Fred Glaski and I were co-leaders of the 15-piece big band that was popular on the Purdue campus and surrounding Indiana countryside in the late fifties. For both the 1957-1958 and 1958-1959 school years, our lives were intertwined with those of about fifteen other student-musicians who found time to rehearse and play gigs at least once a week.
The roster of players (left to right) for the 1957-58 edition of Freddie Mitchell was:
|Trumpets:||Don Schmidt, Burt Stevenson, Chuck Mehlman, Ed Doty|
|String bass:||Dick Willits (not in picture)|
|Trombones:||Jerry Schuerman, Marty Jacobs|
|Saxes:||Fred Reisenauer, Fred Glaski, Bill "Willum" Kapella, Dave Beeson, Marty Mlynarik|
The roster of players for the 1958-59 edition of Freddie Mitchell was:
|Trumpets:||Dick Sawyer, Don Schmidt, Chuck Bailey, Bruce Fetz|
|String bass:||Dick Willits|
|Trombones:||Jimmy Wheat, Tom Yackish, Jerry Schuerman|
|Saxes:||Don Wiltsey, Fred Glaski, Bill "Willum" Kapella, Jim Knauer, Marty Mlynarik|
The origin of the band
September, 1956. I've left Lockport and all my musical interests and activities behind me and moved into my new home at Purdue University---a dorm room in Cary Northeast. I was feeling OK with this new life and looked forward to the variety of technical courses that were just ahead.
"Topper" Hill, my Lockport friend who was a year behind me at LTHS, was beginning his second year at Purdue. It was great to know someone who already knew his way around. Topper was aware of my musical interests back home and was soon talking about Fred, a Chem-E buddy of his that played tenor sax. Topper was a natural promoter and kept prodding me to meet his friend. I was in no hurry.
It took until the second semester, but I did finally meet Fred Glaski, who indeed was a very fine tenor sax player. We both liked the idea of starting a "Big Band" and decided we would hold auditions when we came back in the fall. This was great timing because Willum and Marty, two alums of the Jimmy Stephenson swing band, were entering Purdue in the fall with the expectation that we would get a band going. With three sax players and a piano player, we would be a legitimate up-and-running group from the start. Psychologically, this was important.
In the fall of 1957 I had just finished my summer job at Hammond Organ. Topper and I were roommates and had a room in the northeast wing of the new residence hall, "H-1." Fred Glaski and his roommate, Ken Genoni, also were in H-1. (H-1 is now known as Owen Hall.)
Fred and I had decided that this new band would be a "residence hall" band, which would allow us to rehearse in the H-1 dining room. If you've ever been in a band, you know that rehearsal space is always a problem. We had a good turnout for our auditions and were able to select a great group of players.
Our next problem was what to call the band. It took a month or so to decide. We settled on Fred's first name and my middle name. "Freddie Mitchell" was now born both in spirit and in flesh.
The Musicians' Union enters the picture
Soon we were gaining experience by playing free gigs for the residence halls in return for using the H-1 dining room for Sunday evening rehearsals. Everyone was happy--- except the Musicians' Union.
One day I received a letter from the LaFayette chapter of the union. We were "invited" to join the union. The alternative, if we declined or ignored their invitation, was that the residence halls would be denied the services of any musician, union or non-union. The union gave the impression they were prepared to enforce this.
I contacted the union and was invited to the home of Chris and Russ Printy for a chat. Russ and Chris were a married couple living a couple blocks from campus. They were probably in their 60s or 70s. Russ was the official long-time Secretary of the Local. But Chris ran the show. I quickly discovered that they were very nice people, that there was not much to be afraid of and that there were actually some benefits to being union members---such as access to "trust fund" gigs. We joined the union.
Soon after that I received a letter from William Berner, the man in charge of everything at H-1. It seems that there was a rule prohibiting "professional" groups from using residence hall facilities, and we were now "professionals." We were about to lose our practice space. Naturally I thought this was ridiculous and I argued with him until he got very exasperated with me. "I go by the rules," he said. "If you don't like it, you can take it up with Jack Smalley." Mr. Smalley was in charge of residence halls and was Mr. Berner's boss.
Well, I did take it up with Mr. Smalley. I called and made an appointment. My heart was pounding because I wasn't used to this sort of thing, but we had a good discussion. He proposed that, in return for using the dining room, we play for two residence hall social functions per year at no charge. That sounded reasonable to me, but I had to run it by the union. Well, it sounded reasonable to Mr. and Mrs. Printy also. I learned some lasting life lessons from this episode. I also felt that I knew why Mr. Smalley was Mr. Berner's boss and not the other way around.
As time went on, the Printys and I became good friends. They were very sweet and made sure that Freddie Mitchell had his share of union-sponsored gigs. Russ Printy died suddenly in June, 1959. I received the news while traveling to California with Ken Genoni.
Here is what trumpeter (and tennis player) Don Schmidt wrote about the band for the back of the album cover of our 1959 LP:
"Starting the 1958/59 year the band had the nucleus of the previous year's group returning: Fred and Jim our leaders, plus Marty Mlynarik, Bill Kapella, Dick Willits, Jerry Schuerman, and myself. A big hole that had to be filled was left when Burt Stevenson, our solo trumpet man, left us due to graduation.
As soon as school started in the fall of 1958, try-outs were held for the band. All vacant spots were filled and two extra pieces were added, a fourth trumpet and a third trombone.
As the year progressed the "Freddie Mitchell Orchestra" settled into a solid groove. Campus housing units were beginning to realize this, and the star that was born but a short year ago shone with a new brilliance. House, pledge, and Student Union Cabaret dances followed one another in fast succession throughout the year. Even though we were a very large group, 15 pieces, the band sold itself to anyone who auditioned us. Once heard, the extra price seemed small when compared to the quality of sound produced by 15 outstanding musicians working together.
As spring descended upon Purdue, the band's reputation began to spread. High school prom jobs began to pour in, and the second year of the "Freddie Mitchell Orchestra" ended with the group traveling to Elkhart, Indiana, and Joliet, Illinois, for proms.
Where will the band go from here? This question will have to be answered by Jerry Schuerman and Don Wiltsey, the new co-leaders. Fred Glaski and Jim Stephenson, the originators, have graduated. Behind them they have left the finest band on the Purdue campus, surely destined for still greater heights as it becomes an "institution" in itself at Purdue. Hundreds of hours of worry, toil and practice by Fred and Jim went into molding the group into what it is today. Because of their work the "Freddie Mitchell Orchestra" will live in the memories of all who played with it and all who ever had the pleasure of dancing and listening to it."
Don J. Schmidt
Albums by the Freddie Mitchell Orchestra:
"It's Almost Midnight with the Freddie Mitchell orchestra"
Recorded May, 1958, in the east dining room of Men's Residence H-1, Purdue University
"What's New with the Freddie Mitchell orchestra"
Recorded May, 1959, in the east dining room of Men's Residence H-1, Purdue University