Bruce Dybvig’s Big Band won the Look Magazine All-American amateur jazz band award at Carnegie Hall in 1946. Most of the band members were between 15 and 17 years old. They had played at Shuffletown, a teen-age hangout in the Citizens Aid building, to earn the money to get to the Regionals in Chicago. The band’s triumph was reported in the November 12, 1946, issue of Look.
This 16-piece band came out of the Midwest to win the national award. It is an All-Minneapolis outfit, recruited from eight local high schools. In June the band traveled by day coach and jalopy [without brakes] to Chicago where it won the regional finals. Then, sponsored by the Loring Park Community Council, the musicians traveled first class to the New York finals. … Look’s nationwide amateur swing band contest has given these award winners and scores of other outstanding young musicians a boost toward the opportunities in the field of music that they have long dreamed about.
Members of the band were:
Leader: Bruce Dybvig (also best alto sax)
Arranger: Frank Lewis
Trumpets: Jack Coan, Dick Zemlin (and special award), Jerry Strauss, Phil Liniwic, Don Specht
Saxes: Bruce Dybvig, Frank Lewis, Rober O’Connell, Donald Narveson, Jack Wellnitz, Wayne Herold
Vocal: Tinkie Ross
Trombones: Stan Haugesag (also special award), Duane Solem, John Roth, Darrell Barnett
String Bass: Paul Sanders
Piano: Paul Kaatrud (also best piano)
Drums: Jack Cottrell
French Horn: John Kohler
They returned to Minneapolis as heroes, welcomed by Mayor Hubert Humphrey and civic leaders. The band had hopes of becoming professional, but big bands were on their way out, too expensive to maintain. In addition, Dybvig said that the representative from Look lost interest and failed to deliver on promises of hotel and movie contracts.
An interesting note is that an 18-year-old Sam Butera won the award for Best All-America Instrumentalist. Butera went on to have a successful career playing tenor sax with his band the Witnesses.
In June 1948 Dybvig partnered with alto sax player Johnny Bothwell and an Eastern tour began, but there was a sudden breakup that left Dybvig depressed and in debt – and still only 19 years old. Bothwell was apparently burned out and quit music altogether in 1949.
Dybvig put together a smaller group that had a summer-long job in Winnipeg in 1949, and eight of them worked at Bar Harbor in the summer of 1950.
Dybvig’s band was still popular, as evidenced by the fact that the Edina-Morningside High School Class of 1951 specifically requested that they play for their graduation dance.
In January 1952 the Minneapolis Flame began to program jazz on Sunday nights, a show called “Jazz Carousel” produced by Dybvig. Both Dixieland (Harry Blons) and modern (Percy Hughes) jazz was presented. Dybvig’s show was described as “His Ultra Modern Music” in 1952. In 1952 he also performed at the Point and in 1953 at the House of Hastings.
But by 1953 and ’54 Dybvig was working at stage bars, including Augies, with a trio. In November 1954 he was sentenced to 30 days in the workhouse for driving after his license was suspended. He was so dejected at his musical prospects that he sold his saxophone in 1955.
On August 12, 1956, Will Jones of the Tribune wrote a long story with the unfortunate titles “Death of a Band: Triumph to Defeat in 10 Years” and ‘Band of Tomorrow’ is Forgotten Today.” The article spoke of a final 10 year reunion of the original band members and gave updates of each. Even that event resulted in a loss of $1500. Dybvig noted that in the last ten years he had worked 1,200 engagements and grossed $125,000, ending up with an average hourly wage of $1.25.
1956 was another bad year for Dybvig; his wife Inez divorced him for “Cruel and inhuman treatment” (in those days you had to have a reason). They had married in 1947 and had two children.
But he carried on, working as the musical director at the Bar Harbor and Breezy Point Resorts in northern Minnesota for eight years, until 1963.
By 1964 only two of the original 20 members were working professional musicians.
In 1965 Dybvig “allowed himself to be arrested rather than pay 55 cents to an argumentative taxi driver who didn’t want to wait outside a downtown restaurant while Dybvig got a takeout order of Spaghetti.”
In 1970 he was arrested for writing a bad check, and spent 106 days in the Hennepin County jail after refusing to post a $100 bond while awaiting trail. He was released on his own recognizance in March 1970. “He was convicted of forgery and placed on probation for two years. He had not ingratiated himself with courthouse employees. A condition of his probation was that he not ‘loiter’ in the building.” In 1971 Dybvig said that prisoners in the jail were frequently mistreated, a charge that Sheriff Don Omodt said were “totally unfounded.” Nevertheless the board of directors of the Urban Coalition of Minneapolis voted to investigate conditions.
Dybvig shows up in the news again in June 1975 as a frequent observer in Hennepin County District Court, as described in an article about court watchers by John Carman in the Minneapolis Star on June 19.
At last look, Dybvig, born in 1928, is still with us.