PAW Tracks

Dick Snedeker ’51 took a keen interest in music at Princeton, playing clarinet for the marching band, the University Orchestra, and an undergraduate swing band called the Tigers. But the group he remembers best was one that he enjoyed mostly as a spectator: the Intensely Vigorous Jazz Band.

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Most of the time, hunting down stories about Princeton history requires some digging: going to the archives, searching through back issues of PAW. But occasionally, if you’re really, really lucky, the story just walks through the door. That was the case earlier this year when we published a letter about the Intensely Vigorous Jazz Band, a student Dixieland group from the late 1940s and early ’50s. We didn’t know much about the band, but our visitor did.

I’m Dick Snedeker, Class of 1951.

Snedeker lives in nearby West Windsor, so he decided to drop in. And not only did he remember the band — he brought recordings.

I’ve still got an album of 78 rpm, pre-vinyl record, and I have an LP, I think it’s a 10-inch LP on vinyl, and then of course there was a disc issued several years ago. So I have copies of all of those, but not the means to play all of them.

In the summer, we sat down with Snedeker at the WPRB studios to talk more about campus life and the music scene at Princeton in the years immediately following World War II.

The vast majority of the students were 17- and 18-year-olds who had just gotten out of high school or prep school, but there was a substantial fraction of the undergraduates who had been in the service during World War II, and some of them had been married and had families. I knew members of my class, the Class of ’51, who were in their 30s by the time they got back and decided to complete their college years.

Snedeker majored in aeronautical engineering. He starred on the cross country team and took a keen interest in music, playing clarinet for the marching band, the University Orchestra, and an undergraduate swing band called the Tigers.

We usually played stock arrangements, which were copies of what some of the big bands played. Not that we could sound like Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey or Benny Goodman’s orchestra, but we played arrangements that were based on the stock arrangements that they played.

But the group he remembers best was one that he enjoyed mostly as a spectator: the Intensely Vigorous Jazz Band.

Well that was all the doing of a guy named John Dengler, and John was the Class of ’48 — he’d been in the service, and he came back to Princeton and effectively went through school with the Class of ’51. He had grown up in the Pocono Mountains, where his parents owned an inn, and there were professional musicians playing at the inn all the time when he was a kid. So he picked up all kinds of instruments. He could play the cornet, and he could play all the reed instruments, he could play just about anything. Hearing all this professional music going on throughout his whole lifetime, he took it up very seriously. And so when he was an undergraduate, he decided that it would be fun to have a group that could play anything that he felt like, and Dixieland jazz fit that bill.

He got a trombone player, and a piano player, and a drummer, and a clarinet player to play with him. He chose to play the cornet. And so the five of them started playing together and just hit it off just right.

(Music: “Let Me Overhaul Your Car”)

There were a lot of original pieces that were just made for Princeton, including the famous one, “Let Me Overhaul Your Car,” which was one that had very suggestive lyrics and became very popular. Just about everybody on campus knew all the lyrics.

The music was sometimes used for dancing, some people tried to dance to the Dixieland music, which wasn’t easy. I was never much of a dancer myself so I never tried to do it. It was mainly for listening.

It was a lot of fun, and when you think back to your undergraduate years, you naturally think of the things you were involved with that were fun. And that was one of the things that had the most fun involved with it. It was remembered by a lot of people.

Stan Bergen ’51, the IVJB drummer, recalled his experiences with the band in the Class of 1951’s 50th reunion book. “While the IVJB might not have been the most polished band or musical organization,” he wrote, “we were genuine and true to New Orleans and Memphis-style jazz. We acted as ambassadors for Princeton University, and particularly, for the Class of 1951.”