Henry Fillmore

Henry Fillmore


• 1881 1956


No, he's not the man that the Fillmore auditoriums were named after, but if it was up to the brass and marching band musicians of the world, he would have been. Henry Fillmore's career spanned half a century and he seems to set the record for writing and arranging band music. It isn't a matter of quantity over quality either, since his compositions have become warhorse numbers for marching bands and big bands alike. Like a darts player who tosses a whole fistful of the little arrows at the target hoping to hit one bull's eye, Fillmore kept up a steady stream of new band music under several composer's names. Harold Bennett? No such guy -- that was Fillmore -- and a clue that it would be one of his easier tunes for musicians to execute since that was supposedly a Bennett speciality. For something slightly harder, there were the composers Will Huff and Al Hayes, or rather there weren't those composers since both were pseudonyms for Fillmore. If that wasn't filling enough music stands, he would Fillmore with even more demanding compositions by Gus Beans -- now there's a good pseudonym -- Ray Hall, and Harry Hartley. Always a strong supporter of female musicians, Fillmore also pretended to be a lady composer named Henrietta Hall, although no evidence has been found that he might have also dressed the part. He also published a series of arrangements under the Hartley name. All told, it is estimated that there are some 250 original compositions and approximately 750 arrangements for band that were the work of this man. Over his life span, this averages out to some two pieces completed per month, quite a feat since Fillmore did all of his own work, including the copying. One of the names most associated with the golden age of concert, parade, and military bands, he wrote hymns, fox-trots, waltzes, marches, overtures, and arranged several classical compositions. The latter area was one of his great specialities. He would arrange works by well-known classical composers into a simple, playable reduction emphasizing melodic structure that could be performed with only a small amount of rehearsal time. Many other concert band arrangers and composers have picked up on this practice, some creating entire careers from it.

His interest in music publishing seems to have been passed along from his father, a partner in the Fillmore religious music publishing firm. An obvious musical inroad for a boy perceived to have a natural singing voice was the church choir, and little Henry took full advantage. In the meantime, he began fooling with the piano and suddenly seemed to unleash an inner force for instinctively learning instruments. He took on flute, violin, and guitar before becoming fascinated with the slide trombone. Here is where he was finally seen as rebelling against his family, because according to his father, the trombone was an instrument of Satan. The old man was not alone in this view of the trombone during this period. Marching bands preferred instruments that could be slung over the shoulder, while the musicians using the trombone tended to be regarded as street corner riffraff. The boy's mother kept a cool head in this dispute, insisting the boy be allowed to study the trombone despite its sleazy social status. Fillmore eventually attended the Miami Military Institute, an exclusive school located not in Miami, but in freezing Germantown, OH. In 1901, he attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, still sticking with trombone study and adding composition with John Broekhoven. Fillmore's first published composition, at the age of 18, was a march entitled "Higam," named after a line of brass instruments. This was written under his Will Huff persona. This name apparently came from an argument with his father over the young man's directions as a composer. The senior Fillmore wanted his offspring to concentrate on church music; Henry Fillmore apparently said "I will huff and puff and write my own music," and Will Huff was born. Speculation about the origins of the name Gus Beans should be discouraged in polite company. Strangely enough, there was a real Will Huff in Cincinnati who was engaged in the same business, concert band music composition and publishing, and he wound up collaborating with Fillmore's alter ego of the same name. Fillmore worked for a time in the family publishing firm, but left in 1905 due to a circumstance that any screenplay writer would gladly grab: there was another family argument, this one over a love affair Henry was having with an exotic dancer named Mabel May Jones. His father again blamed the trombone; the couple wound up getting married anyway. Fillmore began a new career in circus music with the Lemon Brothers Circus, the outfit hiring his wife as well. He returned to publishing in 1910 after reconciling with his family, but the business did little to reconcile his bank balance. He started teaching trombone and performing in groups, and also played semi-professional football for the forerunners of the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals. Off the football field or perhaps on as well, he learned conducting and from 1921 to 1926 led the Syrian Temple Shrine Band. In 1927, he organized his own professional band, which would sadly be one of the last of its kind in America. He developed a flair for showmanship that many critics feel was one of the key reasons for the band's popularity with the heartland public. Much of his conducting shtick, such as turning and facing the audience for the final bars of a work, have become preordained moves for concert bandmasters. Perhaps all the excitement on-stage contributed to a heart problem Fillmore developed. He moved to Miami -- the one in Florida, not Ohio -- in 1938. Originally, the plan was to retire, but he soon went to work with the University of Miami band and wound up on the road extensively, adjudicating at music competitions and guest-conducting orchestras all over the United States. In the process, he had assisted in the development of 32 new high school concert band programs in Florida by 1942. In his spare time, he published a series of band instruction books that have become standard material for young musicians. When he died, he willed the bulk of his estate to the University of Miami. His final composition was dedicated to the university's president, the "President's March." The most well-known of his 113 published marches are "American We," "Men of Ohio," "His Honor," and "Military Escort." His piece "Lassus Trombone" became a popular brass feature during the swing era and beyond, finding its way into the repertoire of Spike Jones & His City Slickers as well. The piece would make a good background theme for the story of this composer's love affair with the trombone. He came to be known as "the father of the trombone smear," having published the first set of compositions involving this playing technique. For the circus repertoire, Fillmore's works include the lovable "Circus Bee." The march "Rolling Thunder" was written in 1916 and dedicated to a trombone player named Ed Hicker, also known as the "trombone ace." It subsequently became a circus band standard whenever an act was particularly exciting.