In the fall of 2011, 25 or so local musicians got together in pursuit of one mission: to bring back the musical tradition of the old Globe City Band, which performed in Globe for more than 100 years.
The Globe City Band’s beginnings came about not long after Globe was established, in the late 1800s. Old newspaper clippings show mustachioed musicians dressed in uniform, posing sternly with their trombones, saxophones and tubas in hand. They had the support of the local media, who touted their talent on a regular basis.
In Sept. 1907, the band accompanied Globe’s baseball team on a train to Cananea, Mexico for a match celebrating the 100th year of Mexico’s independence.
“The band with its full strength of 22 pieces will be the leading musical attraction at Cananea tomorrow,” the Arizona Silver Belt wrote, “and the inhabitants of that camp will probably hear the best band they have ever listened to in their hometown.”
In August 1908, the Silver Belt stated that “hundreds of people gathered on the courthouse steps and in the street last night to hear the public concert given by the Globe City Band. The concert, as a matter of fact, would have done credit to many a metropolitan band, and to say that it was highly appreciated would be to put it mildly.”
The band cycled through directors as the years past, I am told. Milton Nunamaker directed the band from around 1955 to 1970. School band leaders took on the task after him, then Cruz Mendoza led the band until 1995. Some members left and others stuck around. One of its longest standing members was local musician Johnny Mercer, who joined the band as a teenager in 1939, and remained a member until its end.
In the ‘50s, Mercer’s daughter Kathleen would sit on the courthouse steps to watch her dad play in the band every weekend during the summer.
“When I was a child, the band still played in the bandbox by the courthouse steps,” she remembers. “People filled the steps or sat in their cars.”
The bandleader stood in the bandbox too. It was so cramped that the trumpet and trombone players leaned against the rails to fit the entire band in.
Mercer was still in the Globe City Band when it dissolved in ’95. In 2010, Kathleen returned to Globe-Miami from Pendleton, Oregon with her husband Nolan Frost. Like Kathleen, Frost is rooted in music. (The two met while playing music for Oregon’s Inland Northwest Orchestra, in the flute section.) After years of playing the flute, he conducted school bands, as well as an orchestra.
Together, they dreamed up the “Globe Miami Centennial Band” with high hopes. Frost would lead the band (initially with Richard Franc0), and Kathleen would perform alongside the other musicians. Mustaches and uniforms aside, they prepared to bring the old City Band back.
A year after Frost accepted a music teaching position at Miami High, the two began recruiting local musicians from both Globe and Miami to join the Centennial Band.
“We wanted to make sure it was not just a Miami thing or a Globe thing,” Frost adds. “We wanted make sure people felt included.”
Once the word spread, they didn’t have much trouble finding others. By the first rehearsal there were 25 players, including Mercer, in addition to other former City Band players, like Keith and Linda Gustafson.
Hailing from Chicago, the Gustafsons played in the City Band since the late ‘70s. Prior, Keith played saxophone and clarinet in a Chicago band called the Al Pierson Orchestra, traveling all over the Midwest. Linda played timpani and triangle in the Chicago Light Opera, and later played with the Lamp Lighters, a big band in Chicago.
After years with the City Band in Globe, it was a no-brainer for the couple to join the Centennial Band. Linda switched to the alto sax and flute.
“We that love music find avenues to play,” Linda says. “We stick together.”
Others, like Paul Buck (who now assists Miami’s high school marching band) hadn’t played music in years. After playing percussion as a kid, and tuba and bass guitar in high school jazz band, Buck enlisted in the military.
“I didn’t have any aspirations of playing again, but it was something I just couldn’t let go,” he remembers. “So when Nolan and Kathleen put together the Centennial Band, I was more than willing to join.”
He was there the first night the Centennial Band rehearsed.
Since then, the Centennial Band has grown to about 35 members, from ages 13 to 91. Like the Gustafsons, a handful of other members have played professionally, either in the Navy, college or in symphonies. Other members live dual lives—employees by day, musicians by night.
Together, the band puts on a good five concerts a year throughout Globe-Miami, whether it is on a rainy day at the Globe Home Tour, or in the glaring summer heat during the Boomtown Spree. Like their predecessors, the Centennial Band continues to breathe life into Globe-Miami in the same fashion.
Unlike the City Band, however, the Centennial band has two layers: a concert band and a jazz band.
A lot of players in the jazz band double on instruments. Flute players double on saxes, clarinet players double on saxes, or fluctuate between trumpet and baritone, or timpani and keyboard.
When Buck joined, he picked up the alto sax for the concert band, which meant learning treble clef in addition to bass clef.
“If you’re a good musician and you already know the language of music, it’s much easier to switch,” Frost says. “And then it’s just a matter of mastering the physicality of it.”
During any given performance, they might play one of the City Band’s old songs, just as easily as they might improvise, New Orleans-street style, or break from a slow ballad into funk.
You can thank Frost for the eclectic musical variety. Sure, he enjoys Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Concert-goers like marches, so he’ll frequently throw a march number into the set, too.
But, he confesses, “I’m a voracious listener,” thus his varied musical tastes bleed into the band.
Most recently, the band performed a baroque piece by French composer Jean-Joseph Mouret, as well as Robert Russell Bennett’s Suite of Old American Dances, the Latin song “Brasilia,” tunes from the Wizard of Oz, and the Three Klezmer Miniatures.
Frost wanted to move the jazz band from dance numbers into performance-style jazz, so they also learned “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” written by Louis Armstrong and Lil Harden.
“It has a couple different styles in it. Rhythmically everybody is very exposed,” Frost explains. “There is a section in the middle of it where the whole band has to improvise together, in a sort of New Orleans-style, street music kind of thing.”
“It really pushes the knowledge of your scales, too,” Buck adds. “That song has more accidentals than anything else we’ve got.”
“Accidentals?” I ask.
“Notes that aren’t typically in the scale,” he answers.
Whatever the case, “I try to bring things into band that are different on both ends of the spectrum, that people aren’t familiar with. Some traditional things, some new things,” Frost says. “I always try to push us to the edge of our ability, at least in some of our numbers, so we’re constantly growing and stretching. If you’re not pushed, it’s really not that fun.”
“Some of the biggest challenges are playing on the upper and lower end of your instrument’s ability, and matching your intonation with the other players in your section,” Buck adds. “We’ve got one song right now where it goes up and down, and up and down, and up and down. It’s supposed to be like a ship crossing the ocean with the waves up and down. To drop down to almost nothing, and then come all the way up and back down over and over again is challenging.
Especially if you are coordinating your sound with 34 other musicians, or, if you are leading the band.
“An interesting challenge for me as the band leader is to work with that as my instrument. You have less control, ironically,” he says with a laugh. “You think the band leader has control, but no.”
Needless to say, you have to have a good ear.
“We were playing a piece, and he stops the band and picks out a single chord. Someone’s been playing the wrong note.” Buck says. “So he can stop us and take us back to one chord and rebuild it from top to bottom, and fix the problem.”
The band continues to expand its instrument collection to add to its sound. The local schools will sometimes lend out instruments. When funds allow, the band will buy an exotic instrument that is hard to come by, like large bass or percussion instruments. Most recently, the band recently bought a baritone saxophone and a keyboard.
The hope, of course, is that the Centennial Band will live on, and continue to entertain, because as Frost points out, “musicians primarily play for themselves first,” and then for others who can appreciate their gift.
Although Mercer left the Centennial Band last year due to health issues, he supposedly still has his horn within reach, and plays along whenever a Lawrence Welk song comes on.
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.