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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Band Ahoy: 1923

Band Ahoy: 1923

Washington, D.C., circa 1923. "Navy Yard Band." Brass, woodwinds and a surfeit of strings. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Bluejacket Orchestra

The bandmaster in the center of the photo appears to be Charles Benter.

Washington Post, Dec 16, 1923

Navy Band Proves Pleasing in
Concert Directed by Benter

That Washington in the United States Navy band possesses a military band comparable to the famous United States Marine band was fully demonstrated last week in the fifth anniversary concert of the naval musicians at Memorial Concert hall. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt put it, "The U.S. Navy band confirms the belief that the U.S. navy can do anything it sets out to do, in the best possible style."

The concert was given under the distinguished patronage of Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Edwin Denby, …

The bluejacket musicians presented a picturesque appearance as they sat on the flag-draped platform, garbed in their "blues."

The entire program was directed by Bandmaster Charles Benter, who was masterly in the handling of his men, and in the scholarly precision and understanding in the reading of the scores.

A novel feature was that the band first played as a symphony orchestra with string instruments. The first half of the program was given over to this display of the versatile genius of the musicians many of whom play three or four instruments with ease.

A tone poem "Finlandia," by Jean Sibelius opened the program. It was smoothly played and with unusual expression. Musician E.A. Ambrogio appeared as violin soloist in "Meditation" from "Thais," next. His tone was true and of rare sweetness and the whole orchestra showed musical strength and careful training in the "Finale Fourth Movement," by Tschaikowsky. …

The musicians then turned to their band instruments. … The band numbers proved to be filled with vim, and the bluejacket musicians were acceptable technically and from a popular viewpoint as well. The band numbers were "Fantasia," "Reminiscences of the Plantation" (Chambers), cornet solo, "Inflamatus," from "Stabat Mater"; rhapsody, "Espana" (Chabrler); suite "Ballet Divertissement," From "Henry VIII" (Saint-Saens), and the "Star Spangled Banner."


I'm struck by the number of sailors in this photo who have no rating/rank. Notice the unadorned left sleeves (indicating, most likely, a Seaman Recruit, or E-1 in today's military parlance) of the uniforms of most of these gobs. Band duty must have been a tough career field to advance in.

What did they play on their nights off?

I wonder how many of these players had a sideline in ragtime and hot jazz. Some of them certainly certainly look the part.


I think these are the first sailors we've seen who have used shoe polish.

Bull fiddles

get played by the most bullish, I guess.

Way back when!

Back in the early 60's when I went to Navy boot camp at Great Lakes,I met a senior Master Chief Musician who at that time had 50 years service in the Navy!! I look at this picture and wonder "Is he here?"

Navy Yard Band

Hard to picture these guys with their violins and bass fiddles marching with President Harding in Alaska that year. Thee Navy Yard Band became the Navy Band in 1925. This picture from 1923 looks like a different group, but with the same bandleader:

But this is a little personal for me: my dad was born in 1924 and raised in the apartment above the restaurant my grandfather ran across the street from the Navy Yard's main entrance. These fellows had to have been patrons there and must have known my grandparents (and maybe even my father).

Zing went the strings

There are some strange people in that front row string section. (I assume that isn't a marching band.)

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