Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 52 - Remembering Bob Peck
More than half a century after playing trumpet with the Glenn Miller, Bob Crosby, Billy Butterfield, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill Orchestras, Bob Peck recalled his interest in music began when he was growing up in East Cleveland. "When I was about nine," said Peck, "my dad brought home and old, beat-up cornet. I picked it up and sort of took to it. And they started getting me to take lessons. I was doing very well from then on."
By the early 1930s, young Peck was learning to be a very talented trumpeter. He began playing with a group of high school and college jazz musicians who called themselves "The Rhythm Club." They played for dances at Case Institute and at high schools. They were also listening to the best jazz of the period.
"We listened to the colored bands," said Peck. "Now they call them black bands. We used to go downtown to Cedar Avenue and listen to Jimmie Lunceford and Louis Armstrong. Peck and his young friends also went to the now-legendary after-hours joint near East 86th and Cedar to hear jazz pianist Art Tatum. Peck recalled, "I once had the unmitigated gall to sit in with Tatum. When I look back on it, I say, 'Oh gosh, was I ever cheeky!" Like almost everyone else who heard Tatum at Val's in the Alley, Peck said he was "fractured" by Tatum's piano playing.
After high school, Peck went to Ohio State University where he majored in music and played in the university's symphonic orchestra, marching band, concert bands and jazz groups. At the end of the 1937 school year, he joined Cleveland's well-known Austin Wylie Orchestra and played at summer amusement park pavilions. He continued playing with several bands in Cleveland for another year.
"And then," said Peck, "I got a call from Glenn Miller, wanting me to join his band. I joined them in New York." Peck toured with the Miller band that would soon become the most famous band of the swing era. Peck said, "We played all the parks and ballrooms on the East Coast and did a record date in New York. We went from ballroom to ballroom, mostly one-nighters."
This was before Miller recorded such classics as "In the Mood," "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "Little Brown Jug." Peck said, "We played such diddies as 'By the Waters of Minnetoka.' Glenn was quite a gentleman but very insistent that everyone do their job the way we rehearsed. Musically, he was very strict." Peck told me most of the members of the band were making $50 a week which in those days went a long way. Peck said there was another Clevelander in the band at the time, lead trumpeter Bob Price.
But, about six months after Peck joined the band, Miller decided to hire a friend of Tex Beneke to replace Peck in the trumpet section. "I went up to Miller's room to get my last pay," said Peck, "and he asked me to stay on because the person they wanted couldn't make it. I said at the time, 'Well, no thank you. I don't want to stay some place where I'm not wanted. It was that simple."
On his way home to Cleveland, Peck had an appendicitis attack and underwent surgery in Cleveland. After recovering, Peck in 1939, joined his old friends from the Austin Wylie Orchestra -- Billy Butterfield and Bill Stegmeyer -- in the Bob Crosby Orchestra. They were all pictured on the cover of Down Beat magazine in June of 1940 and ranked number three (behind Miller and Benny Goodman) in the magazine's poll of swing bands.
The Crosby Orchestra, according to Peck, "was what we would call a heavily-drinking band. There was no such thing as dope, but alcohol passed around freely." One of the band's crowd-pleasers was a duet by bassist Bob Haggart (whistling) and drummer Ray Bauduc called "Big Noise From Winnetka." Peck remembered, "They used to hate doing it because they had done it so often. But, Bauduc liked to show off."
In 1940, some of the best musicians in the Crosby band left after an incident at the Blackhawk Restaurant in Chicago. A young trombone player named Ray Coniff, according to Peck, "liked to tease people in the sax section by flipping their ears with his trombone slide. At the end of the evening, Irving Fazola turned to Coniff and said, 'I'll see up upstairs!' The whole band went up to the instrument room and Ray Bauduc was trying to break up the fight. He hauled off and brought a fist to Faz' mouth. He was rushed to a hospital for stitches. The next evening, the band had a new clarinet player named Hank D'Amico."
After spending more than four years in the army during World War II, Peck joined a new band led by Butterfield in 1945. The Clevelander not only played trumpet. He also arranged for the band, including a piece called "Narcisis." He remembered the record sold fairly well but his royalties amounted to only about $49.
When Butterfield disbanded his orchestra, Peck returned to Cleveland and soon got a call to join Woody Herman's band. He also later toured with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.
But, while playing with Thornhill, Peck learned he had tuberculosis. He spent a year and a half at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Brecksville. While there, he decided he wanted to go into teaching. He got his bachelors and masters degrees at Western Reserve University and began a 30-year teaching career. He taught music in Flint, Michigan; Tucson, Arizona; Cleveland; Cleveland Heights; and Woodbridge in Summit County.
When he was teaching in Cleveland, Peck continued to play his trumpet with local bands. He said, "I was working with Hal Lind and, gee, I played the circus and the ice shows, you name it. Almost everything, big bands, small bands, any kind of band."
Peck lived for years in Seven Hills and gave private lessons at his home. In May of 1999, he moved to Palo Alto, California and was living with his daughter. He died August 12, 1999 at the Stanford University Hospital. Bob Peck, the East Cleveland native who had made significant contributions to the orchestras of Glenn Miller, Bob Crosby, Billy Butterfield, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill, was 82 years old.
Copyright 2000 Joe Mosbrook
CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"
You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).