by Lauren Vogel Weiss
"Whether as an arranger, teacher, clinician, judge, company
spokesperson or friend, Fred Sanford was simply the best.... He was the first, the best, the great artist, the person without whom so many of us would have struggled for acceptance and respect. Thanks for everything, Fred; your legacy will live on through your music, your disciples and your presence.
Rest in Peace, my friend. With admiration and gratitude, Dennis DeLucia."
Those words were read by Ralph Hardimon at a memorial service held for Fred Sanford on January 28, 2000 in Denver, Colorado, following Sanford's untimely death on January 23. For almost two hours that cold winter day, friends and family reminisced, told stories, and shared laughter as they recalled the man who contributed so much to marching percussion and drum corps.
Frederick Val Sanford was born in Laramie, Wyoming, on June 22, 1947. Before he was a year old, the family had moved to Casper-a city known for its drum and bugle corps. This corps would have a profound effect on the life of this young musician, providing musical experiences and lifetime friendships that would follow him throughout the next four decades.
In an interview with Modern Percussionist in 1985, Sanford recalled his first experience with the corps. "A businessman in town, Jim Jones, founded the Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps in 1957. My older brother [Ken] became a charter member as a drummer. At the time, I was in the fifth grade and developing my interest in music. I was taking piano lessons and began drum lessons in elementary school. Two years later, at age 12, I was old enough to join the Troopers. I remember marching around with these big 16-inch wooden-hoop drums with calfskin heads, pounding out beats to 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' and 'Ghost Riders in the Sky.'
"We started touring the Midwest area and competing on a regular basis with such corps as the Cavaliers, Royal Airs, Des Plaines Vanguard, Kilties, and the Madison Scouts. I guess that's really where I developed 'drum corps fever'."
Sanford mostly played tenor drum in what was then a typical drum line instrumentation of three snares, three single tenors, two bass drums, and one pair of cymbals. "As the tenor drum section leader," he remembered, "I began infusing a lot of technical patterns into the show. The tenor drum section became as rudimentally proficient as the snares. My last year in the Troopers was 1968, the year that multiple tenor drums, or timp-toms, were introduced. I marched a solo set of timp-tom trios, and ever since, that's been my favorite drum corps percussion instrument."
Sanford was a proud member of the Troopers for ten years until he aged out following his 21st birthday in 1968. Although he attended school at California State University in Fullerton and taught the newly organized Anaheim Kingsmen from 1965-67, each summer he would return to teach and perform with his hometown corps. After "aging out," Sanford moved to northern California where he attended San Jose State University and studied percussion with Tony Cirone. There he met a fellow student, Charles Dowd, who is currently the timpanist with the Eugene Symphony and Professor of Percussion at the University of Oregon.
"Thanks for all our gigs over the past 32 years," Dowd stated in a letter read at the memorial service. "Fred, you've always been a phenomenal player, a great teacher, musical visionary, and a consummate gentleman-always with a first-class, top-drawer sparkle, and truly a trusted friend. Musicians around the world thank you for your warm generosity and musical contributions. I'll see you on the other side...."
Following his graduation from SJSU in 1970 with a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education (he also earned his Master's Degree in Music from there four years later), Sanford went to Bergenfield, New Jersey to teach high school music. There he met two more important people in his life: Don Angelica, who was serving as the Director of Music at Bergenfield, and Dennis DeLucia, who would be inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame the same evening as Sanford in 1991.
During his years in San Jose, Fred also began to instruct and write for another new drum corps-the Santa Clara Vanguard, with whom he would work for twelve seasons. "I was commuting to California in the winter months," Sanford told MP in 1985. "Then, I would spend the entire summer competition season with the Vanguard. The drum line had grown to seven snares, four trios, four basses, four cymbals, and four marching timpani. Over a three-year period, the drum line scored high percussion honors in over fifty shows in a row. That's when Rob Carson, Kurt Moore, Paul Siebert, Mike LaPorta, and many other fine young drummers were in the line. We had emerged as a dominant force in terms of drum corps style and performance. The Santa Clara programs of the early- and mid-'70s are still some of the finest ever produced, in spite of the fact that we didn't have the expanded instrumentation that was to come later."
During his tenure there, the Vanguard drum line won an unprecedented five national "high drum" titles (in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979). In a fitting tribute, the DCI "high drum" award will now be called the "Fred Sanford Award for Best Percussion Performance."
Sanford also recalled some of his most memorable Santa Clara charts. "Early favorites would include 'Procession of the Nobles' and 'Fanfare and Allegro'.... And I can't forget the 'Young Person's Guide.' All of the 'Fiddler on the Roof' selections worked well, especially the 'Chava Ballet' sequence we used as a closer. Later in the '70s, there were productions such as 'Overture to a New Era' and the 'Gayne Ballet Suite,' which featured 'Lezghinka' as a percussion solo. My all-time favorite percussion feature was 'Stone Ground Seven.' By this time, we had the full complement of percussion instruments, and this solo was based on many 7/8 motifs. It was quite a departure for me to integrate something as contemporary as this solo into our normally classical program."
Dennis DeLucia remembers that decade. "Fred's artistry and Santa Clara's musicianship bridged the gap between drum corps and music education. 'Drum corps' and 'marching percussion' became words that were allowed to be spoken in the hallowed halls of our educational institutions. In fact, by the mid-to-late '70s, bands began to emulate and imitate corps, music conferences began to utilize marching specialists as clinicians, and high schools and universities began to hire corps-experienced artists as educators."
For a brief time in the mid-1970s, Sanford also worked with the Madison Scouts and the Alberta All-Girls Drum & Bugle Band. The '70s also saw Sanford begin his association with the Slingerland Drum Company, where he was instrumental in designing the TDR snare, Cut-a-way timp-toms and Tonal bass drums. He also began another important aspect of his career, teaching educational clinics on marching percussion around the country and eventually around the world.
During the early 1980s, Sanford joined the Ludwig Drum Company as a Product Development Manager and Staff Clinician. "I've spent a lot of time," said Sanford back in 1985, "conducting percussion workshops, presenting clinics, consulting, and judging the high school and college band programs. There's no doubt that the drum corps activity has influenced the marching band program.... From a percussion standpoint, I feel that the drum corps' influence has been very beneficial to the school programs."
In addition to his drum and bugle corps experiences, he was the percussion coordinator for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and also worked with the McDonald's All-American Band at various national parades. Since 1985, he served as a marching percussion consultant for the Yamaha Corporation of America and was involved in teaching thousands of students over the years through Yamaha's Sounds of Summer educational programs.
Michael Bennett, Vice President/General Manager for the Band & Orchestral Division of the Yamaha Corporation of America, spoke at Sanford's memorial service in January. "We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Fred Sanford," Bennett said. "Obviously, from a professional point of view, we will all sorely miss Fred. He made immeasurable contributions to Yamaha percussion in both product development and overall marketing. His advice and insight were invaluable to us throughout our long relations with him. And he was a familiar face-a trusted and respected face-representing Yamaha at countless exhibitions and conventions. We are very proud of our long association with one of the true giants of the percussion world."
Yamaha also made a generous donation to start the endowment of the Fred Sanford Scholarship Fund. (Additional contributions may be sent in Fred's memory to the Fred Sanford Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 300166, Denver, CO 80203-0166.)
Fred Sanford was also active in the Percussive Arts Society, serving on the PAS Marching Percussion Committee as well as being the "voice" of the Marching Percussion Festival for almost two decades-from the first Marching Forum held at PASIC '82 in Dallas to his final PASIC appearance in Orlando in 1998. As a tribute to his support of PAS, the Marching Percussion Committee unanimously nominated him for induction into the PAS Hall of Fame. In their letter, penned by Kenneth Green, they wrote: "Fred Sanford's accomplishments in the marching percussion idiom are legendary.... He is probably the person most responsible for bridging the gap between traditional rudimental drumming and concert and drumset practices. His innovative and progressive approaches to writing, arranging, and teaching completely revolutionized contemporary marching percussion in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. They have been a constant inspiration for over four decades. Many of the developments in instrument design, some of which he initiated more than 30 years ago, are still the standard today."
John Pollard, Director of Percussion at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, Texas, read the above letter at the memorial service in Denver and added his own comments, his voice breaking with emotion. "From the beginning to the end, Fred was an innovator. His latest pursuit centered around the incorporation of electronics sequencing and MIDI. His brilliance and vision are going to continue to serve as inspiration to all of us for so long after his passing."
Pollard and his drum line presented two special benefit concerts last spring to raise money for the Fred Sanford Scholarship Foundation. He commissioned a new piece by ASCAP composer Mark Higginbotham called "Single Reality: A Tribute to Fred Sanford." The piece was composed of electronic music accompanied by live percussionists, actors, and dancers. Special guest artists included Ralph Hardimon, Lamar Burkhalter, Glen Fugett, Brian Youngblood, and Chris Ferrell. Fred's widow, Sheri Sanford, was also in attendance at one of those concerts.
Just five years ago, at his 30th high school reunion in Casper, Wyoming, Fred became reacquainted with an old classmate who also lived in Denver. This wonderful friendship with Sheri soon turned to marriage. Together, they dealt with his diagnosis of cancer in October 1999. (Fred's mother, Janet, succumbed to a similar cancer in 1986.) In less than three months, Fred Sanford lost his battle with the disease, but left a lasting legacy.
During his memorial service, laughter filled the hall as numerous stories were told in addition to all the accolades-from anecdotes about his red Mercedes with its incredible stereo system to some of his best drum parts being written less than an hour before the first rehearsal, from his filling in for a sick timpanist at the Olympic Games (and getting lost on the way!) to using a Ludwig airline upgrade on his first trip for Yamaha. Fred's father, Gordon Sanford, also recalled tales of his son's youth, from musical talent to athletic prowess. But always there was the smile, the warmth, the strong friendships that endured over the years.
Rob Sanford, Fred's nephew, summed up the feelings of many. "Fred taught me many, many things," he said in a quiet voice. "But the two most important were love of family and love of music. He taught me how to love classical. He taught me how to love jazz. And he taught me how to love drum corps-which was a little harder to swallow!" The audience erupted in laughter. "But I learned to love that, too."
And as they left the memorial service with Fred's spirit all around them, it was announced that, at the reception, "The first drink's on Fred!"