This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Three Postcards of Trombonists

05 June 2021

Almost all of the photographs in my collection
are portraits of either individual musicians
or musical groups of various numbers.
The oldest portraits are small tintypes,
carte de visites,
or larger cabinet card photos
produced from the middle to late 19th century.

But in the early 20th century
photographers introduced a new method
of printing photographs on standard postcard paper stock.
This combination of an image with the postal service system
quickly became popular with the public.
For the first time anyone could
easily send
their own personal portrait on a postcard.

One of my favorite types of postcard portraits
are of military bandsmen.
They were musicians and soldiers too,
who took pride in their musical instrument
and their military service.
Today I feature three men,
all trombone players,
and all from the same era
before the Great War of 1914-18.

My first trombonist is a young man dressed in the uniform of an American soldier. He wears the distinctive Montana peak or campaign hat, a short tunic, wide jodhpurs breeches, and lace-up leggings. His trombone has valves which made it easier to play and less prone to damage than the slide trombone.

The back of the postcard shows evidence that it was once pasted into an album. It also has a name: J. Rodrigues

Only the initials U.S. on the soldier's collar badge are clear. His unit collar badge is obscured. With his riding breeches he might be in the cavalry, but that government issued garment was also worn in the infantry and artillery too. His leggings are actually a very useful clue for dating his uniform, and this style was common from 1912 to 1917. A search through produced far too many results in census archives to be helpful, but there were a few documents in military post records that might connect to this soldier.

In the April 1914 monthly report for the U. S. Army garrison at San Juan, Puerto Rico there was an enlisted man named Jose Rodriguez listed as a Private, "With the Band since July 7, 1913." He was one of two soldiers attached "Casually at Post", which I take to be a temporary assignment, and his unit was Company "H" for headquarters, typically the company for an army band. His unit was the P.R.R.I. for the Puerto Rico Regiment of Infantry, and this garrison had roughly 470 enlisted men and 17 officers. This regiment was first created in 1899 after the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1917 the infantry unit was assigned to defend the Panama Canal Zone, and after WW1 ended it was renamed the 65th Infantry Regiment in 1920.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. Army Garrison
April 1914

This is hardly conclusive proof. The trombonist's name Rodrigues is here spelled with a z, a frequent variation on a common Spanish surname, and likewise his forename initial J could easily stand for Javier, Jesus, Juan, or Jose, not to mention many other J names. The coincidence of similar names was a major problem for military record keeping which is why soldiers and sailors are now given service numbers.
Nonetheless I think his portrait is a nice example of a typical soldier's portrait, with the added charm of his musical instrument instead of a rifle. It's a picture that any mother would be proud to place into the family photo album.  

* * *

My second portrait of a trombone player is not a soldier but a sailor. His uniform is a dark color, presumably navy blue, with a traditional sailor's open collar and neckerchief. He is seated in a relaxed cheerful manner in the photographer's studio resting his slide trombone on his crossed knee. In front of him is a folding music stand with a sheet of music. He is a youngish man in his twenties with a carefully trimmed Prussian style mustache that marks him as a seaman from the era of the German Empire. 

His sailor's cap hangs on the back of the chair but the lighting does not allow us to see the name of his ship that is stitched to the hat band. However his sleeve does have a patch for his rating. Surprisingly it is not the lyre symbol for a bandsman but a flaming bomb. I haven't found a period lexicon that explains all the varieties of this patch, but it was also used in later decades after the fall of the Kaiser. I believe it makes him a specialist rank, a gunner in the light naval artillery.  The postcard has no marks on the back except for printed lines for an address. Quite a number of German navy bands served onboard battleships and cruisers. I estimate it was taken around 1910-1918.
Kaiserlich German Navy patch
Gunner, Light Artillery
Source: The Internet

* * *

My third photo postcard is a trombonist wearing a splendid dress uniform. His tunic has a single row of buttons, a striped belt, braided 'Austrian knots' on the sleeves, epaulets, and an aiguillette attached to his right shoulder. The bell of his slide trombone has fine engraving. I would estimate his age as twenty-ish. His down-turned mustache is a good clue as to his country, Great Britain. The badge on his hat is very clear and identifies him as a bandsman in the Royal Artillery of the British Army.

Cap badge, Royal Artillery of the British Army
Source: Wikimedia
If I am correct that he is a bandsman of the Royal Artillery, then this trombonist may be a member of the oldest band in the British Army. The Royal Artillery Band was first granted official status in 1762 but traces its roots back to 1557. Made up of versatile wind musicians who could double on string instruments, it was also Britain's first permanent professional orchestra. There were a number of depot bands in the Royal Artillery stationed in ports like Portsmouth, Plymouth, and even Gibraltar, so he may not have been in the premier band.  
Since this card has no postmark I can only speculate as to the date that his trombonist's portrait was made, roughly 1905-1915. The divided back for meto ssage and address was only allowed after 1902. But I do know his name — Robert, or more specifically, Uncle Bob.

uncle Bob
this was taken the
morning Willie
went away

It's a simple note, clearly added by someone related to Bob, but missing enough family details to fix a time or place, much less a full name. Who was Willie? Where did he go? Does this explain Uncle Bob's sad expression? Unfortunately the meaning of the words are lost to history and must remain an enigma.
My dad was an officer in the U. S. Army and an enthusiastic amateur photographer, so I grew up looking at countless soldiers and photographs. Perhaps this explains why this type of portrait appeals to me. They were not like the postcard photos of kings, generals, or other celebrities. These were personal gifts intended for family, friends, and comrades. These portraits are mementos of military service that happen to include an occupational element of a musical instrument. That makes it fun to see a soldier or sailor with a trombone, a relatively non-threatening piece of military equipment. Though just because it doesn't shoot bullets, doesn't mean a trombone can't be a lethal weapon when it's properly armed.  

To conclude
here is a parade of the Royal Artillery Band
in London's Hyde Park on 02.06.2015.
Notice the busby hats and short swords,
and also that there are a number of women in the band.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where nearly every photo is a memorial.





La Nightingail said...

Nice instrumental postcards. The first two trombonists look awfully young. The third appears to be a bit older. My son played slide trombone in his high school band. I would watch him practice, but it was amazing to me how far or not he knew to slide that thing to get the notes he wanted! My daughters played alto sax, and flute and it seemed so much easier to me to play those than the slide trombone. My daughters just laughed at me, however. And they're right. What did I know. I sang & played the piano. On the other hand, what's really amazing to me is how my mind & body know exactly what to do to make a certain sound - a middle 'C'or the one an octave above, for instance? My Mom said I was singing songs in tune when I was 2 1/2. How did I know how to do that?

Barbara Rogers said...

Great to read of these talented young people. And I've always wondered if a mustache doesn't get in the way of playing a horn...and this proves the test of the pudding.

Wendy said...

My favorite is the sailor, maybe because he has a smile under that Prussian moustache.


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