The Music Man

One of the first musicals I saw live was "The Music Man". My mother took me to a "theater in the round" (it had a rotating circular stage in a domed theater) - and I got to see actor Gig Young work his magic in the lead role.

"Seventy six trombones led the big parade...."

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"When our new brass section starts playing, General, the enemy will never know what hit them!"

As a high school student, the band room was my home away from home. I was in charge of the marching band uniforms and so had the small practice room where they were stored as my own "office". That is where I kept my books, coat, etc. After the first semester I never used a hall locker again.

Although I was a math major, I played trombone in the orchestra, concert band, and stageband (a jazz big band). One year I also took Harmony 1 and 2. There were two lunch periods so as to split up the 3,600 students at the school into more manageable(?!) groups. My last two years, I didn't have a lunch period - I was taking a full load of classes for the math major, plus the music groups.

In the fall, Marching Band took the place of Concert Band and the school allowed it to be counted as "Physical Education" (P.E.) due to all the marching around during and after school hours, but I stretched that to include Concert Band in the Spring semesters (totally against the rules). So for four semesters I had no P.E. and no lunch period. Every semester, my "counselor" would call me into his/her office and point out that my schedule was too full and that skipping lunch period and P.E. were not allowed. I would respond that it was too far into the semester at that point (they were slow to catch on what I was doing) for me to drop any classes, as it would mean receiving a failing grade or at best an "incomplete" on my report card, and "hey, I plan to go to college, and I need a good grade point average". The counselor would let it slide with a warning: "Don't let it happen again!" (I did end up having to take a make-up P.E. class my last semester, in order to graduate).

So how did I beat the system and get away with it every semester? Well, I owed it in part to the turn-over in counselors, but mostly it was possible thanks to this man - The Music Man.
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Ken Kamp conducting the Stage Band

Kenneth K Kamp was the band director at my school. Every year when it was time to register, students would go into a large room where cards representing the classes were laid out on tables and pick up the cards for the classes they wanted to take. It was done alphabetically and as my last name is near the last 1/3 of the English alphabet, there was a big risk that some classes I wanted would already be full. So Ken (Mr. Kamp to me then) would slip in before registration even started and pull the requested cards for me and a few other band members. This insured his best players could get the classes they wanted and also play music.

A graduate of USC (University of Southern California) Mr. Kamp directed the band at Taft High School from 1964 to 1995. When I was in school, he was still a very young man, and we all thought he was "cool", and he was - as a band director friend of mine would say "when it was hip to be hep, he was hep". Our football half-time shows often included arrangements current pop hits and special effects. For example, we once formed a jet plane on the field using CO2 fire extinguishers for the engines and played the Joe Cocker hit "The Letter": "Give me a ticket for an aeroplane..."; he had a party for band members at his home. He shared his intersts with us, he asked us about our aspirations. We were all impressed with his car too - a Porsche 911S. But he wasn't trying to be popular - he was simply a great music teacher.

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Tournament of Roses Parade - Mr. Kamp walking next to Pandabonium

Many of the students I was in band with went on to perform professionally. One of my fellow trombone players, Lynn Tivens, joined a band called "The Gringos" which played brassy rock music ala "Blood, Sweat, and Tears". They made some albums and toured the entire US and Canada. Another 'bone player, Jock Ellis, played in the Don Ellis Orchestra (no relation) and has since recorded with artists such as Frank Zappa and groups like "The Doors". One year our stageband won the Los Angeles District Jazz Band competition - using arrangements of then popular Don Ellis big band written by our own pianist (who now plays flute in the Peninsula Symphony in the San Francisco bay area). The marching band also worked hard and on January 1, 1968 we marched in the nationally televised Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. The 9km (5.5 mile) long route is quite a workout, so we spent the two weeks of Christmas vacation leading up to it by marching around the parking lot of a local college every day.

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Rose Parade

When graduation time came and I applied to university, Mr. Kamp wrote an excellent letter of recommendation for me, at least I assume so because I was accepted. Conducting graduation was a lot of work for him. My class had over 900 students and as the names were called and the students received their diplomas, the orchestra played "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar over and over and over and over..... It was hard on the wind section too, as those of us graduating played until it was near time to receive our diploma, then rejoined the orchestra after doing so. I lost touch with him for a long time after that, partly because he took a break from Taft to help get a new high school started.

Several years ago I looked up Jock Ellis using the internet and emailed him. At the time I was playing in a dance band and he helped me with suggestions on how to improve. He also put me back in touch with Ken, who had retired but was playing piano for rehearsals of various bands in Los Angeles. Ken was first and foremost a clarinetist, but also very good on piano. I've kept in touch with him ever since. I also found out that Lynn Tivens and another Taft 'bone player, Larry Black, had played some music with Ken and I started emailing those two guys. The internet is truly wonderful for things like that. After all these years I'm back in touch with four of the other trombone players and a saxophone player from high school days.

About six months ago, Lynn emailed to tell me Ken had cancer. He had been smoker, but had quit and was very athletic. He had gone through surgery and was undergoing chemotherapy, but it wasn't working. He was not too uncomfortable and was working on some big band charts he hoped to finish before his time ran out. I would email him about once a month with a music related cartoon, joke, or memory from high school days. Ken passed away on October 10, 2006.

We all have such good memories of him and are grateful for what he did for each of us. I am sure many other of his students from his long career feel the same. I've even come across articles on the internet written by students who graduated long after I did, which quote something he said during their band years. I am happy that I was able be in contact again these past several years and had the opportunity to express my gratitude. Like the Music Man, or the title character in Mr. Holland's Opus, Ken Kamp enriched the lives of his students. I know that for us Taft High trombone players of the late 60's, he's still marching at our side.

UPDATE: See the post about the "KEN KAMP MEMORIAL CONCERT" to be held March 5th 2007!


The Moody Minstrel said...

(Damned clarinetists...)

Seriously now, he sounds like a great guy, and you were indeed fortunate to have been able to work under him. I'm sure he will be greatly missed all around. May he rest in peace.

(I even forgive him for having graduated from USC...the only Pac-10 school I simply cannot abide...)

What is it about clarinetists and vices? It seems like nearly every serious, professional clarinetist I've ever run across was either a smoker and/or a chronic coffee addict. The instructor/performer that I studied under in my school days was both. He always had either a cigarette or a cup of coffee in hand. I always wondered if the guy ever slept.

(To answer your question, Mr. Ogawa doesn't smoke, but he chugs coffee like water. I know because I usually make it for him at the school music office.)
(Oh, sorry. To answer your other question, I'm trying very hard not to...)

I remember that first photo. I posted it on the Snabulus blog months ago for a caption contest. Those were acoustic sensors used by the Imperial Japanese Army back in the '30s. They were for detecting and ranging aircraft before radar was invented.

Pandabonium said...

Oh, damn. I thought I'd fool someone with that picture. Leave to another clarinetist to blow my cover. It was on Snabulus blog? I don't remember seeing it. Ah well, shows great minds think alike. (either that or shows my memory is shot)...

And yeah, we were fortunate to work under him.

Don Snabulus said...

That was a wonderful tribute to a great man. Thank you for sharing that with us.

Pandabonium said...

MM - my memory is off the hook. That caption contest was April 9, 2005 and as I didn't comment, I can claim I never saw it. (that's my excuse and I'll stick to it)

Don - thank you. I consider myself lucky. Teachers can really make a big difference in one's life, and the really good ones are gems to treasure.

Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, Wow! What a tribute. Thanks for sharing. Those are great photos - so much good memories in them.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks, Happy. Those were great days to remember I must say.

Anonymous said...

Great tribute...thanks for caring enough to share your experiences. He was all those things and more.
Some additional information...he died from complications of renal cancer on October 10, 2006.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks anonymous. I wrote this moddest post for myself really, so I am glad it has resonated with other people who loved Ken Kamp. In addition to comments here, I have received many emails, some from people I've not heard from since high school. When I think of all the lives Ken touched in the years after I left Taft, it is awesome and heartwarming. It is a priviledge to have known him.

Thanks for your comment and information.

Mark Homchick said...

Nice tribute to a great man. A student of his '72 - 75, I attended a service for him on November 18, with easily one hundred guests there. It was a sad, but joyous afternoon with the treat of a wonderful quintet playing classic jazz tunes--music that Ken loved.

I was honored to be one of those able to speak about Ken, giving the student--later friend, view. I miss him much. And, though you noted Ken was a smoker (he quit years ago),the cancer that took him from us did not begin in the lungs.

There is talk about a get-together early next year with a big bad on hand to play the charts he did in his last years. I will pass along information as I hear.


Mark Homchick

Pandabonium said...

Hi Mark. Thanks for visiting and for your comments and information. One of the 60's band members who attended the memorial sent me pictures of the quintet (what great idea), the photos of Ken that were displayed as well as the memorial pamphlet. He was a great guy.

While he died of renal cancer, perhaps surprisingly smoking is the number one risk factor associated with that disease.

Please do let me know if you if hear more about getting together to play his charts. I wouldn't be able to make it, but I am in touch with several people in California who might well be interesting in joining in.

Best regards,

Scott Norvell said...

I was shocked to hear about Mr. Kamp's passing today. I played tuba in the band from 1976 to 1979. Your memories of him brought back similar memories for me too. My tuba teacher at UCLA, Tommy Johnson, a classmate of Mr. Kamp's at "SC, passed away a week after Mr. Kamp did.

I was meaning to e-mail him to let him know how he was a major influence on me. He encouraged me in my playing and I became a band director partly as a result of my experiences at Taft. When I last saw him about 24 years ago, we were playing volleyball at a pick-up game at Pierce College.

I remember at one football game, he was commenting on the size of the band (about 85-100 at the time) and how it would probably never be the same again because of the passage of Prop. 13. I don't know how the music program is at Taft now, but where I live now (Fresno), school music programs are not what they used to be in the 60's and 70's.

Thanks for this great tribute.

Scott Norvell

Jon Harting said...

It was great to read your comments about Ken. He let me join the Woodrow Wilson High School senior band in 1959 when I was 13 years old. Wilson was a 6 year, combined Junior-Senior High School back then. I auditioned with my trumpet and was with him from 7th grade to 12th grade. I saw him every day until I graduated in 1964 and he left Wilson for Taft. He was my all time favorite teacher and became a good friend as well. I used to go to Ken and Julie's house on weekends to listen to music and stuff. He also would pick me up at my house and take me to All City Band practice in his new Corvette. I'm so thankful that I got back in touch with him just before he passed away. I can't say enough good things about him. I have a flood of memories about him as we all do. He was the best!

Jon Harting

Pandabonium said...

Thanks for your comments Jon. The comments and emails I've received since I posted this have been wonderful. We were all lucky to have had Ken touch our lives.

Anonymous said...

Just happened across this column. I was in Taft's orchestra 1969 to 1972, the middle of three siblings who were in Orchestra or Band there under the director of Mr. Kamp. I noticed the photo of the 1968 Rose Parade. My brother, Bruce Crost, played the cymbals in that parade. When my senior year started, it was just a few months after we lost him, and Mr. Kamp said some kind words to me about my brother.

Just a few years ago, I emailed Mr. Kamp and he responded that he was feeling ill. He also remembered my sister and mother.

He was responsible for keeping many of us interested in music.

Pandabonium said...

Anonymous - thank you for your comment. I remember Bruce. I am sorry to learn that he died - especially so young. That must have been a very hard time for you and your family.

Mr. Kamp was a special person. We were lucky to have him in our lives.

Jeff Becker said...

How fun to stumble across this post about Ken Kamp. I played in the marching band and jazz band at Taft from 1971-73 and thought Ken was great. I'm a little jealous to read about earlier students having contact with him outside of school; I never had that opportunity, nor did anyone else that I knew in the band. But I did come away with a love of music, especially jazz, which I owe to Ken Kamp.

Thanks for bringing back the great memories.

Pandabonium said...

Jeff - I'm glad you enjoyed the post and the memories. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

javierperez said...

It was shocking for me to find out that Mr. Kamp passed away, but in reality great people and heroes don't live for ever, but their memories and lessons do.
I was in his beginners class in the last semmester of my freshmen year. I was learing how to play the trumpet. Before the semmester was over Mr. Kamp asked me if I wanted to join the band. and I said that I would think about it. Mr. Kamp had his lead trumpet player attend the beginners class. during his visit he would sit behine the tumpet section for a few days then he sat next to me and said don't mined me Im just evaluating the brass section. The next day our visitor introduced him self to me. he said his name is marco and that Mr. Kamp had said a lot of good thing about me. Well to make a story short he was sent to convince me so I would join the band. But I was still having a hard time making up my mined. I used to say to my self, Mr. Kamp must think that I'm a prety good trumpet player for him to go through all that trouble. So on the last day of school I toll Mr. Kamp I hope it's not to late but I do want to join the band. He looked at me, smiled and wrote a letter, he tolled me to drop it off in my couselors mail box. On registration day I picked up my schedule and my 1st period was band. I said wow! I didn't know if what I was feeling is fear or happyness. On the 1st day of school in band class it was very intimidating cause all of the other band members had years of experience and I only had one semmester. Mr. Kamp said to me don't worry you'll do o.k. and so I did. I was in band from 1990 to 1993 and I was having the best time of my life, we competed with other schools in concert band and got excellent scoring. Doring marching band Mr. Kamp gave me an application so I could joined the Los Angeles all city honor band. and so I did.

Mr. Kamp always made him self available for his students, and I didn't see him as a teacher but as a friend or a big brother. He did a lot great things for many of his students.

He gave me the opportunity to be part of something that is very special to him. For that I am greatfull and honored. To me he will always be a great man and a hero.

Rest in peace

Pandabonium said...

Javier - thank you so much for your heartwarming comment. I am happy to learn that he had such a positive effect on your life. He was indeed a great man and hero for us who had the privilege to have him as our band director.

All the best to you.

javierperez said...

I am planning a trip to Los Angeles and I would like to know some information if possible. In what cemetery is Mr. Kamp in. I want to give my respects.

Pandabonium said...

Javier - please email me - pandabonium at gmail dot com.

TubaTom said...

I also thought the world of Mr. Kamp. I wasn't one of his top students. You can't get much lower than a Tuba player. But he definitely gave a thousand percent. I remember the long marches through Woodland Hills Hills to practice for the Rose Parade. He let nothing go to chance, Lot's of attention to detail. Quite I guy!

Pandabonium said...

Tom - thanks for the comment. sorry it took so long to moderate it - I'm not used to moderating comments, but I've had spammers of late so had to start.

Hope all is great with you. Yes, all those long practice marches. We learned every inch of the Pearce College parking lot too. ;^)

Jerry said...

I'm very sad to learn of Ken's passing.

I knew Ken from 1975-78, when I played violin in the Taft orchestra. He was a fantastic music director, and we had a great group with some very fine solo players, so we got the opportunity to play many of the standard symphonic works, including various solo concertos.

Ken really liked that he had a cadre of such talented kids, and used it to the max. I was the de facto music librarian for the orchestra, and Ken would have me pull scores and parts from the file cabinets; music that never had been played before at Taft. He wanted to put it in front of the kids while he had a group that could play it. When we were not preparing for a concert, Ken would have us play another Mozart or Beethoven symphony we'd never seen. And he'd tell us any history he knew that was related to the composition.

It was only after I went to college to study music that I realized what an incredible education we had gotten already with Ken.

About a year after graduation, I went back to visit Ken, and he told me that Prop. 13 really was devastating the music programs in school. I was sad to hear that news. After the following year, I moved to New York, and lost touch with everybody I knew in California. But I never forgot about Ken and the orchestra, and have carried with me the happy memories of 2nd period all my life.

Pandabonium said...

Jerry - thank you so much for sharing your memories.

You said, "he'd tell us any history he knew that was related to the composition". That is something I remember about him too and I still retell some of the stories I heard from him.

OLY said...

Oly Nero.

I played trumpet in the 5th period workshop jazz band from 80-83.

Mr Kamp was a great teacher, I still have the copies of all the jazz charts he gave us.

Mr Kamp gave all the students nick names after all teh jazz greats, he nick named me "Dizzy" after Dizzy Gilispie.

I wish I could have talked to him one more time, to tell him, I still play music and still have copies of all the sheet music he gave us.

July 24th 2010. my band "No Limit" played the Taft High Reunion. 82,83,84 and some of 85....we had a blast....it was st the Sage Brush Cantina in Agoura Hills Ca.


Pandabonium said...

Thanks for your comments Oly. Sorry it took me so long to get it posted.
I checked out your band's youtube video - you guys are great.

Anonymous said...

I was the one whose brother played cymbals in the 1967-8 band (the one that marched in the Rose Bowl Parade). My daughter is considering being the next generation to play in a marching band but at Reseda. She'll have to learn a band instrument as she's learned viola and piano, two instruments not found in too many bands.
Patty Crost Glueck

Pandabonium said...

Patty - thanks for your new comment. I hope your daughter comes up with an instrument she enjoys for marching band. Viola and Piano? - that's great!

By the way, two of my older siblings went to Reseda. Not musicians though.

All the best to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me to find out Mr. Kamp has passed. I was a student of his and graduated the year he retired, 1995. Although I had been playing trumpet for three years when I joined his band, I can readily say that it was under his instruction that I truly learned about music and about performance art. Even as he was retiring, Mr. Kamp had the ability to inspire. He was able to transmit his great in-depth knowledge of music to us in simple, accessible, permanent ways. In his program we truly captured and understood (lived) the greats – Handel, Holst, Mussorgsky, Sousa, and on and on… His four year program was truly invaluable and a match to any great music conservatory. I have met people from other great programs, private, exclusive or very expensive that had comparable music educations. Under his direction I was able to leverage music into other areas of personal growth. He guided me to the LAUSD Honor Band, the LA Jr. Philharmonic, and even my admission to UCLA, where I played in the marching band; all had much to do with Mr. Kamp's instruction. I can say with much certainty that he was the best teacher, and even mentor I had had in my formative academic years, other than my own parents. Today in my own career, many of his lessons apply to day to day business. In my opinion, his life's work represents all that is good in public schools in Los Angeles, and in the teaching profession. Those of us that knew him were truly fortunate.

Pandabonium said...

Anonymous - Thank you so much for your heartfelt tribute to Ken Kamp. You have expressed most eloquently what all of us who had the privilege of playing under his baton experienced. We were all, as you say, truly fortunate.

Javier Perez said...

vote for Kenneth Kamp on GrammyMusicteacher.com

ruralrelay said...

Just came across this page, and here it is June, 2018. I was a young cellist in Kenneth Kamp's orchestra at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High. I loved the man. For a small young girl, a cello was a big instrument to carry from home to school. When we had special rehearsals, Ken Kamp would pick me up in his Jaguar XKE and stuff the cello in there somewhere. From what I read, the guy loved sports car, too! RIP Kenneth Kamp!