Drum Corps International
Spotlight of the Week: 1989 Velvet Knights

Spotlight of the Week: 1989 Velvet Knights

by Michael Boo


1989 Velvet Knights
The Drum Corps International World Championships returned to Arrowhead Stadium near Kansas City in 1989. Also returning was Santa Clara Vanguard's "Phantom of the Opera" music, earning the corps its fifth DCI title after four straight second-place finishes. After the corps' "Magical Mystery Tour" of 1987 and 1988, Anaheim, California's Velvet Knights commenced their 11th-place 1989 production with Charlie Argesinger's "Yo Mambo." The composer was a jazz pianist who taught and directed the jazz bands at Cal State-Bakersfield and DePaul University prior to teaching composition at Washington State University. "Yo Mambo" was commissioned in the 1980s for the Cal State-Fullerton College Jazz Band. For the opener, the corps' staff studied tapes of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival festival, re-creating many of the colorful parade costumes. The piece started with a Carmen Miranda-attired color guard member being chased by a gorilla holding an empty Chiquita banana peel, as other guard members twirled prop bananas. It was utterly wacky and humorous, a trademark of this corps whose members wore red Converse sneakers as part of their uniforms and consistently defied drum corps norms.
"Velvet Knights in Tunisia" was based on Dizzie Gillespie and Frank Paparelli's "A Night in Tunisia," written in 1942 while Gillespie was playing trumpet in the Earl "Fatha" Hines Band, along with famed saxophonist Charlie Parker. The song became a signature piece of Gillespie's bebop bands and is currently available on more than 500 recordings. The song started with a shark fin cruising the football field. Not the entire shark, just the fin, since the shark was "underwater." While the fin chased after someone on a boat, a tuba played the two-note theme from the movie "Jaws" that provided humor to so many Velvet Knights shows. Vibrant pink blouses on the color guard members, each with one fluffy white arm wrapping, totally changed the visual mood on the field. This led into a jazz band set-up of bugles playing "Sing, Sing, Sing," with one member standing atop a bar stool "playing" on giant cartoon congas. Singer, trumpet player, and actor Louis Prima wrote "Sing, Sing, Sing" in 1936, and the tune became one of the most famous works of the Big Band and Swing eras. Although Benny Goodman was not the first to record it, his 1936 recording is perhaps the most famous, particularly recognized for drummer Gene Krupa playing the famous tom-tom accompaniment.

1989 Velvet Knights
The production quickly wound down and segued into "'Round Midnight," a work released in 1944 by jazz pianist Thelonius Monk. Monk is the second most recorded jazz composer after the prolific Duke Ellington. Velvet Knights' closer of "Kansas City" is a Dixieland tune that was written by Matthew Ronan. During the corps' company front push to the front of the field, the gorilla accompanied a Chiquita banana that was doing a kick step. The beast then "peeled" the banana to reveal a bathing beauty wearing a skimpy bikini. The female object of the gorilla's attention then reclined on a beach blanket as a palm tree was brought to her side and the gorilla helped unveil a giant California license plate that read, "2 COOL VK." If you need to ask why, no explanation will suffice. It was quintessential Velvet Knights.

For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Velvet Knights performance, along with all finalists from the 1989 DCI World Championships.

Buy the 1989 Legacy Collection DVD. (Available this week only for 20% off. Regular price: $35.95.)

1989 Overview

Discount DVD offer ends Monday, January 12, 2014.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Ind.

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