San Jose’s Music Man

Does the sound of “76 Trombones” make your feet stir and, perhaps, you want to do a little tapping or a little marching? If so, you might be interested to know that we had the predecessor of the famous Henry Hill, the “Music Man,” right here in “River City,” San Jose. He lived here about 40 years before Meredith Wilson wrote the wonderful hit Broadway musical, “The Music Man.”

Robert Olmstead led his band in the 1920s and 30s and because it was composed of so many children, the band was known as “Olmstead’s Juveniles.” In 1930, it was photographed in front of the old Victorian City Hall across from where the Fairmont stands today, and 120 young musicians posed for the photo. Fancily painted on the side of the bass drum in big red letters was: “Olmstead’s Juveniles.” The boy band members were outfitted in white shoes, white slacks with a red stripe down the side of each leg, white cap, white shirt, dark red tie and cardinal red cape with white lines. The girls wore the same uniform except for a dark red skirt. Each child featured their instrument in the photograph: trumpet, saxophone or clarinet. etc.; there were also five accordions and one tuba, but only three trombones.

The fame of the colorful band spread far and wide. Fox Movietone News sent a special camera crew to film the band in 1929 and 1930. In the Fiesta de las Rosas Parade of 1930, they received a huge ovation when they appeared on a float, riding and playing. The parade extended from the town of Santa Clara three miles down The Alameda to central San Jose, where it disbanded near Fifth and Santa Clara Streets.

Many of San Jose’s leading citizens of later years were band members as youngsters. Clyde Appleby was a stalwart as were Jack Bariteau, Hester DeLisle, Bill Cilker, Dick Dietz, Arne and Cliff Swenson, and Julius and Nathalia Ramponi.

Olmstead taught music for a fee and sold band instruments and sheet music. While many of the youngsters were musically inclined, some of the others couldn’t play a note. Olmstead actually sold the beginners a cheap starter instrument. When parents became concerned about the lack of ability of their offspring, and the cost of depression-era music lessons, Olmstead countered that they should have a more expensive trumpet, clarinet or whatever, explaining that the more expensive instrument would make a better musician of their child.

Dick Dietz told me a story about the band on the Fiesta float. All band members were on the float, whether they could play or not, but those without ability had their reed or mouthpiece temporarily confiscated by Olmstead so they couldn’t spoil the sound. He also hid some good professional adult players in the bowels of the float to “improve” the sound!

Perhaps Olmstead really was the original Music Man and Meredith Wilson’s musical started right here in San Jose.

14 Comments

  1. For newcomers:

    Fiesta de las Rosas – a now extinct, family-friendly celebration ruined a generation ago by violent, in-your-face, “race conscious” young punks. Not to be confused with the violent, in-your-face, racist punk-dominated calamity we now endure every Cinco de Mayo.

  2. I went to the Cinco de Mayo parade.  No problems or punks.  Lots of families.  Nice parade.

    Strangest sites at the parade:  the convertibles used to transport our vice mayor and some council members in the parade had large advertisements on the side for a personal injury lawyer and weight loss clinic.  Looked tacky for the 10th largest city. 

    Future council member Manny Diaz had his San Jose council campaign signs attached to the doors of his convertible.  He used masking tape to cover the line on the sign that said he was running for city council.  The tape was not all that thick so you could easily read what was covered.  I can only imagine he covered up part of the sign to show he was not campaigning while at the parade. 

    Mayor Gonzales was a no-show.

  3. #1.  Finfan why do you always interject “race” into your comments about downtown activities.  There was a very nice parade with festivities in the park and it was all well attended as well as the Home and Garden Show nearby. And………….the rowdy Shark Fin Fans showed up cruising up and down Santa Clara St and the cops found quite a few of them intoxicated and were therefore handled properly.  Now if it just happens that Mexican-Americans were amongst those who were rowdy beyond control then they were handled properly.  I drove through the area Saturday evening.  The park festivities had closed for the night and the cops had some rowdy individuals stopped on Santa Clara St.  Did you come and watch the parade?  Did you got to the festivities in the park?  I can’t believe you did.  I think you just read the newspaper and made your own high-valued judgements.

  4. I passed through downtown Sunday afternoon and didn’t notice any trouble or potential for it.  I did bail out on trying to get across town on Santa Clara St coming from The Alameda so headed down Almaden, but that was all about traffic, not thugs.  How refreshing.

    I still have a commemorative Fiesta de las Rosas coin somewhere in a little box.  It’s sad that uncivilized behavior by thuggy types put an end to this event.  Maybe there’s a way to resurrect it and give it a slant that won’t attract the thugs.  Just add a little sophistication and it will intimidate them into staying away.  Works for Santana Row, now doesn’t it?  It’s sad that this piece of SJ history is now missing from the list of yearly events, but the thug types are so adept at shooting themselves in the foot (like waving the Mexican flag while campaigning for decriminalization for illegals) it’s a surprise they haven’t 86’d more festivals in this town due to bad behavior by those who operate on a serious deficit in the areas of civility and sophistication.

    Dan, we wouldn’t have the giant turd in the Plaza if those in charge at City Hall chose to stand up to the protests over the Fallon statue, brought on by one corner of the SJ community with a serious chip on its shoulder, and who played the race card to the hilt.  You may say Finfan’s approach is extreme and that he raises the race issue all too often, but the other end of the spectrum, which is the wet noodle approach we’ve had by this town’s leadership for decades now, has been a complete failure. 

    And so Fiesta de las Rosas is reduced to a footnote.  Swell.  Nice job!  Let’s ruin Cinco de Mayo next, since it’s a day that they don’t even celebrate in Mexico.  Just shows you how educated this group is about the culture they are so proud of.  Go to a real city like Chicago and you’ll find a big parade down Michican Avenue on September 16th, Mexican Indpendence Day.  But for SJ, it’s hard to behave like a big city when you have vast multitudes of ultra-low intellect individuals working tirelessly to drag you down.

  5. Mr. Sturges,

    The depth of your analysis on this issue appears to be as deep as the puddles of beer and urine typically left on the pavement in the wake of Cinco de Cerveza. To accuse me of inserting race into an event that is little more than an annual flexing of Mexican-American political muscle is absurd. Cinco de Mayo is about nothing except race. Why else would American citizens even bother to acknowledge a foreign moment of such historical insignificance except to appease the demands of an assimilation-resistant minority group by giving them a chance to engage in a little tribal chest-beating?

    In a country that has worked harder and accomplished more in the name of human rights and true liberty than any nation in history, what possible motive besides the racial pride of some of its citizens would cause an American city to publicly celebrate the fifth of May in such a grand fashion? Was it a great military achievement? Not by any historical standard that includes Thermopylae, Trafalgar, or Yorktown. Did it mark a critical step in the march towards decency and human liberty? No. Mexico, an oligarchy, has yet to make that march.

    On a scale of significance adjusted for impact and geography, the battle that took place on Cinco de Mayo was about as important an historical event as were the bowel movements of Captain Fallon’s trusty steed. In other words, just two ways of measuring horse shit.

    If Mexican-Americans want some historical bravery and honor with which to puff their chests, they need look no further than what their grandfathers, fathers, and uncles—Mexican-American veterans who fought for the stars and stripes—did in WWII. Who knows, maybe after a few American history lessons it might become tough to get a good spot on the parade route on Veteran’s Day.

    This year, the after-hours Cinco de Mayo shenanigans resulted in riotous behavior in the downtown as well as King and Story—with police officers pulled in from our neighborhoods. It ran for three straight nights. Lots of punks feeling politically empowered and immune from accountability. Lots of arrests. Lots of police overtime. Lots of good people upset. I’d love to see the cost in dollars and cents. I’d love to learn which neighborhood beats went unmanned those nights. I’d love to hear the man-in-the-street accounts from those poor motorists who had to sit in terror and watch idiots demonstrate their racial pride by jumping up and down on their cars.

    Downtown San Jose put on quite a show for the folks in from Canada and the national sports media. Our guests, none of whom will ever voluntarily return, must have been scratching their heads trying to figure-out what the chant “Viva la Raza” had to do with the playoffs.

    Think it isn’t about race, Mr. Sturges? Look up the definition of Raza.

  6. Mr. Frustrated Finfan all I can say is that yes it is about race.  Viva La Raza.  Who owned California before 1848?  Spain and Mexico,  Viva La Raza Finfan.  Who is supplying the workers who work in the kitchens of the fine restaurants in Metro San Jose, who is supplying the workers who cleans the toilets in your offices, who helps collect your garbage and mows your lawns? Viva La Raza Finfan. Who picked the fruit off the ground here before Silicon Valley?  Viva La Raza Finfan.  Who coined the well known San Jose expression SAL SI PUEDES?  Viva La Raza Finfan.  The most diligent, hard working workers I have ever hired were always:  MEXICANS FROM MEXICO! Viva La Raza.

  7. Thanks to Finfan for telling it like it is in #5.  Muscle flexing and chest beating by an extremely low intellect group, along with a reason (like they need one) to get drunk and raise hell.

    The stupidity of 5/5 was started by the belligerent Chicano types 35 or 40 years ago and it’s become an out of control celebration that is and always has been 100% about race.  Next year they should hold this celebration in the Plaza so they can all rally ‘round their turd with typical misguided pride.

    To remedy this affliction, I recommend sitting down in front of the TV for Carlos Mencia’s presentation every Wednesday night as a required course of cultural enlightenment for this backward group of individuals.

    The sad part is, I know there is a “silent majority” of hard-working Hispanics that we don’t see.  They contribute to the greater good and don’t create a drain on social services.  Unfortunately, their backward bretheren with a penchant for drama maintain a much higher profile and put forth a tarnished image of this group for everyone, including Canadian hockey fans, to see.

    It’s almost comedy.  But I’ll leave that to the astute mind of Mr. Mencia each week.

  8. We are lucky to have a wealth of history that should make San Jose’s hispanic population proud .  Our great city was founded in 1777 by Californios up from Mexico.  These early founders left their mark on todays San Jose. Unfortunatly our grade schools prefer to educate our youth about Cinco de Mayo rather than about the founding of San Jose. California’s oldest city.  If all citizens knew more about our rich past they might feel more connected.  We all know when citizens feel a part of a community, they are more apt to work at making it a better place.  Keep educating us Leonard so we can build on our forefathers successes and learn from their mistakes.

  9. Those of us who have lived here for a lifetime know that there is a difference between Chicanos, Porchos, and Mexicans from Mexico.  The problems with Cinco de Mayo and Fiesta de las Rosas is and was the first two groups. Chicanos and Porchos.

  10. Congratulations, Mr. Sturges, you finally got me. How was I to know that you, the person who climbed up high on his moral steed and accused me of inserting race into the Cinco de Mayo celebration, yourself held such strong, racist opinions about a particular people?

    Who owned California before 1848 you ask? Who cares? Why did you pick that date? Why not 1748, or 1548, or 1348? Was Spain or Mexico’s original claim to this land any more sacred than is our own? Didn’t they, like the Americans did, conquer the land in the same way that land has been conquered since our ancestors descended from the trees? That you seem to attach some great moral significance to that particular date suggests to me that you are caught up in your own racist agenda.

    Your contention that menial labor—the scrubbing and serving and harvesting necessary to all civilized societies—can only be done by Mexicans is absurd. Just because so much of it is now done here by Mexicans proves nothing (except that they are here and at the bottom of the rung).

    Do you also believe that without Sikhs we would have to do without mediocre motels? Or that Koreans invented dry cleaning? 

    Had you proudly yelled “Sal Si Puedes” in a California orchard, field, or cannery seventy years ago you might have witnessed the Okies and Italians and other white migrant workers scratching their heads in wonder. Even if they understood the meaning, those men were not about to “escape” from a paying job of any kind.

    Your comment about “Mexicans from Mexico” is particularly interesting. Mexicans from Mexico, it seems to me, implies that you see them as superior not only to other races, but also Mexicans from other places like, say, Gilroy. How insulting to American born Mexicans!

    Isn’t it amazing that you, someone who by his own admission values people based on their race and national origin, feel so at ease in criticizing me simply for valuing my culture and the rule of law?

  11. I would say “lighten up” but I’m afraid some of you may think I’m directing you to put on white sheets.  You all have valid points.  Our hispanic community has it’s good and bad no different than the rest.  Cinco de Mayo is nothing more than an excuse to party.  But is that a bad thing as long as they follow our laws?  I look at it the same way as I look at the Grand Prix.  It,s packed with a bunch of over weight loud beer drinkers in tank tops.  Not my cup of tea yet I don,t have to attend.  All I ask is that we don’t pay for either party with our tax dollars.

  12. Post #12 – Bye Bye’s latest attempt to express himself in the blogosphere as he would anywhere else: with unattributed flatulence.

    No wonder his mother restricts him to the basement.

  13. Frustrated #10
    You attack Mr. Sturges for being stuck in time.  Is it not you that is stuck in the mid 1900’s? You make it clear that there has always been a change in power here,  yet you are frustrated with the change that has been taking place the past 25 years.  Hispanics have been fast becoming the majority.  Get use to it.  Embrace it.  Yesterday is gone.  Order some mexican food tonight,  drink a cervesa and become part of todays new culture.  WE are the new Californios.