History of the Airmen of Note


Introduction

On September 28, 2000 , the Airmen of Note celebrated 50 years of service to the Air Force and to the music-loving public.  Over the past half-century the “Note” has made literally thousands of appearances all over the world.  They served the Air Force, performing for everyone from airmen stationed at remote airfields to the Commander-in-Chief at the White House.  The public has also had many opportunities to hear one of the world’s finest big bands, in concert, on the radio and on television. 

Surprisingly, very little has been written about the Airmen of Note over the years.  There are several reasons for this.  In the early part of the band’s existence, it operated almost entirely within the military sphere.  At that time, the few civilian big band enthusiasts who knew of its existence referred to the Airmen of Note as “one of the Air Force’s best kept military secrets.”  Even since the band began appearing more frequently in public, the unavailability of commercial recordings has made it difficult for big band fans to sustain an interest in the band. After fifty years of faithfully serving up outstanding music, it is time that some of the facts about the Airmen of Note’s long and distinguished history are made known.

For convenience, the history has been divided into periods corresponding to the tours of the band’s twelve leaders.  Each of these leaders has played an important role in the development of the Airmen of Note; however, the history of the Airmen of Note is much more than a history of the leaders and how they shaped the band. 

One of the unique characteristics of the Airmen of Note is that the character of the band has been influenced as much by the musicians and arrangers as by the leaders. This is due in part to the high caliber of the men and women that have served on the band over the years, and in part to the continuity of personnel.  So even though the different periods of the band’s history are identified by the names of the leaders, the history of the Airmen of Note during each of these periods is really a history of all of the men and women who have served on the band.

Background and Origins

The roots of the Airmen of Note go back to two well-known World War II musical organizations: the Glenn Miller Army Air Forces (AAF) Orchestra,[1] and the AAF Headquarters Band at Bolling Field. 

Little needs to be said about the legendary Miller orchestra.  With its broadcasts and personal appearances, it earned a very special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Allied servicemen, both at home and overseas.  General Jimmy Doolittle paid the band the ultimate tribute when he said, “. . . next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations.”

 
 

Although the Airmen of Note was formed to carry on the musical traditions of the Miller AAF Orchestra, the relationship had another aspect as well:  it was at Bolling Field that the Miller AAF Orchestra made its final broadcast on November 17, 1945 .  So the Airmen of Note picked up exactly where the Miller AAF Orchestra had left off, geographically as well as musically.

The resident musical unit at Bolling during World War II was the AAF Headquarters Band, the unit that would eventually become the United States Air Force Band (of which the Airmen of Note would become part).  Great as it was, the Miller AAF band didn’t have the corner on big band music in the AAF – there were musicians at Bolling that could swing also.