Art Beat: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson band marches off into history

Mike Dunham
The Air Force Band of the Pacific, which provided music around Alaska since before World War II, has been disbanded.

The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs office confirmed last week that the JBER Air Force Band of the Pacific has been decommissioned. The Anchorage-headquartered military band that, under one form or another, provided music for both civilian and martial occasions around Alaska since before World War II is no more.

The imminent demise of the unit was an open secret. Going back to 2008 many speculated that, with Sen. Ted Stevens no longer in office, its days were numbered. When I wrote an article in advance of its December program last year, the commander confirmed that a consolidation was underway. At the commissioning of the USS Anchorage in May, a band member who performed at the occasion said orders had been received and shortly after came a call from another member reporting that the musicians were being shipped to other units in other states.

JBER Public Affairs now tells me that four members of the band remain here; I have been told that they're used for funerals at the National Cemetery.

Over the years, the band contributed mightily to musical life in Alaska, not only performing in the far-flung reaches of the state but also providing top quality off-duty musicians who played with the Anchorage Symphony and Opera, club bands and theatrical productions.

It's impossible to confirm all of the stories and connections that have floated around over the years, but one story goes that in the 1960s an airman named Tom Scott would bring his guitar to Spenard bars and sit in with the local cats.

The Pentagon has a primary mission that has nothing to do with Anchorage cultural life. Still, there's something poignant in this particular sounding of taps.


A poem for Soapy

Speaking of taps, we note that on July 8 in 1898 in Skagway, Alaska's most famous bad guy, Jefferson Randolph Smith, aka "Soapy," died in an exchange of gunfire. The shootout ended his gangster rule over the Gold Rush town and cleared the way for the more sophisticated criminality of the present. In honor of tomorrow's anniversary, we offer the following clerihew:


Jefferson Randolph "Soapy"


is not a myth.

He bullied and conned and was

known to bleed

when shot in the chest by Frank



Prize-winner's solo show

Becky Orcutt, Best of Show winner in the 2012 No Big Heads National Self-Portrait Exhibition among other achievements, has a solo show coming up at the UAA Student Union Gallery. The "exhibit focusing on the figure" opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Wednesday and the work will remain on display through the end of the month. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.


Santa is coming

"Hurricane" Dave Rush and a dozen or so of his musically talented friends are joining with Santa Claus for a program of Christmas music -- in July. It's the group's sixth annual fundraiser for local nonprofits, specifically those who do their good works around the winter holiday, which is closer to the time most people have their Yuletide shows. But last year they switched it from December to July -- with happy results.

"The date change was so successful that (we) will present two concerts this summer with two beneficiaries," said Hurricane Dave. "Yuletide music always lifts people's spirits, but it's not right that you only experience it in December."

The program of the show, now known as "Jul' Yule," will include carols and religious songs as well as pop classics of the season. The list of performers is still coming together, but we have it on good authority that Mr. and Mrs. Claus -- who happen to be talented musicians in their own right -- will make an appearance.

"They're not too busy in July, and they live just a short sleigh ride north of here," Hurricane Dave said.

The programs will take place at 7 p.m. Friday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Palmer's Trinity Barn (Mile 2.2 Palmer-Wasilla Highway), a benefit for Mat-Su Special Santa, and 5 p.m. next Sunday, July 14, in the Starlight Ballroom of the Anchorage Senior Activity Center (1300 E. 19th Ave.), to support the University Kiwanis/Salvation Army Holiday Baskets for Seniors and Shut-ins.

Admission to both events is free, but cash donations are encouraged. The organizers stress that stuff will not be accepted, no food or toys, whether wrapped or unwrapped. Checks can be made out to the charitable groups and there will even be a machine to accept credit cards; Ol' Santa doesn't miss a trick.


Words to remember

While writing last month about the spectacular stretch of sunny weather, now passed, I encountered a term that made so much sense I thought it bore repeating: meteorological summer.

Our calendars typically note summer solstice as "the first day of summer." That's only accurate, however, with reference to astronomical seasons, reckoned by solstices and equinoxes, a specific acknowledged by Webster's. This has logical applications, I suppose, when calculating the precise relationship of the Earth and Sol, which I seldom do, or planning a human sacrifice, which I never do. It doesn't seem right, however, when one is planting lettuce on June 1 or shoveling snow on Sept. 10.

But the National Weather Service -- on which we lean for important daily information such as "should I plug in my car?" -- has a more practical definition. Meteorological summer comprises the three warmest months in their entirety, running June 1-Aug. 31.

This sort of reminds me of another item that recently adorned this column, the question of what constituted the Western Hemisphere and the discovery that there are at least two definitions, the geographical and the political.

I'm probably not alone in having chided someone for referring to a nice day in early June as "summer." "No, not until the 21st," I say with a smirk. Well, that's over. From now on I'll ask for clarification. "Is that meteorological summer or astronomical summer?" If they say the latter, then I can smirk.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.