Sgt. Maj. Craig Fraedrich joined the U.S. Army Blues in 1986. With 31 years of service, he shares what he’s learned about the importance of maintaining your craft and staying accountable to your fellow musicians.When did you come into the Army, and what made you decide on the band?
I came into the Army in 1986 - back before a number of folks now in the unit were even born. I was still at Arizona State as a Jazz Teaching Assistant and it was a transition period for the music and the beginning of the end for touring big band musicians. My high school aspirations of going on the road with a “name band” were quickly being dashed by the reality that they were no longer the credential that led to bigger and better things that they once were. You could still cobble together a career, but it wasn’t going to get any easier. I am basically hard-wired for stability. Waiting for the phone to ring for a gig to pay my rent was never really an option for me.What made you decide on “Pershing’s Own?”
I didn’t know about The Blues until I saw an ad posted on a board where I was going to school. A teacher, and former member of the Jazz Ambassadors, vouched for the group and assured me it was a fine place to be as a musician. The only military band I had ever seen in my life was The Airmen of Note, and I remember distinctly, saying to myself, “Well I’ll never do that.” I’ve since stopped making claims as to what I will or won’t do in the future…Go Army! How would you say your perspective changed over the years?
At that time, I needed a job. It seemed like it could be a good stepping stone towards getting me closer to where I wanted to be in my career. I felt it could fill the role of being in a road band and be a credential for anything I might want to do in music later on. As I prepared to head off for Basic Training, I told my father I’m only doing this 3 years. Being a bit more experienced in the ways of the world than I, he suggested I not make that decision just yet and see where this all might lead. They were bit more excited about it at the time than I was. Now that I have 31 years to look back on, I feel proud that I was able to have a career where my passions intersected with service. I have a much better understanding that things I didn’t “like to do” or maybe didn’t think were “part of my job,” as a young Soldier actually provided a great service. I’m proud and happy to have done them and appreciate that I had the opportunity to use my abilities in music as a way to serve.What was basic training like in 1986?
I didn’t enjoy it. In retrospect, I think it was tough because there wasn’t a war going on and there was this attitude among the recruits that we were just going to have a job. The drill sergeants had to impose a war-time military bearing on us anyway…. and they did a pretty good job. They definitely went out of their way to create an atmosphere of stress. I talked to guys who went through basic during Vietnam when I got to the unit who seemed to think my experience was different. With a war going on, there is no need for extra stress, the reality of most recruits being deployed in the very near future was stress enough.How do you think changes in the recruitment system have effected Army Bands?
I’m not sure that things that were great benefits, like student loan repayment, really changed the dynamic that much. Yes, there were a few folks who came into the unit for three years to get their loans repaid and then disappeared, but not many. For the most part, there are some people who just don’t want anything to do with the military and it doesn’t matter what carrot you dangle in front of them. Then there are a few people who know all about the band have a single goal of joining. Most of us fall somewhere in between. For most cases, having a job playing music that makes a difference is enough.What are some of the best musical experiences you’ve had?
I’ve had a great career, and a lot of amazing musical experiences and bright moments. I’m lucky in that playing with The Blues, if you pay attention, there are bright moments every day. Personally, my goal is to do the best I can for every audience and the best I can for my peers and colleagues in the group. When a group reaches a certain level, as The Blues has, every performance is a group effort and everyone has a responsibility to each other to show up every day with their “A” game.
The audience is always important, but the actual inner workings of the music make you dependent on each other. The higher level the music becomes, the more little things impact the ensemble. The level to which the Blues has risen during my 31 years is much more meaningful to me than any isolated performance.What role has The Blues played over the years in promoting jazz music?
It plays an enormous role. There are only 5 full time big bands in the United States that you can make a living primarily playing jazz. Those are the four service bands and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and you can only “come out of nowhere” and win a job in the service bands. Jazz doesn’t need us to promote it, but we play an important role in the preservation of the art form. We don’t need to preserve the music itself, recordings accomplish that just fine. What does need preservation is the essence of jazz and the creativity that allows musicians to take their own path - which is frankly what America is all about. You show up with a certain structure of a tune or composition, but within the structure you can be as free as you want to be. It is analogous to freedom within an orderly society. And the Blues definitely contributes to expanding people’s understanding of jazz.Does that make you feel better about the future of jazz?
Jazz is an art form, and I don’t think art really ever disappears. It may become less popular and pertinent in a social sense, but jazz will always play its role and take its course. I’m encouraged that jazz once again is stretching its definition of the word. The goal of jazz in the 1970s was to do something no one had ever done before. Then in the 1980’s and 1990’s it became more narrow and structured towards the past. The pendulum is swinging and the mainstream is stretching the definition of jazz yet again as it did in the 70s, and not necessarily staying within clearly defined boxes. I feel very encouraged by that.Why is working with other partners in the community important for The Blues?
Since the 1900’s, there’s not been a single style of music that isn’t deeply influenced by jazz. It’s such a huge melting pot of ideas, and having a jazz performance in a museum, as the Blues did last week at the Smithsonian, is perfect. It runs the gamut of history and cutting edge ideas, not waiting for a small selective group of composers to write something and hand it out to musicians.What would you say to the incoming jazz trumpeter replacing you?
You are in the Army. Do what you’re told as a junior Soldier, but when you’re playing as a jazz soloist, do what you want. It took me a little time to learn this, but it works. Musically, I would say you have an incredible opportunity to make the best music you can possibly make here, but it is just an opportunity -you have to be the one to make it happen. Your bosses (outside the Blues of course) may not know much about jazz - and certainly not as much as someone who has made it a career. They know it feels good and sounds good and that people seem to like it, but don’t measure your success on whether or not they or anyone else understands the music. Make sure you stay accountable to your fellow musicians and be the best musician you can. Just because someone can play great solos on Coltrane tunes doesn’t mean they will be recognized for anything beyond doing their job. Don’t let that discourage you. Individuals with a deep commitment to making great music, no matter what, made the Blues what it is today.
I was a technician with the US Army Soldier Show down in San Antonio. I set up the stage, lighting, and audio. Similar to our tech crew, but for a much larger production. I had to deal with truss pieces, and worked as a welder there as well — I was a lead welder in the unit.How long were you in San Antonio?
From 2011 until 2016, before I transitioned here to the band.So you were at that unit for almost 5 years. Is it normal to stay with that unit that long?
Well, I was a reservist from Utah. The unit is an active duty unit and they put me on a one year order that was extended each year after that.Then you auditioned for Downrange, The Army Band’s rock group.
I sent in the audition tape in February and they accepted me. I flew out to DC in April of 2016.Had you auditioned for other groups before?
My first year with the Soldier Show, I was a performer, so I sang with the group. We toured the world: Germany, Japan, and Hawaii. We went on TDY for 9 months every year from April until December. I was living out of a bag, from hotel to hotel for a long time. But I was always surrounded by talented performers and I began to condition myself so that when one day my big shot came I would be ready. When the opportunity came open with “Pershing’s Own,” I knew how prestigious it was. There’s always that doubt about whether or not you’ll make it but I knew I had to give it my best.So what was the show like? Was it a pop show?
It was a variety show which had pop, country, and patriotic music in the style of a Broadway show. But it was entirely run by Army soldiers. They’d send in their videos and we’d recruit them around January of each year and whoever was chosen was pulled from their station and would be a member of the show. It was fairly competitive. We would fly in around 30-40 people and the only take 15-19 soldiers on the road.Do you think your time with the Soldier show prepared you for your job with The Army Band?
Yeah, in a way. I think it helped me prepare for the audition. It was a little intimidating, coming here. The level of the musicians at the Soldier Show were great but they would all be star struck if they came here. The Soldier Show performers had to go through something like a 9 week boot camp which began at 6am every day with PT and then they’d go through vocal sessions, dance practice, show rehearsal all the way through till around 10pm. So 6am till 10pm every day with only Sunday as the day off for 9 weeks. This was right before we hit the road. So I did that for 5 years.Where are you from originally?
I was born in Torrence, California. At the age of 3, my family and I moved to American Samoa where I was raised until age 20. My family moved back to the United States in 2007, to Utah.And you went to college at that point?
I graduated with my Associate’s degree in liberal studies in 2007 from American Samoa Community College and then that school gave me a scholarship to a program called Broadway Theater Project at the University of Florida. It was a Broadway program that had New York Broadway stars come down and do sessions with students from all over the world. People like the writers and producers of Guys and Dolls and The Lion King. It was the first time for me being in America. It was a culture shock. The speed limit in Samoa is 25 miles per hour and I got here and it felt like a roller coaster driving on the freeway.That sounds terrifying.
It was! It was a “welcome to America” experience for sure.So how long was the Broadway Theater Project?
It was 4 months. Like a summer training program. But the College I went to in Samoa thought it would be great to send me since they’d never had a Samoan student attend the program before. I went there and did my thing, I even had a couple Broadway producers invite me to audition for their shows. But I had to turn them down because my family had just moved from Samoa and my mother was the only one working. So I had to leave behind whatever dream I had and come back to Utah and work at Target to help my mom with rent.That must have been a difficult choice.
I mean, it’s one of those things. You gotta do what you gotta do. I’m the oldest of 5 and my father at that time stayed back in the islands to take care of our property. The rest of us flew to America to find a better opportunity.How do your parents feel about your career in the Army?
Oh man, they’re on top of the world. I know everyone’s parents in the band are so proud of their children for joining the military and the band, but I think my parents might be the most proud. Our journey as a family coming from a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, working at Target for 2 years before joining the Army, it made them proud. I was the best fork lift driver that Target ever had. But I am never embarrassed for what I did back then. I was a fork lift driver, I boxed hamburger patties in a freezer with 100 other people for 15 hours a day for $8 an hour. I’m proud of those moments because they made me strive for more. Not that I’m better than any of those people I worked next to, but I knew that there would be an opportunity for me to achieve more in my life.Is anyone else in your family musical like you?
They all are. They all sing. Since I was a baby I’ve been singing. I won my first vocal competition in 2nd grade and my siblings and I grew up singing in the church choir and worship team. Sometimes I look at my siblings and I think, holy cow, you could definitely be living the life I live. Living this dream of mine. Doing what I love, getting paid for it and serving my country as a proud soldier and American and a proud Islander.You must have had so much pressure at that audition.
It was intimidating. They chose six or seven of us from our tapes to come audition for the one spot. All these other guys were top notch with degrees in music. But I got on stage and all I thought was, “this is my show, this is gonna be my job. I’m not going to let anybody here take it from me.” I just got on stage with as much confidence and heart that I could muster. But I kept my family and my past life in mind and I said, “this is your dream job and you’re going to win it.” When they told me I got the job I cried, I called my wife and we cried over the phone. I told her, “we made it!”I have to tell you, your life sounds like a movie.
I know! I tell people not to ask me where I’m from because otherwise you’ll be stuck for the whole movie! But it’s all about the people I meet and creating relationships with them. From my time in basic training through my old unit being an NCO to younger soldiers. Coming from where I came from and the life that I lived, I’ve always felt that there’s always someone else who’s been through something way worse that what you’ve gone through. That’s my mentality. So grab a straw and suck it up. I try to instill that mentality in the people I’m around but also in the younger soldiers.You mentioned you have a son.
I have two, Samson who is 2 and Gabriel who is 7 weeks. Samson is going to be an NFL player if he wants. Whatever it is he’s going to be bigger and better than his dad. Gabriel might be a little mamma’s boy but we’ll see. My wife’s name is Mary Susan Tue. We were both stationed in San Antonio together. She was an interrogator in an Intel unit at Fort Sam Houston called 470th Military Intelligence Brigade. We were in the same NCO barracks.Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians and soldiers?
I tell them you have to keep the passion for the music. The passion for music is the entire reason why I’ve been successful in my career. It wasn’t because my technique was flawless or my reading was magnificent. The crowd doesn’t matter, if there are only chairs in the audience, you’d better give those chairs a show. I tell these people, whatever your dreams are, you have to keep your passion and it will get you far.
I am originally from Belmont, MA, a suburb right outside of Boston. I spent my entire childhood there and went to undergrad and Masters degrees all in the city of Boston. I did my undergrad at Boston University and my Masters was at New England Conservatory of Music, both in oboe performance. I joined in 2000, so almost 17 years ago! I won my audition as the English horn player with the Concert Band.And now you’re the section leader and principal, is that right?
That’s right. So I was the English horn player for 8 years and there was a position open for Principal oboe in 2008. I took that audition and won it as well.Was this your first military audition?
This was my first audition for a military band. I had taken a few orchestral auditions prior to this audition, but not very many. I won this job a year after I completed my Master’s degree. I had a few auditions before that weren’t as successful, but I learned a lot.What did you do in that year between your Master’s and the Army Band?
My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, won his job with the Army Band first. He had asked me to move to the DC area with him. So, I spent the better part of 9 months freelancing, trying to gain as much playing experience as I could. I taught several students and worked in the office of the Levine School of Music part time, all in an attempt to fill my time with as much work as possible.So your husband, SGM Michael Jury, won his job about a year prior to your audition?
A year in a half, yes. We were the same age in school, he in New York, me in Boston. Upon graduation, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to find our way to each other. Then he won his job in the Army Band and was very excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. So when he asked if I wanted to move to the DC area, not having a job in Boston, I figured I could go have no job in DC and start a future with him. It was sort of a leap of faith because my entire childhood, my family, my friends and all of my schooling was in Boston. I had a lot of hopes that we had a good future ahead. While I watched Mike work with the band, I became more impressed with the types of opportunities that were presented to him. So 9 months later, a position opened up for Oboe.That couldn’t have gone any better.
No, it really couldn’t have. The oboe position before mine was 11 year prior. So I felt this pressure that if I didn’t win this job that someone else was going to be sitting in my position for years to come.So how did you overcome that kind of pressure to win your audition?
I was very passionate about finding work and I also substitute taught elementray school. So I had several things going on to make ends meet, to feel independent, and to have a purpose. After spending 9 months working toward those goals, I told Mike that everything was going to stop, I wasn’t going to substitute teach, freelance or anything. My entire focus was going to be 6 weeks toward winning this job. I practiced every day, ALL day, for 6 weeks and I told him, I wouldn’t be of much use until after the audition, but he was extremely supportive of whatever I needed.What is your first influential musical memory?
I started playing in the 4th grade, and while my parents were not musicians, nor were they musical, we had a neighbor who was a pianist who led my parents through the ins and outs of a budding musician. She introduced me to the New England Conservatory Prep Division and a chamber music camp in New England that ranged in age from 13 to 80. So it was amatures, but the group that ran the camp was a professional chamber group. They were very special and inspiring musicians. Here I found myself playing in a woodwind quintet with a clarinet player who was a prominent doctor at a hospital in Boston. I always enjoyed the company of older people, looking up to them and learning from them, so that was a big deal for me. Playing music with adults as a 13 year old, I had a sense that I had to be on my best behavior and I was so inspired by the music, I felt like I could do this all day long. I really appreciated being treated like an adult and I felt the sense of collaboration through the music, which helped set a path of discipline and maturity that I fell into pretty quickly.Did you choose the oboe initially?
Actually, it was kind of by mistake. We had an instrument demonstration by a local high school and they didn’t even have an oboe there that day, only an oboe reed. I think I wrote flute as my first choice, clarinet as my second and I put oboe third because when they played on the reed I thought that the sound was kinda cool. My friend thought so too, and she wrote down oboe so I wrote it with her. The band director saw that and said, “yeah, that’s what you’re playing!”It sounds like your parents were very supportive of your musical life, despite not being musical themselves.
Yes, they had no musical talent whatsoever. But both my sister and I were quite talented at an early age. She sang and played the flute but didn’t wind up going into music. My parents were thrown into this world that they knew nothing about but were delighted by it as much as I was. They came to every single concert and drove me to every lesson. They learned quite a bit about the classical world through my experiences.Now that you’ve been in the Army for nearly 17 years, what does it mean to you to be a soldier?
I think that, particularly in the Band, we have an amazing gift to be able to tie together the extremes of emotions. From mourning a fallen soldier to the celebration and joy of Military service.What’s your most memorable moment in the military?
It was very early in my career, about 9 months after I joined the band was September 11th, 2001. We had our annual trip to go to New York and that changed from a showcase concert to a ceremony at ground zero. I remember arriving there still able to see the smoke rising from the fallen buildings. All of the rescue workers paused and faced us as we played God Bless America. I actually didn’t play a note because the oboe is not a ceremonial instrument. I stood there holding a clarinet. But just being a part of the formation, I realized that music is more than just playing the perfect notes in the practice room. It’s bigger than me, and I had been searching for that.What was it like being in the Band during that time?
Pretty much like everyone in the country, it shook us to the core. I was actually in Arlington National Cemetery, part of the Band escort on a full honor funeral when the plane hit the Pentagon, only a quarter mile away. We saw all the smoke coming out of the Pentagon, and it was shocking. We found ourselves down at the Pentagon the following week making ID cards for the rescue workers, doing anything we could to help. It was a quick introduction that the impact of my job can have. While I don’t perform many ceremonies, when I can fill in, I find that the most meaningful moments within the band are when I’m not even playing a note.So International Women’s Day was March 8th, what does it mean to you to be a woman in the military and the band?
I am very proud of my service in the band and in the Army. I think it’s important for my two daughters to have a role model to look up to. They see me put in countless hours in preparation for work. I think I show them the importance of work ethic, dedication and responsibility to the people I work with. I delight in telling people about my job because they think it’s pretty cool. Also, I am a running coach and mentor for “Girls on the Run” which is a transformational physical activity based positive youth development program for girls 3rd-8th grade. The program teaches life skills through dynamic interactive lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5k running event. The goal of the program is to unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness. This is my 5th season as a coach and both of my daughters are in the program. It is a wonderful way to meet the physical fitness requirements of my job and have a way of connecting with my daughters at the same time.It must be interesting to watch your daughters grow around two military parents in comparison to your own upbringing which didn’t include the military so prominently.
They were born into the Army Band family, and they love it. They’ve come to work all of these years for various concerts, to see their dad play at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers or working in his office for Operations. It’s all they’ve ever known. And all of my friends are in the Army Band, so they think everyone is in TUSAB. They think that every day at work is a fun day, which is a wonderful perspective to have.Is there any advice you’d like to give to aspiring musicians?
When I first came to town I took an audition for the Annapolis symphony for second oboe, which I won. I kept that job for about 15 years. When I came to town I sent my resume to different orchestras, asking if I could play as a substitute with them. The Annapolis symphony called me shortly after they got it and told me that they had an audition in two weeks. I felt a little bit lost without a reason to practice. From that audition, I won a lot of confidence. After that I took the freelance showcase audition, which is a way to gain freelance work in the DC area, and I got work with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra from that audition. So for any young players, take as many auditions as you can. I certainly didn’t do well on my first audition, I needed several to learn from before I figured out how to win one.
I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I did my bachelors degree at LSU, and I studied with four different teachers: James West for two years, then I studied with Brian McWhorter. Jeff Kay for a year and Brian Shaw for my final year, who is the current teacher. At Manhattan School of Music, I studied with Mark Gould.Were you looking at military band jobs before your Army Band audition?
My dad was a band director so the top dream job was always a military band for me, not orchestra, even though the schools were orchestral based. My goal was to be in a premiere military band. I started auditioning for bands in grad school and just lucked out when I got this job. I probably took 6 or 7 auditions before I won this one.Were they auditions in general, or band auditions?
I had only taken band auditions, I had zero interest in orchestral auditions.Do you have any prior military service in your family?
Not my immediate family. My grandfather was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army.Did that have any impact on your goal of joining a military band?
It was more my dad than my grandfather. Growing up, if my dad was working on the Hindemith Symphony in B-flat, or Persichetti Symphony for Band, preparing for high school band festivals, he would listen to all the military bands to get an idea of sound concept. So I heard military bands on the CD’s they released for years, maybe beginning in elementary school.You’ve had those sound concepts in your ear for a long time! What is your earliest musical memory?
Hanging out at my dad’s high school rehearsals, usually concert band. I remember going to those rehearsals and thinking, “man, these dudes can play!”What made you choose the trumpet?
My dad was a trumpet player, even though I never heard him play since he stopped right after college, I was familiar with that instrument. I think I may have told him that I wanted to play the trumpet before fifth or sixth grade band. So he gave me a trumpet mouthpiece and I did nothing but buzz the trumpet mouthpiece for a year before I played a note on the trumpet. I don’t remember how I sounded when I started but my dad said that when I started playing, that I never made a bad sound.Did you play any other instruments growing up?
I started off playing piano in elementary school, but I don’t play anymore.So, how long have you been in the Army?
I just came up on 4 years last month.Why did you decide to become a professional military musician?
I started off wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a band director. So when I was at LSU I was an education major and then I realized that I got into music because I enjoyed playing the trumpet more than teaching. I didn’t think about playing professionally until my senior year in undergrad, which is kind of late since that’s when I really began to practice. But I didn’t really know much about how to make a living as a professional musician, let alone as a military musician. Then someone came and spoke to us from one of the bands, maybe West Point, and it became clear that you can make a living as a military musician. And that’s when I switched from education to performance.Did you win your job right out of school?
I didn’t win right after school. After I graduated from Manhattan I was in New York for maybe a year, and then I moved back to Atlanta where I was teaching and freelancing, and also practicing hard trying to get out of Atlanta. I think I auditioned for every single band leading up to this one.How did you do at the other auditions?
I was a finalist for all of them except for the Marine band.What does it mean to you to be in the Army?
It’s a humbling job. It means I play Taps frequently for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is the last musical statement that their families will hear to remind them of their loved one. It’s very special and it’s an honor. I try not to take it for granted since I’ll play Taps three or four hundred times a year, but every time is a very special moment.Is there any event that strikes you as memorable in your time with the Army Band?
Occasionally, I stand in a spot where I can see the next of kin and I can see their emotions begin to pour out, especially after they hear the first note of Taps. It puts into perspective what you’re doing, and it’s very special. We’re not here to play for ourselves, we’re here for them. I’ve felt personally affected from playing Taps a few times over the years.Do you have any advice for aspiring military musicians?
After all the practicing, start taking auditions! I didn’t realize how the audition process worked until I began physical taking auditions. I went to my first one with a lot of confidence, knowing that I was going to be highly competitive, but I ended up not being very successful. I thought I played well, but it was more humbling than I anticipated. My advice is to just start taking auditions, and try not to get discouraged.Can you tell me any stories about your time in the Army?
Last year I played a solo with the band that was written for my Dad by James Curnow. They were good friends, and he wrote a piece for my Dad for his retirement entitled Nexus for wind band and percussion. I played the premiere with James Curnow conducting a few years ago and then I played it with TUSAB on the President’s Cup concert last year. That was a special moment for me. As a band director, the DC military bands are IT! You’re a super star if you make it here. So my dad’s always bragging and proud of that and it was nice to bring that piece to the band and play it here.I’m assuming your dad got to attend the concert.
You know what, he did not because the flights were delayed! But my mom was there. So now I have to do it again!You seem to always have a positive and good natured attitude about things. Do you think that’s helped you in your career?
I’ve always been laid back and try to go with the flow, stay positive and have a happy attitude about life in general. Whenever you can have positive thoughts, it makes life easier. Our life is what our thoughts make it. If you have a positive attitude and positive thoughts, you can’t really be in a bad mood. It makes the work environment more fun.What does it mean to you to be African-American in the Army Band?
I feel like I can be a role model for aspiring African-American musicians. There aren’t a lot of us here and I go out and try to be visible in this job. So when there’s a black family in the audience I feel like they would have some sense of pride to see someone like them in the band. That’s how I feel, but I’m sure that pride exists whenever some minority group is being represented in any organization. I try to carry myself well, since I represent more than just myself. It gives me the extra motivation to stay at the top of my game and stay sharp.