As I flip back to the days when I was the Firechief and designated trombonist in the jazz band called the Firehouse Five Plus Two, it's difficult to deny that those 22 years were some of the most bizarre times of my life. Here we were, a bunch of artists, writers, and technicians who worked together for Walt Disney by day, turning out those wonderful animation films of the Golden Age and, on weekends, playing our raucous style of New Orleans jazz, all dressed up in red shirts, white suspenders, and genuine leather firehats.
The roots of the band germinated in the early 1940's when some of us at the Disney Studio used to gather in my office at lunchtime to listen to my records of such jazz legends as King Oliver, Baby Dodds, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong. Since most of our little nucleus of old-time jazz lovers had played various musical instruments back in school, we decided to really get into the spirit of the music by playing along with the records. Then one day the phonograph broke down right in the middle of Royal Garden Blues. Undaunted, we kept right on playing and found to our amazement that we sounded pretty good all by ourselves!
Soon, we were being asked to play for parties and dances. At first, we called ourselves the Huggajeedy Eight; then, the more authentic-sounding San Gabriel Valley Blue Blowers. Finally, when the band was asked by the local Horseless Carriage Club to play for its auto tour to San Diego, I quickly found and restored a 1914 fire truck and with the group now uniformed as firemen, we logically changed our name to the Firehouse Five Plus Two. (The Plus Two was added so that people who hired us would know that they were getting seven musicians!)