MURRAY — One look at Dan Beard was probably all one needed to see to understand why this past weekend’s reunion of the former Murray State University-based jazz band, Men of Note, meant so much to the participants.
They wanted to be there and Beard personified this as he returned to his student days as director of the group. In Saturday afternoon’s concert at Murray State’s Lovett Auditorium – the site of the band’s most treasured moments – he made sure he got his money’s worth on the three songs he directed, using much of the Lovett stage for everything from signaling the musicians to play softer to actually jumping into the air when he wanted a major crescendo.
It was all part of an afternoon of remembering why he decided to make music a career.
“I was 4 years old when I made up my mind,” said Dan, who co-directed with fellow alum John Goode Saturday. “It happened when my mom (Francis) brought me here one night to see Campus Lights (for which many Men of Note players later provided the music) and that was all I needed.”
Dan followed in his mother’s footsteps as an elementary music teacher in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I tell my students the same thing I would tell the band when I was directed them two years (during the 1970s),” he said. “The real work gets done in practice. The performance is the fun, and man, I was feeling it today!”
So too were the 20-or-so other Men of Note alumni, who not only presented a reunion concert after one Friday practice session, but also got together for at least two jam sessions during dinner gatherings. For them, it was all about the music and playing it under the same name.
“It’s why we’re here, and the great thing about this is that it’s never been done before,” said trumpet player Craig “Monk” Ewing, who now resides in New Orleans, the so-called jazz capital of the world, where has played professionally for many years. It was Ewing, a 1975 Murray State graduate, who had the biggest hand in putting the reunion together. “The amount of men you’re seeing here today is just a microcosm of something so much bigger, and the talent this band has produced over the years is just incredible.
“Then you look around this campus and you see the names on some of the buildings. For instance, the Farrell Recital Hall is named for Doc Farrell, and he directed the Men of Note at one point. Then you see the guys who are here and you have Darrell Cannedy, who is 86 and has come back for this. He was in the Men of Note (as a trumpet player) and he’s come back for this. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this happen – because this kind of thing tells you what happens when you go into music.”
Like Beard, Louis “Hap” Bourgois is a Paducah native and also served as a student director for the group. On Saturday, he provided balance in the trombone section.
“There are some of these guys I probably haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m glad Monk started this,” Bourgois said, offering what could have been the universal quote of the day. “It’s a gas! What can I say?”
Most of the musicians on the stage Saturday have gone on to long careers as musicians or music teachers. Charles Rose has done a little of both. A 1973 Murray State graduate, the trombonist is best known for his work with the Muscle Shoals Horns, the rhythm section for numerous hits that came out of that Alabama city in the 1960s and ‘70s. B.B. King, Bob Dylan and Elton John utilized this group for some of their hits in those days.
Since 1994, Rose has also been the horn arranger for Grammy Award winning country/jazz/western swing performer Lyle Lovett and his backing group, The Large Band. Rose said coming back to Murray State was a real treat.
“It’s very exciting to be back,” said Rose, who had extra reason for excitement as he emerged from Saturday’s concert with a pair of awards. One was from his fellow Men of Note alumni, and the other was the Orpheus Award on behalf of Murray State’s Gamma Delta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha.
“This brings back a lot memories,” he said. “I came here as a freshman in 1968 and this was my first paying gig, so being back on this stage is really special. I’ve never played here with Lyle, but we did have a concert a few years ago at the Murray State Madisonville campus.”
The Men of Note program started in 1942 at a time when the big band sounds of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman were on everyone’s radios. As the jazz genre evolved, the works of new artists found their way into the Men of Note’s shows, with the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton prevailing in the 1970s. The group continued on the campus into the 1980s.