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Don Rouse

The Federal Jazz Commission, who are becoming one of the most sought after bands in town and at festivals and tours out of town, hold forth every Tuesday night at Col. Brooks Tavern. Beyond the fact that there is no cover charge or minimum, for us locals this is a bargain at any price.

   The Feds, led by Marty Frankel on cornet, include Steve Welch, trombone and vocals, Sonny McGown, drums, Tom Gray, bass, and Donn Andre, banjo, and, until just recently, Ron Hockett on clarinet. Ron has established a deserved national reputation for his wonderful playing, and is on his way to join Jim Cullum’s band in San Antonio. Henning Hoehne has stepped in these nights just like he has been there all along, in seamless continuity.

   The rhythm section of Sonny McGown, drums, Tom Gray, bass, and Donn Andre, banjo, is rock solid. Though Tom’s fame far and wide has been as the premier bass with such bluegrass bands as the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, not all folks are aware that he has also been playing jazz lo these many years. It dawned on me suddenly one night just how fine a vocalist Steve Welch is (I already knew what a fine trombone he played). And it is downright exciting to hear the close rapport between Marty and Steve on ensemble passages that evolve as duets between the trombone and cornet, displaying the close interlocking phrasing between the horns. This is pretty heady stuff that you cannot hear just anytime you go to hear a jazz band.

   All this has not gone unnoticed, and the considerable loyal following that shows up at Col. Brooks on Tuesday nights is aware of its good fortune.

On the Net
The Feds have their own website,, with a lot of interesting stuff about the band (not all of which will I reproduce here, because, after all, we should save something for you to access). The Feds specialize for certain in classic jazz as it was performed by small groups in the 1920’s: Oliver, Morton, Armstrong, et al, and their repertoire reveals this influence. In 1998, the band went international, playing for enthusiastic audiences in Copenhagen, Denmark. They assert one of the most interesting caveats that a band has been called upon to make - that they are not affiliated with any U.S. Government agency.

The Organization Chart
Early on, Marty Frankel was influenced by Muggsy Spanier. He played gigs while attending the U. of Maryland, and years later (1977) joined the Feds. He also has played with Southern Comfort, and with the Louisiana Repertory Orchestra on their tour of the Soviet Union. Henning Hoehne is one of the busiest clarinets playing locally; he spent 17 years with the US Naval Academy Band, and has played with Southern Comfort and the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble, to mention just a few of the bands. Steve Welch, after a tour with the Air Force field band, played in the Original Washington Monumental Jazz Band, Gene Franklin’s Pier Five, the Royal Blue Orchestra, Last Chance Jazz Band, and toured Cuba with Captain Sailer’s Plantation Orchestra. For three years Steve was with John Norris’ New Orleans Jazz Band of Hawaii. Donn Andre began playing jazz at Hamilton College, NY, in 1954 with the Catatonic Five. Throughout the 1950’s he played college dates, toured Europe, performed at Carnegie Hall, and played with Southern Comfort. While assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Denmark he was a member of the Louisiana Jazz Band of Copenhagen. Tom Gray, probably the best known musician in the band, has received several Bluegrass music awards and is on numerous recordings. He also has played with a number of trad bands over the years, and recorded with the New Sunshine Jazz Band. Sonny McGown, an avid record collector, draws inspiration from favorites Gene Krupa, Sid Catlett, Cliff Leeman, and George Wettling, and has played locally with many a band (ps-s-st, I also have a couple of fugitive dubs of Sonny playing clarinet with the Sunshine Skiffle Band many years ago).

   The FJC is Stepping Out on the Festival circuit (see page 9 for detailed information), and in 1999 will appear June 6 at the Outdoor Concert, Long Wharf, Cambridge, MD, 2-4pm, 410-228-7782; June 25-27, Cedar Basin Jazz Festival, Cedar Falls, IA, 319-266-3556; July 2, Early American Jazz Series concert, Royal Lake, Fairfax, VA, 703-698-PRJC; August 27-29, Sonoma County DixieJazz Festival, Santa Rosa, CA; 707-538-0437; September 11, Potomac River Jazz Club Picnic, Blob’s Park, Jessup, MD, 703-698-PRJC; and November 4-7, the 10th Annual Arizona Classic Jazz Festival, Mesa, Arizona, 602-833-3702 or 800-473-5396. This gives PRJCer’s one more excuse to trek out to these festivals and bathe in good jazz.

New CD
The Feds have just given trad fans what they have been waiting for, which is their new CD, a really nice set of hot jazz performances (“The Federal Jazz Commission: Milenberg and Other Joys”)-see Bandstand last issue, and page 10 on how to get it. Gary Wilkinson has written the notes to this one, with lots of good historical information on the compositions, and perceptive descriptions of the musical performances.

Memories of the Colonel
A great band, a diverse and congenial fraternity of pubgoers, and a truly good menu are the hallmarks of Col. Brooks success. I have always felt that Col. Brooks is one of the best local pubs in the DC area. It may be the only one in Brookland, but if there were more it would very likely still be the best. The pub has been around now for many a year, (the building itself dates from the early part of this century) sits in a residential area of Brookland, just across the street from the Catholic U., the Brookland Metro, and the Brooks Mansion. The Brooks “Mansion” was the original early 19th century homestead of Col. Brooks, who first settled the area when it was rural, and it now houses offices of the DC government.

   A fascinating mix of local folks troop through during any evening. When the Pontchartrain played there (which it did for over 10 years; the Feds have resided there forever - before I was born, I think - actually, since 1981), it was extremely distracting for me to keep my eye on what the O’s were doing on the TV set above the bar and still concentrate on playing. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. Despite spotty natural acoustics that have always existed in the old building, Marty Frankel has found some magical way to get the maximum sound configuration, and a fine balance of sound. I don’t know how he did it, but there are no sound deficiencies when the Feds play.

   I still remember seeing the wide variety of people who would come into the place in shifts. The young professionals would drop in after work, the Mayor would come in with a party, then the bowling and basketball teams would descend, the CU students, and neighborhood residents (by the way, Don Ewell’s aunts lived in this neighborhood). One night we were on the stand when a group came in and sat at a table right next to the bandstand. Since they were using sign language, I deduced that they were hearing impaired. It was also clear that they were celebrating. When we played, some would put their hands on the bandstand to hear the pulse of the music. Next day I picked up the Post and recognized a photograph of the leader of the students who had successfully demonstrated the day before against the installation of the President of Gallaudet University, and for the installation of a deaf president. He was one of the celebrants at Col. Brooks. -Ed.
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