Taps—the American bugle call that today is played solemnly at memorials and soldiers' funerals—has a fascinating history. In today's Wall Street Journal (or online here), I write about why the 24-note song was conceived in 1862 and how it evolved over the years. In the longer online version at WSJ.com, I also include rock and jazz references. [Pictured above: Jari Villanueva sounds Taps at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery]
In essence, this is the story of how a Major General, fed up with the formal French bugle call being used to tell Union soldiers to turn in for the day, wrote a new melody and enlisted the help of a brigade bugler. While no one was named the song's originator, the Major-General began to receive sole credit starting in 1898. And he deserves a large chunk of it. But the bugler whom the Major-General asked to play and phrase his invention also deserves kudos. [Pictured: Above, Maj-Gen. Daniel Butterfield; below, Oliver Willcox Norton, the bugler]
A special hats off to Jari Villanueva, a former Arlington National Cemetery bugler and Taps historian. He will be at Arlington tomorrow when 200 buglers play Taps simultaneously at different locations around the grounds. Afterward, Jari [pronounced Yari] will fly up to lead a brass band at Union College in upstate New York to honor the co-composer Major-General, who graduated from the school in 1849. The purpose of these events is to kick off a season-long tribute to Taps, leading up to the song's likely date of birth—early July.
Taps stands as one of America's finest and most touching melodies—created in tandem by a visionary high-ranking officer and a humble musician.
JazzWax notes: For more on Taps and its rich past, go here.
JazzWax tracks: A CD, Day Is Done: Music Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Taps, features all of the bugle-call versions leading up to Taps as well as superb performances. You'll find the album at iTunes and at Amazon here.
JazzWax clip: Here's a short documentary on Taps, featuring Jari Villanueva...