As the third successive leader to be drawn from the ranks of Note, Dave Steinmeyer came to the job with experience. He had been the Note's lead trombonist for more than 14 years and had played under all of the band's previous leaders except Fred Kepner and Sammy Nestico. He knew the band and it's capabilities. In addition, he was an outstanding musician, and he had the ability to quickly establish rapport with audiences.
Personnel remained fairly stable throughout Dave's tour as leader, with the brass section remaining completely intact for nearly five years. Kenny Smukal had returned to the lead trumpet chair, and Vaughn Nark became the featured trumpet soloist. Lee Lachman continued to serve as lead alto until he completed his enlistment in 1982, at which time Pete BarenBregge moved over to lead. Tim Eyerman rejoined the Note for about a year to fill Pete's jazz tenor chair, and he in turn was replaced by Saul Miller. Don New came over from the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1979 to fill the other tenor slot, with Doug Gately moving to bari sax.
Lee Lachman (--82)
Gene Gaydos (--84)
Pete BarenBregge (82-84)
Ernie Hensley (79)
Doug Gately (--79)
Pete BarenBregge (79-82)
Tim Eyermann (82-83)
Don New (79--)
Saul Miller (83-84)
Les Whittington (--79)
Doug Gately (79--)
Gil Cray (--81)
Sydney Lehman (81-83)
Brent McKesson (--81)
Tom Williams (81--)
Mark Hynes (--80)
George Honea (80-83)
C.E. Askew (84--)
Kenny Smukal (79-84)
Dave Morgan (--84)
Gil Cray (81--)
In 1981 Gil Cray transferred to the arranging staff, and Dave selected as his replacement Sydney Lehman, the Note's first woman instrumentalist. Other newcomers to the rhythm section in the early 1980's were Tom Williams on bass and George Honea on drums. Mike Crotty and Gil Cray continued to be the backbone of the arranging staff, and some interesting new charts were also contributed by outside arrangers such as Bill Potts and John Labarera. From the band, Paul Rawlins, Larry Trautman, Tom Williams, Rick Whitehead, and Dave Morgan wrote arrangements from time to time.
Musically, Dave made an effort to broaden the band's repertoire. The Note's reputation as an interpreter of contemporary big band jazz music was firmly established. However, there were many times when the Note played to a less sophisticated audience, and he made an effort to insure that the programs would include something to please everyone.
Vocalist Bobbie McCleary's versatility played a big part in this effort. She was called on to perform everything from show tunes to blues to contemporary pop to nostalgia. Arrangers Crotty and Cray provided the musical settings to bring out Bobbie's best.
The success of the Note's 1978 Glenn Miller memorial concert at the Air Force Museum and a 1979 Guest Artist performance featuring Tex Beneke confirmed that the music of Glenn Miller was still extremely popular. The musical wheel had turned full circle. The music that had been such an important influence on the formation of the Airmen of Note nearly 30 years before was front and center once more.
The Note was invited back to the Air Force Museum in 1980 to perform again with Ray McKinley, Johnny Desmond, and the Modernaires. These concerts were so well received that they have become a regular biennial event. Ray McKinley has always been the featured guest, but other singers and musicians associated with Glenn Miller have also appeared. Another tradition was established in 1984, when Dave Steinmeyer performed a solo using Miller's own trombone, and in 1986 the concert featured as honored guests the surviving members of the Miller AAF band of 1943-45.
Requests for concerts of Miller music have continued throughout the 1980's. To make these performances more authentic, the band would wear World War Two "pinks and greens." The band debuted these uniforms in a 1981 Constitution Hall concert commemorating the 40th anniversary of the USO. Sharing the program with the Note were the Modernaires. These uniforms were also used in the band's 1881 fall concert tour on the West Coast. The first part of the concert featured the music of Glenn Miller. After intermission, the band reappeared in their usual concert attire and gave the audiences a taste of the contemporary side of big band jazz. The following spring, the Note recorded a tribute to Glenn Miller featuring a mix of original Miller charts and some beautiful new arrangements in the Miller style by Gil Cray.
The Note's jazz side wasn't being neglected, however. The band continued to serve as host band at the annual Mobile Jazz Festival, their 1984 performance being videotaped and aired widely on the Public Broadcasting System. In 1981 the Note appeared head to head with the Buddy Rich band at the Milwaukee Summerfest, and enthusiastic audience reaction clearly gave the laurels to the Airmen of Note. In 1980 the Note did a concert at the Northeast Jazz Festival with Bobby Grauso, and the following year they appeared at the Wichita Jazz Festival with Gerry Mulligan.
Other notable jazz performances in the early 1980's included the Newport Jazz Festival (1981, 1983, and 1984), the 1982 National Jazz Educators Convention in Chicago with Alan Vizzutti and Butch Miles, the Detroit Montreaux Jazz Festival (1982 and 1983), the 1983 Street Scene Jazz Festival in Winston-Salem, the 1982 and 1984 Texas Bandmasters Conventions, and the 1984 Roanoke Jazz Festival. 1981 also saw the band back Doc Severinson at the Inaugural Ball at the Smithsonian, and they provided the music for Nancy Reagan's Inaugural Show at the Kennedy Center, where one of the guest stars was Debbie Reynolds.
Another interesting development early in Dave's tour as leader was an agreement to permit service band personnel to join the Musicians Union. Previously, service band musicians had been prohibited from playing civilian jobs in the Washington area during their off-duty hours. The new arrangement opened up opportunities for Airmen of Note sidemen to earn a little extra money, of course, but it also gave the public a chance to hear these talented musicians in new settings.
In May of 1984, Dave took a three-month leave of absence from the Note. Guitarist Rick Whitehead fronted the band during this period. Rick Lillard played the lead trombone book, and Paul Rawlins returned to the Note to bring the trombone section up to full strength. About this time Gene Gaydos retired. This served as the catalyst for some reshuffling of the sax section. Pete BarenBregge was moved back to jazz tenor, and Saul Miller became lead alto. Tenor Don New and bari Doug Gately traded places, and Joe Eckert came on the band to fill the other alto slot. Two other newcomers were Mike Rubin on piano and Claud Askew on drums.