TAPS FOR LEW SOLOFF
By Jari Villanueva
For military buglers in the United States, sounding Taps is the most sacred duty they can render. This musical honor has been in existence since the Civil War and for many buglers it is a duty they perform on a daily basis. There is no doubt Taps is important to families. It is the one lasting memory many of them bring away from funerals – the unmistakable sound of a solo horn emitting the familiar 24 notes, that solemn farewell that serves as the musical coda to a military ceremony.
For the most part, a bugler may know the name, service, and rank of the individual being buried, but beyond that they have little or no connection to the veteran for whom they sound the call. The one thing in common is that they are all veterans and have served our country honorably. And because of that all buglers strive to sound the call as perfectly as possible on every occasion.
The melody is simple, yet not easy to play with the appropriate combination of beauty, emotion, and serenity demanded by solemn occasions. As author and collector Roy Hempley stated in his online article on Bach bugles, “Each bugler develops his or her style within limits defined by military custom and good taste. A not-so-obvious fact, however, is that buglers sometimes must render this solemn symbol of mourning under the most difficult circumstances, which might include hot or cold weather, rain, etc. There is no room for error regardless of the demands.”
Occasionally there will be situations when the person being buried is a high profile personality. From four-star generals to governors to presidents, when the time comes for that final tribute for their service, buglers may be suddenly thrust into the limelight. In many ways there is no difference. It is the same 24 notes that are played. The same tune, taking approximately the same time to complete. Yet the pressure can be a little different. A case in point would be Sergeant Keith Clark, the bugler who sounded Taps for President John F. Kennedy on November 25, 1963. We will always remember who the bugler was that day due to the slight imperfection of his performance. That one “broken note” still sounds within our hearts today, and because of it we remember the bugler. However for the most part, buglers perform their duty in anonymity.
While they do not seek the spotlight, sometimes it is appropriate to recognize those who perform military funeral honors. The men and women of military funeral honors details work every day of the year performing honors at thousands of funerals across the United States. With many of these details is a live bugler, either an active duty military trumpeter, a volunteer from one of many organizations that help provide live buglers to sound Taps, or perhaps a hired professional. And sometimes those details and those buglers go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that every veteran receives their final tribute.
In the past month, the world lost two famous trumpeters – Clark Terry who died February 21, 2015 at the age of 94 and Lew Soloff who passed away on March 8, 2015 at the age of 71.
Clark Terry was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended Vashon High School and began his professional career in the early 1940s, playing in local clubs. During his long career he played with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones, among others. He was well known for his appearances with the Tonight Show band from 1962 to 1972. His career spanned more than 70 years and he is one of the most recorded Jazz artists ever. He mentored hundreds of prominent Jazz musicians today. Terry served in the US Navy during World War II, playing valve trombone in one of the fleet bands. A teacher as well as performer, Terry taught Jazz to aspiring musicians into his nineties. His funeral service on February 28 was attended by a virtual “Who’s Who” of American Jazz artists. All came to pay their final respects to this trumpet legend. The music at the service was performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by the renowned trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis. Lew Soloff was one of those in attendance.
Since Clark Terry was a veteran, he was entitled to military honors provided by the United States Navy. Sadly, at the interment in Brooklyn’s Woodlawn Cemetery the musical honors were performed on a digital bugle (which plays a recorded version of Taps through a device while being held by a member of the Honor Guard).
Many were heartbroken to find out afterwards that the final musical honors to this great Jazz trumpeter who gave part of his life in service to our country were rendered by a recording. In the week following the service there was much talk on social media about the performance of Taps on a digital bugle. Central to the discussion was the feeling that it was an affront to have a recording in place of a live musician, especially given the fact this was a highly regarded trumpet player being buried. No doubt there had been a disconnect between the family, funeral home and Navy that led to the digital bugle being used, especially when so many live trumpeters were in attendance and yet others had actually volunteered to sound Taps but were told they were not needed.
The one good thing that came out of the discussions on Facebook and many forums about this unfortunate occurrence was a heightened awareness of and commitment to using live buglers at military funerals. Each veteran deserves a live rendition of Taps to be sounded at their funeral. The sad fact is that of all military funerals registered in the national databases, only about 20% receive a live rendition of the call. Many groups have used this as a clarion call to enlist trumpeters to help perform this important mission.
A Facebook page, “Taps For Clark Terry,” was set up by a former member of the US Army’s Jazz Ambassadors a day after the funeral as a place for trumpeters and buglers to post videos of themselves sounding Taps as a tribute to Clark Terry. The page has received over 425 likes and there are dozens of videos on view as of today.
As the discussions simmered down, there was an underlying conviction – we will not allow this to happen again.
Then on March 8, Lew Soloff passed away.
Lewis Michael Soloff was born in Brooklyn and raised in Lakewood, New Jersey. He studied trumpet at the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School. Playing with the popular groundbreaking group Blood, Sweat And Tears from 1968 to 1973, Soloff’s trumpet solos became an indelible part of American culture. He was an integral part of the band, racking up nine Gold records, a Grammy for “Record of The Year” in 1969 and creating those searing horn lines in “Spinning Wheel.” He went on to a great career as a performer and teacher.
One often overlooked item in Soloff’s biography was that he was a veteran of the US Army. Like Clark Terry, Lew Soloff served in the military during a time of war. And like many other prominent musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lew found himself able to fulfill his military obligation by service in a military band. Lew served in the National Guard as a member of the 42nd Infantry Division Band operating out of the 14th Street Armory in New York City.
Dr. Richard Barnes, retired US Army Captain and veteran of the West Point Band and US Army Field Band and a former student of Soloff’s, remembers Lew telling him that there was a point in the Blood, Sweat & Tears contract for a while that they would not do concerts on particular days of the month. This was so Lew could get back to New York City for a National Guard Band drill. If, for example, he had NG Band on Tuesday nights, BS&T might be playing a concert in San Francisco on Monday, then Lew would fly back to NYC for NG Band rehearsal on Tuesday, and then fly back to California to play with BS&T in Los Angeles on Wednesday, which made for a complicated schedule.
As Soloff’s death was being reported on social media all day Sunday, March 8, Master Sergeant John Manning of the West Point Band (Band of the United States Military Academy at West Point) was wondering if Soloff would be buried without military honors or perhaps have, like Clark Terry, a military person playing Taps on a digital machine.
Because Soloff was of the Jewish faith, the burial was to take place, according to custom, the next day. As someone who deals with military funeral honors on a daily basis, I can tell you it takes a turnaround of at least two days to submit the proper documentation (the form DD-214 or NGB-22 which every veteran receives upon discharge from service) from the family to the funeral director and then on to the military to request military honors. The funeral home is the direct contact for the family and it is important to understand that this is a necessary process funeral directors and military honors programs use to avoid confusion and double booking. It becomes even more of a challenge when the death occurs on the weekend as some military offices don’t reopen until Monday morning, although many military funeral honors programs do monitor their voice mails during the weekend for such occurrences and will try to adjust scheduling if a last minute funeral comes in from the weekend. But because of Soloff’s sudden death and the next day burial, military honors were not requested, likely because of the time constraints or not being able to find the proper military paperwork on such short notice.
MSG John Manning, born in Poughkeepsie, New York and a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has served with the West Point Band since 2000 and is very familiar with sounding Taps at military funerals. For Manning, a bugler with the Hellcats, the field music unit of the West Point Band, it would be unthinkable to not have a live rendition of Taps at the funeral for Soloff or any other veteran. Buglers from the West Point Band regularly perform funeral honors in the New York area, working with honor guards from the Military Academy and the New York Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program located in Latham, New York. This is an important part of their military duties and one that is taken very seriously.
After what had happened with Clark Terry’s funeral, Manning decided to be proactive about making sure there would be a live bugler at the funeral for Soloff. He approached the funeral home after reading a posting Lew’s daughter, Mrs. Laura Solomon, had placed on Facebook regarding the funeral service which was to take place on March 9 at 1 pm at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, NY, about 30 miles north of NY City. As it turned out, in the greatest of coincidences, MSG Manning was scheduled to perform honors that morning with the NY ARNG at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, located almost adjacent to Kensico Cemetery. Once he discovered this, he generously offered to come over to Kensico after he was done at Gate of Heaven and perform Taps for Soloff. Although the family did not have official paper documentation on hand at the time of death, it was well known that Soloff had served honorably and would be entitled to military honors.
The military team that day consisted of MSG Manning as bugler along with two Soldiers, SGT Alnaldo Ortiz and SPC Sebastian Rivera, both stationed in Kingston, NY. When Manning had explained to the Honor Guardsmen that he had offered to perform Taps for Soloff following their scheduled service, both Soldiers also volunteered to come with him and fold and present the flag.
As soon as the family arrived at the cemetery Mrs. Solomon was approached with the offer of military honors. She was happy to know that Taps would be performed at her father’s funeral after all and that Soldiers would be there to fold and present an American flag “on behalf of a grateful nation.” MSG Manning consulted with the Rabbi and the funeral director for the sequence of the service and it was suggested that the military honors portion go first. Manning agreed and upon the signal, sounded the music that has recently been called our “National Song of Remembrance.”
As they have done for 150 years, the 24 notes of Taps rang through the air evoking memories of the loved one being buried. The two-man team then folded the flag into 13 crisp folds before presenting it to Mrs. Solomon, recognizing Lew’s service to the nation. After reciting the presentation words, SGT Ortiz stepped back and saluted.
Mrs. Solomon related to me afterward that she was moved but that she did not know whether she should have saluted back or not. Not being familiar with the pomp and circumstance surrounding a military funeral, she found that while being grateful for the honors, she thought her dad would have almost laughed about it knowing he was not a model soldier when he served. Lew certainly would have been smiling to hear the call that he heard every night during his time in basic training being played for him. Mrs. Solomon stated there was not a dry eye to be seen and that she thought it wonderful, being a musician herself, to hear the sound of Taps live.
After military honors were concluded the Rabbi went on with the service, offering prayers followed by words of remembrance about Lew. Manning, having completed his task, joined the mourners, who included Paul Shaffer, Lou Marini, Jon Faddis, Mark Gould, Joe Lovano, Wayne du Maine, and dozens of others – another veritable “Who’s Who” of Jazz performers gathered for the second time in two weeks to say good-bye to one of their own. It was a service, said Manning, that was “powerful, emotional, funny, and filled with love.”
At the conclusion, Jon Faddis told MSG Manning, “Good job.” According to Manning, “it’s about the veteran, not about the bugler,” and it was an “incredible honor” and a high point in his career to have been in the right place at the right time to be able to provide a live Taps to this veteran who would otherwise not have received military funeral honors, had it not been for a handful of serendipitous circumstances.
“Of the thousands of trumpeters who would have loved to do it, I had the good fortune… many other trumpeters mentioned that they were glad they didn’t have to do what I just did, especially for that crowd – no shortage of critics. I love my job; I’m proud to serve.”
Certainly a love of the job, a sense of duty, and above all, a desire to honor fellow veterans drive members of military funeral honors programs to excel and at times to step up and do something above and beyond the call of duty. This story is really not that different from others that have taken place at military funerals across the country, and may only be notable because of the high profile situation. For MSG John Manning, SGT Alnaldo Ortiz, and SPC Sebastian Rivera, this was simply part of their day’s duty and they may even feel embarrassed to have their names mentioned. But they deserve our heartfelt thanks for showing initiative and dedication in making sure that Lew Soloff was honored by our nation for his service.
© Copyright 2015, Jari Villanueva, www.tapsbugler.com all rights reserved
Mrs. Laura Solomon, Daughter of Lew Soloff
MSG John Manning, West Point Band
Dr. Richard Barnes, Captain, US Army (ret)
Mr. Peter Moran, NY Military Funeral Honors Director
Ms. Heather Faust, Editor