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The Best Marine Band Soloists

by, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band, retired
edited by David Werden

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     I don’t know what gives ME the right to evaluate the best Marine Band soloists but I SHOULD be able to give you my opinion. Everyone has a right to his own opinion and I certainly do have that right. I have heard all of the ones I will write about, some every day on tour through several tours. Some I only heard a few times but so outstanding were they that they are obviously great soloists to write about and I WILL write about these, too.
 
FLUTE - Clayton Lindsay - He was by far the best flutist the Marine Band ever had, in my opinion. He retired in 1950, I believe, but he certainly made a big impression on me. As a chair man he was flawless. He played beautifully at all times. I only ever heard him on one solo - with the Marine Band Symphony Orchestra - but what a stunning performance he presented! It was the Doppler “Hungarian Pastorale”, or whatever the correct title is. We often hear this solo on the radio by all sorts of famous flute soloists but, let me tell you, none of these famous players can even come close to Lindsay’s marvelous playing of this fine solo.

PICCOLO - Leslie Sheary and Gail Bowlin - With this instrument I must list two fine players. Although I never served in the Marine Band with Gail, I did hear her many times both in chair work and on solos. She was a very fine soloist and some of her solos were performed better than I’ve ever heard before or since. I’m sure that her chair work was wonderful, as well. With Leslie Sheary it was his particularly wonderful chair work which makes me list him as one of the two best piccolo players in the Marine Band. He sat right under “Uncle Albert’s” nose for many, many years and I can NEVER remember Leslie ever being corrected, bawled out, chastised, etc. He was always right up on the parts and no matter how difficult, how exposed, etc. the part was, Leslie had it down pat. His chair work was stunning, in my opinion.
 
OBOE - Wayne Raper - Although this very young man wasn’t in the Marine Band very long, he still stands out in my mind for some very beautiful work. He had a beautiful, crisp, bright, and lively tone. He could always cut the parts. Truthfully, the Marine Band never did have a great oboe player, in my days with the Marine Band, so Raper couldn’t come close to the excellence of other of our notable players. However, he was the best who comes to mind right now on oboe.
 

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BASSOON - William Koch - Bill Koch was a really fine bassoon player and he excelled in both chair work and in solos, although I don’t believe that he ever did play many solos. I did get to hear him in a few simple solos and he did fine. His chair work was particularly fine, better than all of those who have come after him, in my opinion.
 
ALTO SAXOPHONE - Kenneth Douse - There is no contest here. Kenny Douse stands far above all of the Sax players who came before (so I hear) and those who came after him (from my own experience). He was an absolutely marvelous soloist. Never better. His stage presence was the best ever. Far above all of the other soloists I’ve ever seen, anywhere. When he walked to the front of the stage, he had the audience in his hip pocket from the very start. I really believe that even if his playing were not so great he would still “WOW” his audiences just by the strength of his stage presence. You had to see it to appreciate it or to understand how powerful it was.
     Kenny had a “lantern jaw” and when he smiled, it was a very wide open smile which won over all who saw it. Besides that, he suffered from some slight lordosis (meaning that he was a bit sway-backed). He stood straight as he could and his lordosis gave him a much better posture than he otherwise could have had. Together with that wide smile, the wonderful posture gave him some of his great stage presence. He was terrific in that regard.
     His playing was always of the first order, in his chair work or in his solo work. He was a flawless soloist. Never seeming to miss a note. Perhaps he never did miss a note. I never detected any missed or fluffed notes, anyway. I did get to hear him perform on one or two tours, day after day for many days. He always performed exactly the same way - seemingly perfectly. Yes, Kenny Douse was the best on sax I’ve ever heard.

TENOR SAX - Stephen Rammer - Steve really wasn’t a soloist but I can’t remember hearing many, if any, tenor sax solos, anyway, so I must judge a tenor sax man by his chair work. Steve was the best I’ve heard in the Marine Band - at least, in my days in the band. He could cut the parts well and he had a beautiful, soft tone. Best heard.

BARITONE SAX - Felix Eau Claire - Perhaps no one knows about Phil Eau Claire. He was one of two in the Marine Band during my time in the band who had played on the Sousa Band.* He was a very good sax player on alto sax and on baritone sax. He could not compete with Kenny Douse on alto sax - Kenny was far above all of the others - but on baritone sax, Phil was the best in the Marine Band. He was a very good soloist, playing solos on alto sax and on bar, sax. He had a beautiful tone and adequate, but not flashy, technique. *Clyde Hall was the other.
 
CORNET - Winfred Kemp and Bob DeHart - Again, here we must include two players. Not because they were equal in all ways. They weren’t. Of the two Winnie Kemp was the power player, the extreme player, the steady soloist and chair man. With DeHart we had a marvelous technician with the bright, crisp, pretty tone. Not noted for power, he was full of technique. His undependability and spotty performances after the first few years in the Marine Band were a detriment. Yet, he was full of talent and ability. Even when in poor playing condition, he could still put out a brilliant solo performance. Too bad that his own personal problems kept him from reaching even higher then he did.
     Kemp had all of the stuff of a great player. He had a huge tone, tremendous volume when needed, lots of technique, great style, fine interpretation of parts, etc.etc.etc. In my opinion he was much better than Herbert L. Clarke. I believe that Clarke was what we call a “mezzo forte player”. That means that such a player never “puts out” too much, always plays confidentially, and never plays over mf. Certainly, one can see that such a player would not make out well with the Marine Band. He couldn’t have been heard most of the time. Well, Winnie Kemp could be heard NO MATTER HOW loudly the band was playing. He’d just hunker down and put on the pressure. Out came tremendous sound, undistorted but very loud, and the band, which might be faltering, would rally around him and all would come together nicely.
     Although I never played in the Marine Band with Kemp, I did often hear him on radio broadcasts in the 1930s, as well as in the one Marine Band tour concert I attended in 1938, and of course, there is his fantastic solo recording of “Fantasia Capriccioso” which is a stunning performance, especially when one considers that it was recorded after three hours of a recording session were over. One side of six sides was empty and he was assigned to fill that side with his solo. He played it without preparation, without notice, just on the spur of the moment, as it were. Yet, it is a masterpiece, in my opinion.
     Bob DeHart in his last three years in the Marine Band got straightened out and his first chair work was fine. I played with him throughout this three year period. Whenever he and I had a unison soli part, or some duet part, to play, it always went so beautifully (at least HIS part did), that it was a great pleasure for me to be playing along with him. He ebbed and flowed exactly as I did. We must have studied with teachers who taught the exact same style. I don’t know who his teacher was but mine was Harold Brasch, of the Navy Band. 9 years with him did wonders for me, I’ll tell you.

TRUMPET - Clendenin - Don’t remember his first name because he got into the band not long before I left. He was, perhaps, the best trumpet player I have heard during my days with the Maine Band. He had tremendous technique and a wonderful, large tone. He apparently had everything. Too bad that he didn’t stay longer than he did. He was a true professional player.

Eb CLARINET - Ronnie Knorr - He was a fine Eb Clarinet player and he had a big, loud, robust tone with plenty of technique. There never was any question that Ronnie could play any part which came along, probably at sight, perfectly. Not known as a solo instrument, the Eb Clarinet didn’t give Ronnie any opportunity for solo work but his first chair work was wonderful.

Bb Clarinet - Joseph Leo and Harold Malsh - Certainly in the days when I was in the Marine Band and, probably, before the time I got into the band, as well, no other clarinet soloist ever approached Joe Leo’s excellence on solo work. He was an extremely brilliant soloist and his chair work wasn’t far behind it. On first chair he was eclipsed by Bud Malsh who was an unflappable chair man. Nothing bothered Bud and it showed in his very dependable, very fine first chair work. However, Bud was eclipsed by Joe on solo work. For these reasons it would be very difficult to pick one of these players over the other when both first chair work and solo work were considered. While Bud was better on the chair than Joe, Joe was better as a soloist than Bud. So it wound up being a toss-up. We have to pick both players. (Many of “our” present Clarinet players are marvelous).
     Whenever Bud Malsh wasn’t there, Joe was often on first chair. He was excellent there but, perhaps, not as steady as Bud. Whenever Bud was playing a solo, he always did a bang-up job but while his performance was rock solid, note perfect, and very good, Joe’s own solo performances were in addition to these attributes very brilliant, full of fire and energy. Joe was brilliant while Bud was steady.

BASS CLARINET - Daniel Tabler - While the bass clarinetists who got into the band after I got out were far superior to Danny, he was probably the best one with whom I served in the Marine Band. Not a great soloist, he was very good in any difficult bass clarinet part which came along. Morton Gould’s “Guaracha” is one which is difficult and which Danny played in fine fashion.

FRENCH HORN - James Basta and Douglas Stevens - Here, again, we have two very different players. One was strong in areas where the other was weak, and vice versa. Jimmie Basta was as steady as you would want but he did not have any feeling in his playing and his rhythm was loused up many times, especially in little solo parts. Doug, on the other hand, was not as flawless as Jimmie, but he had lots of feeling in his playing. Both did play solos and Doug was flashier but Jimmie was better prepared, it seemed. So it was difficult to chose one player over the other despite how better one was than the other in certain areas. I do believe that others who came after I left the band were better than either of the above named players.

TROMBONE - Robert Isele - Here we have, perhaps, the best player both on solo and on chair work that the Marine Band ever had in its ranks. In fact I am strongly of this opinion. Bob Isele had everything and loads of it. His solos were never approached by any who came after him and, in my opinion, he was even better than Arthur Pryor. In fact I believe that he was a lot better than Pryor.
     Bob could do it all - flawless chair work, unexcelled solo work, fine orchestral chair work, dance band work, everything. As a soloist he was right on top of the solo at all times. Seldom did he fluff a note. His extremely brilliant style of playing would have made a lot of clinkers inconsequential, had he ever made a lot - he did not, of course. His chair work was flawless. I believe that he was the best reader of the band - ever. I never ever heard him muff anything in sight reading or fail to play the part at sight in an accomplished and musical manner. When the rest of us were striving to follow the notes and not get bogged down in our sight reading, Bob was putting out finished performances - AT SIGHT! Unbelievable.

EUPHONIUM - Luke Spiros and Karl Humble - Here, again, we have a tie. Each of these players was much different in playing style and ability than the other. But where one might have been weak, the other was strong, and vice versa. Very difficult to say one was better than the other. Luke was the fellow with the enormous tone on euphonium - biggest, by far, that I’ve ever heard. He was a brilliant soloist, but very spotty. One performance would be the best you’d ever heard and the very next would be a disaster. But his chair work was as steady and consistent as he was not on solo work. Karl Humble was not as brilliant a soloist as was Luke but he was note perfect at all times and very dependable. He never did play solos which were very difficult, “Phenomenal” being his most difficult, I believe. Luke played them all - extremely tough to easy. Karl was wonderful on first chair. He had a lot of volume so could always be heard. He had a nice tone. He could cut the parts. Well, so could Luke. Again, it was a tossup between those two.
     I must note here that, in my opinion, some of the players who are in the Marine Band currently are superior to Luke or Karl, especially on solo work. However, I will only list those in the band when I was there.

TUBA - Louis Saverino - There is no contest here. While some of the current tuba players are terrific, Louie was a virtuoso in the true sense of the word, in my opinion. His chair work was way beyond anything I’ve heard before or since, in any band. His tone was, to quote Lt.Col. Harpham, “UNBELIEVABLE”. Best tuba tone ever heard. His solo work was the most brilliant I’ve heard on tuba and his solo style was terrific. He could do things you wouldn’t believe on tuba. Also, he was talented enough to play solos on four other different band instruments. His chair work on band bass violin was the most positive and the most solid I’ve ever heard. Wonderful.

MARIMBA/XYLOPHONE - Charles Owen - I guess that he stands alone in this area - solo work on marimba or xylophone. Certainly he was a wonderful soloist. Great stage presence. Not the type of a Kenny Douse, but a quiet type of strong and competent confidence. He got it over to the audience with a faint smile. He was absolutely note perfect in his parts. Evidently, he was a fine reader, as well, for he always was right on top of things in his chair work. Naturally, there isn’t much for marimba/xylophone in band parts so he was the band’s principal percussionist and tympani player. He was a master of all of those instruments.

HARP - Claude Pedicord - There is no contest here, either. He was a wonderful soloist. Played solos on countless tours. Always did a great job. Played the best, most musical solos. Great execution. Flawless technique. Great solo style. Very dependable. In band parts he excelled, too. When he got tired of sitting doing nothing in a piece without a harp part, he wrote himself one. There are many band pieces in the Marine Band Library with manuscript parts which Claude wrote so he would have something to play. He usually did play a lot of stuff in marches, as well - glissandos, arpeggios, etc. They add a lot to a performance and he was well aware of that. He was a true band harpist but one with a symphony orchestra background.

A.W.L. 22 October 1995