THE FOUR FRESHMEN AND THE SA CONNECTION 

As might be expected from the name, the original members of the group met in college, at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana in the summer of 1948. Soon thereafter, bandleader Stan Kenton heard the Freshmen and was so blown away that he helped the Freshmen to a deal with Capitol Records in 1950.

Their third single, "It's a Blue World," was a hit; by 1952 the Freshmen sound was known all over the world, and the quartet has continued to record a steady parade of best-selling albums since 1955. While the group has undergone some personnel changes, the current incarnation continues to feature expert musicians and singers, who carry on the tradition of the legendary vocal jazz group in fine style.

Comstock had a notable impact on the Freshman. As a singer/guitarist/ writer/arranger, he contributed multiple gifts. He has won many awards, has been honored by the Hard Rock Café for his jazz career, and has been repeatedly nominated for a Grammy - and he still works on arrangements for the Freshmen. His latest contribution is recruiting Calderon, with whom he has performed in San Antonio jam sessions.

A hometown boy, Calderon started playing trumpet at age 11, attended John Marshall High School and played in the Marshall Jazz Band. A regular at the Boardwalk Bistro jam sessions, Calderon discovered the Four Freshmen's music via his stints with Small World.

 
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Bill Comstock

After graduation, Calderon toured with the Russ Morgan Big Band and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Off the road, he was a regular with Small World, and the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. He later traveled with the Hoagy Carmichael Tribute Band and the Maureen McGovern Show. Performing at Jim Cullum's Landing on the River Walk, Calderon was "discovered" by the Four Freshmen's Brian Eichenberger. Eichenberger mentioned the young trumpeter to David Bentley, the chairman of the Four Freshman Society, who called alumnus Comstock for a thumbs up; Comstock gave it. Calderon asked Comstock whether he should join the Freshmen: "I told him I thought it would be a good position for him, because with him in the band they have a world of potential," Comstock recalls. "They're all young guys. They're all good singers and wonderful musicians and there's not anything like the Freshmen anywhere in the world!"

One of the unique facets of the Freshmen sound is the vocal arrangement. "The voicings are not conventional. It gives a five-part sound with four voices," Comstock explains. The Freshmen are also unique in their amazing instrumental ability: Most singing groups just sing, but the Four Freshmen are a vocal jazz quartet, a rhythm section, and brass section. The Freshmen can be counted on to sing their hits like "Graduation Day," "It's a Blue World," "Poinciana," "Day by Day," "It Could Happen to You," "Route 66," "I Remember You," and "Day In, Day Out," as well as new arrangements.

If the Four Freshman can be considered a national institution, then the Josephine Theater is certainly a San Antonio one - and just about the same age.

The Josephine was built by former Majestic Theater projectionist Bob Dennis. It opened in 1947, and for years, the neighborhood theater featured first-run films and Saturday matinees for children. The draw of television became inescapable and led to waning theater attendance. Eventually, the Josephine closed. In 1986, with the backing of entrepreneur Tom E. Turner Sr. and the imagination of Jerry Pollock, founder and director of Alamo City Theater, the Josephine was renovated and turned into one of San Antonio's finest intimate theaters.

Of the upcoming Four Freshmen concert, Missy Miller, executive and artistic director of the Josephine Theater says, "Fausto Yturria is a big supporter of the Josephine and a big fan of the Four Freshmen. He wanted to help us raise money for things like a full liquor license, and he wanted to get the Four Freshmen in San Antonio." This way he achieves both.

When Tom Turner died last year, "For Sale" signs appeared in the windows, which led passersby to fear the worst for the Josephine, but the old theater was quickly purchased by the Josephine Theatrical Co., Inc. and will continue as one of South Texas' premier community theaters.

Currently, the Josephine is presenting Oh Say Can You Swing! a high-energy "star-spangled musical journey through the nostalgic songs of World War I and World War II, the Depression era, U.S.O. shows, and Big Band Swing." The show, which was created by the Josephine Theater Staff, is playing to standing room only crowds and has been extended three times (through December 1) to accommodate the demand.

Future plans include producing five musicals a year, as well as more original works. The funds will help the Josephine Theatrical Company get closer to their dream of a multi-arts complex on West Josephine Street, with facilities for teaching and performance in drama, dance, music and other arts-related areas.

To further that cause, the Josephine will welcome the Four Freshmen Concert. On stage will be the newest generation of the Freshman, and in the audience is sure to be Bill Comstock, part of its past.

More by Hank Harrison

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