The Brigade of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy have their plates full. With the academic rigor, physical challenges and mental tests they face every day, it’s important for them to blow off a little steam from time to time. Or, as in the case of Trident Brass, a little jazz. According to Admiral Lescher, the oldest currently serving Naval Academy graduate known affectionately as the “old goat” of the Navy, Trident Brass was blowing hot when he was a midshipman at the Academy in the mid to late 1970s. Since then the group’s only grown in size and popularity, most notably when their “Naptown Funk” video went viral in 2015. The Naval Academy pays homage to this special group with a feature in Alumni Hall where a 1940s era photo of midshipmen are playing jazz. While the midshipmen in this photo may or may not have been the “Trident Brass” we know today, the Naval Academy jazz tradition has been around for some time now.
The Band’s Background
There are many Naval Academy extracurricular activities (ECAs) and the current Trident Brass ECA is a full jazz big band of about twenty midshipmen with a rhythm section of piano, drums, bass and guitar as well as a trumpet, trombone and saxophone section. They also have three singers! Their repertoire spans many different types of music, from jazz to swing to rock to big band classics.
Co-president Charlie Stamm has been with Trident Brass since he was a plebe. He plays the bass, an instrument he started playing in seventh grade. Currently a firstie, he serves with co-president, firstie Avi Perkoff. This position has given him the opportunity to choose some of the music as well as ensure that the band is on time and set up correctly for their performances throughout the year. The band plays at Parent’s Weekends and other Naval Academy events, and they’re currently winding down the 2021-22 season. Their next performance is for midshipmen only, on Friday, April 8th for Jazz Night at Smoke Hall. Then the next day, they’ll play at the famed St. John’s Croquet match at noon. You can also catch them at their Spring Concert on April 29th at 7pm at Mahan Hall with USNA’s Drum and Bugle Corps where the two groups will be performing for the first time ever in Naval Academy history!
Blowing Cool: Chill Vibes and Fun Times
These performers like to have fun. Stamm says that their practice spaces feature an award for the Trident Brass trombone section that played in the 2015 Villanova Jazz festival. He notes, “This award has been hanging on the wall since my plebe year. About two months ago, I noticed a faded certificate hanging up on the back of the door to the room. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was given to that same trombone section by the Trident Brass president for being the ‘most likely to not show up to rehearsal after somehow winning best section.’” The camaraderie and music are a big part of the band’s draw.
“Trident Brass is a normal group of mids; many of us played jazz in high school and wanted to keep playing at the Academy. Trident Brass is a fun ECA that allows us to keep music in all of our lives. At the end of the day, we all recognize that we’re heading for a career in the Navy and the Marine Corps—jazz and music really can’t be more than just a side activity for the foreseeable future…. For me and the twenty other members of Trident Brass, jazz is therapeutic and something we take part in because it brings us joy. We don’t seek accolades or particularly want to take part in some hyper competitive jazz program—we just like to play music with each other and share that music with those who want to listen,” says Stamm. This love for the music comes through clearly in their performances.
Taking a Jazz Break: Spreading Joy to the Midshipmen
The band practices twice a week, working around their other commitments when they can. It’s a great balance to their busy schedules. Stamm explains, “It can be difficult to fit rehearsals into our busy schedules but we all make a genuine effort to show up when briefs, studying, and other military obligations don’t get in the way. Playing jazz has, at least for me, been a major stress reliever over the four years I’ve spent at the Academy.” He has also gotten very good at maneuvering the two dollies that transport the large amount of equipment required for each performance.
One particular performance stands out for Stamm. When COVID made it impossible for the midshipmen to go home for Thanksgiving in November of 2020, the entire brigade was extremely disappointed. Nevertheless, the whole academy really came together to make the best of an unfortunate situation. Trident Brass played some fun tunes in King Hall (the USNA’s dining hall) as mids came in and out to pick up their Thanksgiving meal. “To this day, that gig remains one of my favorite experiences at the academy,” Stamm says. Everyone but the plebes was allowed to wear civilian clothes, so they found the best they had in their closets and came down to pick up food. “Dozens of officers, enlisted and King Hall workers gave up their own Thanksgivings to show up and pass out food in order to make it a good day for all the midshipmen. Despite the really awful circumstances that had brought us to the point of getting Thanksgiving locked up for the Brigade, everyone pulled together to make it a fantastic, memorable day at the academy. I’m glad Trident Brass had a role to play in all of the festivities and that Thanksgiving holds a really special place in my heart,” says Stamm.
Go Time: Bringing Swing to the Yard
Trident Brass plays three large concerts every semester and a few smaller gigs throughout the year. “My favorite concerts are the swing nights which take place every six weeks,” says Stamm. These align with the Academy’s “6-weeks” and “12-weeks” exam weeks. Needless to say, the tests are a major source of stress for every midshipman. About ten years ago, a Trident Brass president decided to host a swing night at the end of these exam weeks. Now, Trident Brass’ swing nights at the end of exams remain a much anticipated tradition. The swing dance club teaches the midshipmen a few basic dance steps and the whole Trident Brass big band provides the jazz. “It’s a great time and we draw some decent numbers! Generally around 200 mids will show up and occasionally some students from St. John’s will also come and join. These concerts have without a doubt been some of my favorite experiences here at the Academy,” says Stamm.
Experience this joy! You can see their schedule here, and catch them at Commissioning Week before the Herndon Climb on Monday, May 23rd at 12:15pm at the Zimmerman Bandstand. We are proud to support this incredible band, and you can too. When you choose to shop, dine, and tour the USNA Yard with Naval Academy Tourism, you’re choosing to support the Brigade of Midshipmen. All proceeds from your purchases with us go directly back to the midshipmen and to groups like Trident Brass. Come feel the groove soon!