The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CII, No. 3March, 2002


To the Editor:

Thank you for including the name of my father-in-law, the extraordinary trumpeter Alec Fila, in the Requiem listing in February’s Allegro. It would have meant a lot to him. Poor health and the demise of the Big Band scene gradually combined to force Alec out of the music business by the late fifties, and eventually he let his 802 membership lapse. But I’m sure our membership still includes former colleagues and admirers who will mourn his passing on New Year’s Eve, weeks short of his 81st birthday.

Alec Fila, one of the premier lead trumpet players of the Big Band era, started to show his exceptional talent as a teenage prodigy. Still in high school, he won a four-year Guggenheim scholarship to study at Juilliard (afternoons and Saturdays) under New York Philharmonic trumpeter Max Schlossberg. In 1939 Jack Teagarden, rehearsing his band at Juilliard, recruited Alec to fill in as lead trumpet – then promptly hired him for the band. A too brief but stellar career was launched.

Alec’s strong suit was leading a band. Willie Schwartz, a colleague with the Glenn Miller Band in 1941 and 1942, tabbed him “the most inspiring musician the band ever had. When he played the opening of ‘A String of Pearls,’ it would scare the hell out of everybody.”

As a member of the Philadelphia-based Bob Chester band in 1940, Alec married his first wife, the vocalist Dolores O’Neill, with whom he had five children. By 1941 he was playing lead with the Benny Goodman Band. He took great pride in another accomplishment of that year; Alec was the first (and only, I think) white musician to record with the great Fletcher Henderson band.

He worked with the bands of Glenn Miller/Ray McKinley, Elliot Lawrence and Henry Jerome; with the studio orchestras of WCAU (Philadelphia) and the Tallulah Bankhead “Big Show” radio program; and with a small unit he organized and kept working in the New York area through 1959 or 1960.

He is survived by Joan Fila, his wife of 49 years, five children, ten grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. The family would deeply appreciate any reminiscences that 802 members may have of Alec’s career. Any communication may be addressed to me at 160 Fifth Avenue, #818, NYC 10010.

–Joe Solomon


To the Editor,

I’d like to update 802 members on the WBAI/Pacifica Foundation struggle, a free-speech battle I wrote about in the February 2001 Allegro. After a year-long legal battle settled late last year in a California court, the grouping that supported the rights of listeners and Local Advisory Boards (LABs) has won a complete victory – which is also a victory for us, as union members.

The producers banned and fired by WBAI General Manager Utrice Leid have all been reinstated. The Pacifica National Board has been reconfigured with a majority who reject the pro-corporate stance of the previous board. And the labor show Building Bridges – the only labor program in the New York market – has finally returned.

It was a long and, at times, a frustrating year – but the lesson is that people who stick together and are collectively wise enough to keep a boycott on and the pressure up, despite many obstacles, can and will prevail. This is a lesson that we, as union members, can take heart from. Make no mistake: the forces that worked so unrelentingly to undermine the progressive voices at WBAI are the same that we as working people struggle against every day. Now that we have an unfettered, independent voice again, it can only strengthen our movement.

Incidentally, one major post 9/11 viewpoint that is only heard on WBAI and nowhere else in the media is that peace is an option. It’s too bad that sanity has so limited a forum, but such is the nature of a media owned and controlled by an interlocking group of defense/oil/aerospace companies. But make no mistake – there is a peace movement out there although, except for WBAI, it is totally ignored by the mass media and is therefore almost invisible. There’s a whole world beyond the New York Times – tune in to 99.5 FM and check it out.

–Tim Ouimette