard this rumbling and we could see the houses in the distance going up and down in waves. I remembered what my mom always said to do in case of an earthquake,” Go stand in a wide open space or in a door frame.” The next thing we knew there were four waves passing one at a time underneath us and we rose up and down with each wave. It was only seconds before some US Navy jets flew past heading toward the source of the earthquake. We found out later that we were 36 miles from the epicenter of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake. It was felt in Vancouver. The next morning we boys had to walk 40 minutes from the barracks where we were staying to get breakfast because there were no vehicles allowed on the damaged roads. The girls stayed in a seaside hotel with a beach and a pool.
In 1975 we went to Edinburgh. When we arrived in London, en route, we couldn’t find anywhere to practice. We went to Hyde Park but the ground was too uneven and, after playing a couple of tunes, the police kicked us out. It would have been easy for us to injure ourselves marching on wobbly ground. So we didn’t practice for a week. Mr. Olson was an outstanding band director. He had some techniques that he used to get what he needed from the band. For example, when we arrived at our next stop in York, still en route to Edinburgh, we had a couple of hours to spare. We found a triangular piece of ground and got out to practice. We sounded terrible and the ground was rough. He knew it would be bad but he wanted us to regain our focus. He gave us a lot of grief that day trying to whip us into shape. We only had 6 trumpets. At dusk Mr. Olson said, “Come on; let’s go get a Wimpy burger.” As we were getting into the bus the trumpets agreed to stay behind for more practice. We practiced our marching for about an hour and then we walked back to the university where we were staying. There was a heat wave that summer and it was hard to find a cold drink. We found some finally at the university then we practiced our music for another hour and a half. We basically memorized it. The next day we arrived in Edinburgh and went straight to Craigy Hall where we were staying. Once out of the bus Mr. Olson immediately called another practice out on the adjacent football pitch. On the field he said, “Trumpets you don’t have your music.” We told him we had memorized our parts. We sounded great! It wasn’t long before he started giving grief to the other sections. “Why can’t you sound like the trumpets?” he asked. He let us trumpets go half way through the rehearsal. We were in Edinburgh for five weeks, the run of the Tattoo. We made a recording with the military bands that year and another one in 1977. Also staying at Craigy Hall were the Maori Singers. The first night they all went into town and the next day they were restricted to barracks. There was a bomb threat made against them. Nice guys! They weren’t allowed to play rugby either because someone always seemed to break a collarbone or something. The band worked hard that summer. The crowds were amazing! There were five military bands and five pipe bands in all. When they all came together and played in the Grand Finale it was such a beautiful sound. Near the end, all the lights would dim for the lone piper on the castle ramparts to play “Sunset”. In the darkness, the front row of the massed military bands would throw something over the rest of the musicians behind them: toilet paper one night. The entire formation was covered in toilet paper. Another night it was mandarin oranges and another night coins. You could hear them tingeing off the brass bells. Then all the wind bands would join in with the lone piper and all the pipe bands would join. It’s such a beautiful piece. It was such a great musical experience for us in that format and to hear the full size of the band was wonderful and had such a great low brass section. For the finale the massed wind bands marched off the esplanade to ‘Scotland the Brave’ (I think); we would all do a counter-march then back down the esplanade out onto High Street. We all had to stop and pass through this narrow cast iron gate on the right, one by one. I was at the back of the line and the pipe bands who came out behind us playing the Black Bear March were bearing down on me. The drums were pounding and the buildings were rattling. I was confronted by a wall of bass drums and guys who looked much bigger than they were with busbies and epaulets. I couldn’t get out of the way. They were frightening! I got the full realization why they were used in war. I remember the first night they had half price tickets for seniors. We started off our portion with fanfare trumpets. The lights would dim and we would run off and exchange our fanfare trumpets for small ones and then get up on stage in time to play. Then we would walk off the risers and go into our drill routine. It was an amazing show. After the show Al Guraliuk and I went back to get the fanfare trumpets. We were tall and could see out over the entire crowd as they were leaving. The average height was about 5 foot three inches. We towered above them. One night near the end of our stay about ten of us found a pub. A couple of us went up to get the drinks. On the way back an old guy tugged at my pant leg and asked, “Excuse me lad but is there a competition?” only in Great Britain. They were great times!
In 1977, in Vancouver, before we went to London for three weeks for the Royal Tournament (Queen’s Jubilee) and then Cardiff for the Cardiff Military Tattoo, Frank Minear came up from Seattle. He had designed the field drills and written the arrangements. In practice, I decided to try some double B’s and double C high notes. He came running over to me and said, “Is that you of going up an octave?” “Sorry,” I said. “No, no leave them in. It sounds great!” So it became a part of the show. In England we played at the Warwickshire Agricultural Show to warm up before the Royal Tournament. That was tough to follow the cows on the field. One poor guy forgot his black shoes and he had to march the entire show in his stockings. Then, back in London, we marched in a parade around St. James Park which took us past Buckingham Palace. We followed the Royal Air Force Band and behind us were the massed bands of the Royal Marines. The Royal Marine Band was made up of three bands. In total 250 players. Fifty of them were drummers with 200 winds. Neither of those bands played drum cadences between songs. When they were four bars from the end of one piece, the bass drummer would play a roll off then they would just go straight into the next number with a flip of their music folders. All the musicians were issued Boosey & Hawkes instruments. They were each taught the same vibrato and military playing technique. Each British military band has its own tempo. Their tempo is slower than the military bands of other countries and has a permanence about it; a patience, a sound of empire! I was by myself one time walking under the stands at Earls Court (Stadium). I could hear what sounded like a hockey organ playing Rule Britannia. I went around the corner and discovered it wasn’t an organ but the 200 wind musicians from the Royal Marines Band; piccolo to tuba, so perfect. I was 21 on that trip and I went as a playing chaperon. My chaperon tag was enough to get me into the Junior ranks club, the Sergeant’s Mess and the Officer’s Mess. I could go anywhere I wanted for a meal. The boys stayed on the 6th floor of the Earls Court building. The girls stayed at the Teacher’s College downtown and were bused in every morning. Half way up the stairs one day after a show some members of the Kiwi Infantry Band accosted me and started interrogating me how I got those high notes. How did I do it! I wound up meeting their lead trumpet player who was my age. We hung out and played some duets a couple of times. He was a beautiful player. When we were playing at the Cardiff Torchlight Tattoo the Welsh Guards Band was there as well. Between shows the Major who was the Director of their band called me over to his table. He says, “How would you like to play with us? We would like your high notes in our band.” I asked, “What’s the up side?” “Well, we’ll feed you, we’ll cloth you, we’ll give you room and board plus we’ll pay you. All you have to do is play your trumpet all day long.” “What’s the downside?” I investigated. “Well, you will have to do duty in Northern Ireland for six weeks out of every year.” “Is that with my trumpet?” “Unfortunately not!” It had not been a good year for the British in Northern Ireland. Beautiful band! I would have loved to play in their band.
The Olson’s were great role models. Louisa managed the majorettes and shared most of the behind the scene matters as well. They always showed a lot of formality in front of the band. Mr. Olson was a very skilled and talented man. He was very supportive to us all in a fatherly way. He always maintained that formality but he was a complete person. We got to see him smile, laugh, be angry, he was very personable. When it was time for business though, Mr. Olson was very firm, always in a fair and appropriate way.
Being in the Beefeater band gave me a strong background in music fundamentals. I learned a lot of things that Mr. Olson focused on: timing, expression, tone, articulation. One of the biggest challenges facing any young musician is where to play after high school. First we find a home in our high school band. But after high school where do we go? I was lucky! On the flight home from London in 1977 I decided I wanted to play the trumpet professionally in Vancouver. A couple of days after we returned to Vancouver we had a performance at a BC Lions game. I played my high notes again. A few days later I got a call from the great Dave Robbins. “Do you want to play in my band?” He must have heard me and liked my high notes. It was the same thing with Dal Richards. Dal was famous for his work with the Beefeaters and the B.C. Lions so he might have known about me from those days. It ended up being a pretty busy future for me.
Traditions and legends of the Beefeater Band were passed down to each new member by the senior members. There is one story about the band’s first visit to the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena in 1963. It was the top parade of the college football world. It was the first time the band donned their new Beefeater uniforms. The bands in front and behind them in the marshaling area called them names and laughed at their new uniforms. It made them so mad all 120 of them marched and played the best parade they had ever marched and beat out the number one, two and three college bands in the USA to take away the trophy and the grand prize. This story is one of the cornerstones of the continuing pride in the Beefeater Band; a true espri de corps.
See Jamie singing and playing trumpet with the Dal Richards Orchestra below on You-Tube.