MUSICAL LIVES, 1999
Celebrating Senior Musicians of Santa Cruz County, CA

 

 

Velzoe Brown

piano, trombone, drums, flute

 


Photo by Jane Hancock

Velzoe Brown in her garden, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

Velzoe Brown
(1910-2011)
Popular band and classical musician

Raised in Nebraska, Velzoe Brown was one of five children born to a mother and father who played piano and trumpet, respectively. Velzoe’s first instrument was the piano, which she says she learned without lessons -- “I gathered it in with my mother’s milk I think.” At 13, Velzoe started playing trombone, though her father at first thought she was too small to play a big horn. Teaching herself from an instruction book, Velzoe soon worked her way up to first chair in the girl’s marching band at Omaha Tech High. As she says, “Trombone was my love. I slept with it...I was a fanatic!”


Velzoe is the fourth girl from the left. (Click photo to enlarge)

In 1926, when Velzoe was 16, she became a full-time musician when she joined the all-woman group the Pollyannas. For four years the band toured the ballrooms of the midwest and went as far as Canada and New York city in their sturdy Studebaker. The Pollyannas even came to California, playing the Lamonica ballroom in Santa Monica and the famous Rainbow ballroom in Fresno, where they won a “battle of music” against all their male competitors. In the winter the band played for vaudeville theaters on the Orpheum circuit--the cream of the theater chains.

After the Pollyannas broke up under pressures of the Depression, Velzoe moved to California and played with the famous Juanita Conners band, making good money in hard times. As Velzoe remembers, “I have letters where I say to my parents, don’t worry about me, I have a $5 bill stashed away. Five dollars was a lot of money. You could buy a meal for 35 cents served in courses in L.A. on a white table cloth with sherbet to cleanse your palate. Can you imagine?” Later she formed a trio with Edna Lewis, a virtuoso horn and reed player also formerly of the Polyannas, and played all over California.


Velzoe and the Upbeats at the Senior Citizens Opportunities monthly dance

After many years on the job, Velzoe tired of nightclubs and life on the road. She spent time at the Cherry Foundation in Carmel studying early music, classical piano and flute, and then in 1961 moved to Santa Cruz. Since then she has had many private music students and has continued to perform. Currently Velzoe plays regularly at Sunshine Villa and the Live Oak Senior Center, and provides the music at assorted dances with her full quintet, Velzoe Brown and the Upbeats.

When asked what she thinks of living a musical life, Velzoe said, “I’m for it, honey!”