When Bruce Springsteen comes to Southern California at the end of this month, he’ll play to about 85,000 people on each of the four nights he’s at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
But to equal the number of people that have heard one veteran Orange County band, Springsteen would have to sell out the Coliseum every night for eight years . To amass the number of performances this local group has given, Bruce would have to do shows every night for the next 142 years.
The group is the Disneyland Band, and while it may not have any hit albums or singles to its credit, it has become a local institution through more than 52,000 performances for the 250 million people who have visited the Magic Kingdom since it opened 30 years ago.
“It is the musical heartbeat of Disneyland,” said Stan Freese, manager of in-house talent at the park and former director of the Disneyland Band from 1974 to 1984.
The group will give a rare performance outside the Anaheim theme park Sunday at 4 p.m., when it headlines the 15th annual Orange County Musicians’ Festival at the Newporter Resort in Newport Beach. Other Magic Kingdom personnel taking part in “Bash ’85"--the yearly local music showcase at which 500 Orange County musicians will perform--include festival grand marshal Mickey Mouse and the popular Disneyland Saxophone Quintet.
Although the Disneyland Band is now as integral to the park as the Matterhorn or Tom Sawyer’s Island, it wasn’t originally supposed to be that way.
“The band was hired by Walt to play the first day and just to stay on for a short run to help open up the park,” Freese said. “But it was so well accepted, and Walt liked it so much himself, that those few days of work have lasted the duration.”
In the ensuing years, the group’s musical responsibilities have grown substantially.
“At first it was just for concerts in the park--John Philip Sousa type of music,” Freese said. “That is still a very important part of what the Disneyland Band does. But now it is a multifaceted band that can play traditional music, like ragtime and Disney music, and it is also one of the finest jazz big bands in the country. As hot as it is now, the band can back up other shows and name acts, where before we might have had to hire another outside group.”
Consequently, the demands on new members have also escalated over the years. (Freese said that only one musician, trumpeter Warren Gale, has been with the Disneyland Band since that first year.)
“When we hire, we look for musicians who are totally versatile, both in the number of instruments and the styles they can play,” Freese said. “The trick sometimes is that a musician may have a great legit background and may be a terrific orchestral player, but when you ask him to take a chorus (solo) in F on a Dixieland song, they look at you like you’re from another planet. So that’s the challenge.”
In addition to its average of seven daily performances around the park, Freese said that since 1983 the band has been working in conjunction with the Orange County Philharmonic Society doing educational programs for Orange County elementary school students.
The 15-piece band was chosen as headliner for the musicians’ festival partly because of the major role Disneyland plays in providing work for Orange County professional musicians.
“I think Disney is to be lauded for its continuing support of live music,” said Freese, a tuba virtuoso who joined Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971. “A lot of theme parks around the country don’t make a practice of employing union musicians. At Disneyland, they don’t make a hard dollar on it, but it’s part of the Disney philosophy to bite off ‘X’ amount of dollars to provide that atmosphere of live music for the guests.
“Traditionally, management and unions aren’t always together 100% of the time,” Freese added. “But the Orange County Musicians Assn. and Disneyland have had a unique relationship for the last 30 years. I think that speaks well for Disneyland and for the union.”
Sunday’s musicians’ festival is sponsored by the Orange County Musicians Club, an auxiliary unit of Local 7 of the American Federation of Musicians, also known as the Orange County Musicians Assn.
The purpose of the event is twofold: to provide a forum where the wide variety of Orange County music can be displayed at one location and to raise money for the club’s scholarship and emergency relief funds.
“The emergency relief fund is one of the most used and appreciated tools we have here,” said Doug Sawtelle, president of both the local union and the musicians’ club. “If a member comes in and says his horn was stolen, we’ll have a horn in his hand that night so he can go to work. We’ve put engines in people’s cars, paid for organs to be rewired. If someone’s phone is shut off, we’ll get it turned back on --anything to make it so our members can continue working.”
(Among the union’s community services is a new program called “Operation Child Safe.” Starting this fall, Sawtelle said, the union will make its video production facilities--installed for an innovative video audition service that serves as a model for other AFM locals throughout the country--available free to parents to make a videotape record of their children for identification purposes.)
When the festival gets under way at noon, musical offerings will be spread out over several locations at the Newporter. The varied bill includes pop from Dixieland bands to an all-woman rock group, jazz from combos to big bands and classical music from solo harp to string quartets.
“There are a lot of opportunities in Orange County for classical musicians,” said veteran drummer Frank Amoss, who has performed at the Bash every year since it began in 1971 and is chairman of this year’s event. “There are more than the ordinary amount of orchestras around the county. But we don’t have a single group yet able to provide full-time work for musicians, so most free-lance with several groups.”
Amoss, whose Mississippi Mudders Dixieland band will perform Sunday in the Patio Room, said the local picture for jazz players isn’t quite as bright. “The nightclub scene is at a low ebb, but that’s true nationwide,” Amoss said. “The hot thing is discos. People just want to listen to records. We’re live players.”
Generally, however, Sawtelle said the future--particularly in view of next year’s scheduled opening of the $65.5-million Orange County Performing Arts Center--looks positive for the union’s 1,300 members.
“With all the venues that are developing here, we’re attracting a good pool of talent,” Sawtelle said. “We’re getting musicians from Las Vegas, where shows are down, and some people from L.A. are starting to move down here. We’re very happy with what’s going on in the county.”
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for Supertramp’s Nov. 23 concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre . . . John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers return to the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach on Sept. 21 . . . Canned Heat will play Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach on Sept. 23 . . . The James Harman Band will headline the first of two days of entertainment Sept. 28 and 29 for Laguna Beach’s annual Arts in Motion Festival.