Monday, September 16, 2013

Vesey Walker Disneyland Photo Extravaganza!

Today's post is a tribute to Vesey Walker, conductor of the original Disneyland Marching Band, shown here in this April 1961 photo. To accompany this photo blowout, I will be using text from Vacationland Magazine's Winter/Spring 1964 issue.


Each visitor to Disneyland brings away with him a different set of cherished memories of the Magic Kingdom. Some recall the excitement of the Matterhorn Bobsleds, others remember the fascination produced by the Enchanted Tiki Room, while others enjoy the nostalgia created by Main Street, USA.

But almost every Disneyland guest recalls fondly the musical mastery of the Disneyland Band—one of the most unique groups of musicmakers in the world.

One of the only bands in the nation employed on a permanent, year-round basis, the 16-man aggregation plays Dixieland, pops, marches, novelty tunes and almost any other kind of music requested by its legion of admirers. Noted for its versatility and polish, the group has memorized more than 250 pieces and has a repertory of hundreds more.

The band is under the direction of Vesey Walker, one of America's truly great bandmasters. When Vesey Walker led the newly formed Disneyland Band down Main Street USA for the first time in July, 1955, he must have expected favorable public response to the musical renditions of the colorful group. But no one, even longtime bandmaster Walker, could have anticipated the universal acceptance and popularity that greets the colorful band in Disneyland.

Nine years, and thousands of parades and concerts later, the Disneyland Band has performed from all 50 American states and more than 100 foreign nations. And, with Vesey holding the baton, it has greeted dignitaries ranging from King Mohammed V of Morocco to former Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The band and its selections are met with smiles and active participation in Disneyland, as oldsters listen with fond memories to the favorites of yesteryear, and youngsters march and prance in time with the music.

Frequently Vesey offers the baton to the very youngest member of the audience, as the band performs around the flagpole in Town Square, on Main Street—to the delight of both child and adult members of the listening audience.

Vesey Walker is a past master at band organization and direction, and has won more than 50 prizes, ranging from state to international competition, during his long and colorful years as a band leader.

Born in England, Walker came to the United States in 1912, and shortly after World War I became bandmaster of the Milwaukee American Legion Band. Under his direction, this band won four national championships for the American Legion and the international band contest in Geneva, Switzerland in 1934, as well as an Elks national competition and a Veterans of Foreign Wars contest.

Before organizing the Disneyland Band, Vesey was a bandmaster of the Los Angeles Elks 99 band for 21 years, leading the famous Elks "Toppers" marching band in the Rose Parade at Pasadena on New Year's Day for many years. He also organized and taught two boys bands in Los Angeles, including the Sheriff Biscailuz band and the Inglewood Boys Band.

In 1955 Vesey was asked to put a small band together at the opening of Disneyland for a two weeks engagement—and both the band and Vesey are still there.

Impressive as Vesey's talents are, a bandleader is only as good as his musicians—and Vesey has the best. From assistance conductor Jim Barnsgrove,r who has played with Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, and Jan Garber, to the classical background of Forrest Clark, who has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Ballet Russe, and was a soloist with Leopold Stokowski, the Disneyland Band is truly a group of professionals.

Other famous musicians with whom members of the group have played include: Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Ray Anthony, Gene Krupa, Tex Beneke, and many many more.

Side note; anybody know what Tweers' or Zweers' Puppets were?

Although they may have diversified musical backgrounds, the band performs in a manner which proves its close harmony and long experience together. In fact, in more than nine years of existence, there have only been 12 changes in the personnel of the band.

But it is not the past history that Disneyland visitors remember; rather it is the pulse-quickening and toe-tapping music the musicians produce today. Few indeed are those who can sit calmly by without reacting when the band plays the exciting "When the Saints Go Marching In," followed by "South Rampart Street Parade."

Although Vesey claims the band has no favorites, it is a rare day indeed that the band's 12:30 concert in Plaza Gardens does not end with John Philip Sousa's stirring "Stars and Stripes Forever."

In addition to playing as a full-sized band, the Disneyland musicians break up into three smaller groups, the Strawhatters, the Saxophone Quartet, and the Polka Band.

The Strawhatters play a rousing brand of Dixieland in the gazebo in Frontierland every afternoon, while the mellow sounds of the Saxophone Quartet fill Main Street daily. The Polka Band, whose tuneful renderings float over Fantasyland, usually can be found in the vicinity of the Matterhorn each afternoon.

From its first Town Square Concert at 10:15 in the morning to the Retreat Ceremony around the Disneyland Flag Pole, the band brings an added measure to the pleasure that has become synonymous with the name of Disneyland.

Truly a talented and diversified group, there is one kind of music that Vesey Walker and his Disneyland Musicmakers play best—the music that Disneyland guests enjoy.

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K. Martinez said...

Dave - John Zweers was a puppeteer from Pasadena who built a collection of puppets from all over the world. Here's a link to some comprehensive information on Mr. Sweers.

Hope that answers your question.

Davelandweb said...

Thanks so much - I am blown away that you knew that!

JG said...

Great collection of photos and stories about a great band. Music was always a highlight of a Disneyland trip.

I often play the Park soundtracks while I work, which is weird, I know. But, sometimes, it's what I need.

Thank you, Dave.


K. Martinez said...

Dave - no problem. Glad I could answer your question.


I am now 95 and was there for the opening day. I knew Vesey Walker personally and remember that he let my sons, Greg and Tom (named after Tommy Walker who managed Disneyland for years) lead his band down Main Street. I know that Tommy Walker was Walt Disney's right hand man and even he did not know why Walt suddenly disappeared.
My children had the luxury of going into the main office and getting booklets of free tickets onn the rides. My favorite was *Its A Small World After All"
Frances J. Johnson

Davelandweb said...

Thanks for the great memories, Frances! If you have any others that you'd like to share, feel free to email me: