'Stumpy' to be guest of honor at annual Les Brown weekend
He says he wishes he could have come back sooner, and hopes he can remember everyone's names. Big Band music fans will certainly have no trouble remembering his.
The "kid brother" of Les Brown of the Band of Renown, Clyde "Stumpy" Brown, now 88, will return to the region this weekend for the eighth annual Les Brown Big Band Weekend in Tower City. Stumpy, Palm Desert, Calif., will be the special guest of honor during the three-day event, declared "A Sentimental Journey with Stumpy."
This will be Stumpy's first time attending the festival, he said during a recent phone interview.
He shared a humorous story about meeting President Richard Nixon, and about filling in for his father, Ray W. Brown, as a music teacher. Although he's traveled the world, Stumpy said one of the people he's most anxious to see again is a childhood friend who also grew up to be a professional musician, Gil Mitchell.
"I want to see some of the people I went to school with. I want to get back to Lykens and Tower City," he said, noting he couldn't recall the last time he was in Pennsylvania.
"Gil and I started playing instruments when we were kids and played scale together. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Band, so he's done very well for himself," Stumpy said. "Gil was an excellent trumpet player. We both attended Ernest Williams Music Camp in Saugerties, New York," he said.
Stumpy said Gil, who currently resides in Pennsylvania, was hoping to get to Tower City for the festival.
"He doesn't drive anymore and neither do I, so he's hoping to get someone to bring him up there."
While he's in the area, Stumpy also hopes to travel to Lykens, where his father's bakery used to stand at 540 Main St.
"He sold it when he retired, but I'm going to look to see what's there," he said.
Stumpy said he went to Lykens High School and then as a freshman, entered the New York Military Academy.
"When I joined Les's band, I was playing fourth trombone. Then I learned to play bass trombone and I loved that. I also played tuba," he said.
Stumpy played bass trombone for more than 50 years in the Band of Renown and was a former manager and vocalist. He said he no longer performs.
"I retired. I don't think my chops would take it," he said.
During one of his breaks when he was still playing with the band, his father, who was serving as a Hegins Township (Tri-Valley) High School band director, asked him for a little help.
"I went to Tri-Valley to see my dad. I was home from playing with the band and dad said, 'Stumpy, my next class is a French horn.' He said, 'Would you teach a lesson for me?' I said I don't play French horn, and then he taught me the scale."
"I taught this kid the best I could," said Stumpy. However, when his father asked the student if he liked his new professor, the student said that he talked about kissing girls too much! Stumpy said his father didn't know what to think, until he had to explain that the musician was too tight on the mouthpiece and he told the student to relax and asked if he'd ever kissed a girl.
Of all the musical engagements he attended, Stumpy said the USO tours with comedian Bob Hope were among his favorite.
"I enjoyed the Christmas trips with Bob Hope. It was really rewarding," he said. "I met the King of Thailand, and I met presidents. I remember having dinner at the White House and seated beside me was Connie Stevens. When President Nixon came and sat with us, he asked me a lot of questions, and then he said that my brother, Les, went to Duke University when he did. The president said he never met Les, and I told him that my brother knew of you!"
"I think it's an excellent idea and I was pleased that this was happening," Stumpy said of the annual event held at Williams Valley and the surrounding community. "I'm in good health, but I can't walk, so they'll have a wheelchair for me. I was disappointed that I couldn't be there sooner." Stumpy said he expects to fly in Friday evening and his cousin, David Minnich, Lebanon, is planning to pick him up. He's expecting to attend the festivities, including the Sunday service.
In addition to Stumpy, several members of the Brown family will be present during the festival. They include Les Brown Jr., leader of the Band of Renown and host of The Music of Your Life Radio Network; Denise "Denny" Marsh-Jordan (Les's daughter), and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh (Les's grandson), co-creator of Disney's Phineas & Ferb.
On Friday, a dance will be held from 7 to 7 to 9 p.m. at Williams Valley High School. After Hours will provide the music. Prior to the dance, an optional catered dinner is available. For reservations, or more information, contact David Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday, "A Sentimental Journey with Stumpy" will run from noon to 6:30 p.m. at the Williams Valley High School. Kathleen Pavelko will serve as festival mistress of ceremonies. Musical groups slated to perform include Letters from Home, The Big Band Sound Inc., Elizabethtown College Jazz Band, M&J Big Band, The Jonestown Male Chorus, Williams Valley Cool Blue Jazz Band, WV Rainbow Jazz and the Town of Renown Orchestra (Williams Valley Alumni Jazz Band).
On Sunday, a non-denominational worship service, "Les Brown Jazz Service," will be held at 3 p.m. at Trinity United Church of Christ, Grand Avenue, Tower City. Stumpy Brown will be inducted into the Schuylkill County Council for the Arts Hall of Fame during a program from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Yuengling Mansion, 1440 Mahantongo St., Pottsville. The program will feature a Les Brown memorabilia exhibit and a meet and greet with Les Brown Jr. and family. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling 570-622-2788.
Jessica Radel, Williams Valley eighth-grade musician, said she's thrilled she's going to be able to meet Stumpy in person.
"I've tried to get him to come to the Les Brown Festival before," said Radel, 13, of Wiconisco.
"I wrote him a letter and he called me back, then he sent me an autograph," she said. Her older sister, Mary Radel, had actually been playing Stumpy's baritone, which is owned by the Williams Valley Music Department.
"I also play baritone and I like listening to their music. I'm quite nervous, though, and can't wait for the occasion," Jessica said.
"She called me and I'll be happy to see her there," Stumpy said. "My dad used to say, practice, practice, practice. You have to practice to do the professional positions," he said, when asked if he offers any advice to budding musicians.
Committee chairman Joel Guldin, Williams Valley Elementary Band director and part-time music teacher, along with members of the committee organize the event each year.
The festival mission is to keep alive the music of Les Brown and his Band of Renown through the annual Les Brown Big Band Weekend. They educate the children of the Williams Valley School District about the music and accomplishments of the Browns through the annual trivia contest and promote the musical heritage of the Williams Valley.
On March 14, what would have been Les Brown's 102nd birthday, the Williams Valley music department held the annual Les Brown Trivia Contest. The contest, with spelling bee format, quizzed 17 students from grades 4-6 on their knowledge of Les Brown, his siblings and band.
The emcee was Guldin, and David Minnich was the contest judge.
After 35 minutes, with two contestant remaining, Brady Miller became this year's trivia winner when Taylor Murray missed the question "What year did the Band of Renown first accompany Bob Hope on a USO trip?" When Brady correctly stated 1950 he was declared the winner.
For his efforts, Brady received a $100 savings bond, Band of Renown CD, autographed pictures of Les Sr., Les Jr. and Stumpy Brown plus a Les Brown bubble gum card. Taylor received a Band of Renown CD.