One of my Dad's first jobs was playing taps at military funerals. He was fifteen years old that summer. World War II had ended, and the bodies were being shipped home. The Commander of the Post had contacted him because he played first chair in the school band. So almost every Saturday, he'd put on his suit, put his trumpet case over the handle bars of his bike, and ride into the village. He'd leave his bike at his best friend's aunt's house and meet the Commander, joining the funeral procession.
He says that military funerals were almost always the same. Everyone stood clustered around the grave. The women in the family, dressed in black, would be very quiet. When it was time for him to play, he would hit that first note, and everyone would start to cry. After his last note, the firing squad would start their salute. At the end, the widow was presented with a folded-up flag. My father went to maybe fifteen funerals that summer, all young men from the small village where he lived. He made $20 per funeral, which in the 1940s was a lot of money for a kid from a poor family to make.
During the 1950s, my Dad played the trumpet, piano, or accordion at many happier occasions: weddings and dances. Summers, he took his band to a resort in the mountains where they played late into the night for all the tourists from the city. Music paid his way through school. And at that resort in the mountains, he met my mother.
He spent the 1960s working a 9-to-5 job and raising small children, but that did not stop him from jamming with his friends on weekends. Jazz was the background music of my childhood, the sound of the piano and trumpet vibrating through my memories. As my Dad got older, he had trouble with his teeth that forced him to switch to other instruments: the clarinet, and then the saxophone.
My Dad still plays twice a week, with a small group and a big concert band. He still practices every day. He has recorded several arrangements with my daughter, who plays the piano. Although he mostly plays the sax now, he brought the clarinet to camp. When I asked him why, he said that it was the lightest instrument he owned, the smallest and easiest to pack.