"Firehouse Five Plus Two", was a Dixieland jazz band that made at least 10 albums. They performed on the Bing Crosby radio show, Jazz Scene USA, Hit Parade, a 1958 appearance on Stars of Jazz, Milton Berle Show in 1954, Ed Sullivan in 1953, and the Ed Wynn show in 1950 - to name a few. They appeared on a float in the 66th Rose Bowl Parade. They appeared in a musical short feature in 1951 with Theresa Brewer. They appeared in a movie as themselves titled, Grounds for Marriage" in 1951.
The band was started by the bandleader and some members of the group who were animators at the Walt Disney Studios animation department. While they were obviously very busy working, creative work has a unique kind of stress that allows some craziness at the office. For these guys, they liked to blow off steam on breaks and after work. They played in the studio offices or on a studio soundstage in the early days for themselves and co-workers. Their jam sessions caused animators, storymen, and inbetweeners to dance with the ladies from the color and ink crew right in the soundstage on occasion. As members of the group were some of Walt's best studio animators, Walt Disney liked them and let them do their own thing on the side. But he also loved their music and onstage antics. He even invited them to play in the Disneyland park on Opening Day in 1955 and regularly after that, and later to even appear on his TV show. Two of Disney's famous top animators, from the "9 Old Men" were in the group, Frank Thomas (on piano) and the irrepressible band leader Ward Kimball (trombone) who was known as the Fire Chief, as the leader of the band. As the story goes, the only vehicle the whole band could fit in was Ward's vintage Le France Fire Truck, so they used it to go to performances in. So the name of the band was inspired by this. The fire truck is featured on two of their albums.
The band was invited by Walt Disney to appear in the 1950's Walt Disney TV special called "One Hour in Wonderland" that predated the weekly TV show. They appeared on "Dateline Disneyland" (ABC's Opening Day live television broadcast) in front of the firehouse on Main Street USA, and in the parade, and finally performing at the now extinct Plantation House restaurant in Frontierland (the Haunted Mansion is in its place). They also appeared on the original Mickey Mouse Club's "Anything Can Happen Day", and performed two numbers, "I Want to be a Fireman" and the "Tiger Rag". Thankfully this appearance is available on the DVD "The Best of the Mickey Mouse Club" here at Amazon.com. It is labeled on the DVD as November 12, 1964 episode, but the footage is actually from an older episode almost 10 years earlier; the footage of the second song reappeared again in a "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" episode called "At Home with Donald Duck", on November 21, 1956. The episode was re-aired with various modifications 4 times over the next 20 years, even being re-titles to Happy Birthday Donald Duck. Sadly the Firehouse Five plus Two footage was edited out for the last re-run in 1976. They appeared in the 1955 episode "Cavalcade of Song". On January 3, 1964 they appeared on another episode, "Disneyland 10th Anniversary". Their music is even featured in the Goofy cartoon short, "How To Dance".
The band was not owned or controlled by the Disney Company in any way. They moonlighted, recorded albums, played in nightclubs, traveled to perform and had a lot of fun along the way. They appeared regularly at the Mocambo nightclub in Hollywood. Their appearance on Jazz Scene USA (1962) is immortalized on the Disney DVD "Frank and Ollie" as an extra. Titles include "THAT'S A PLENTY" and "LONESOME RAILROAD BLUES". The same DVD has some rare home movie footage of the band. There is a VHS titled "Stars Of Jazz Volume IV" that has performances by the group, and another VHS titled "Meet The DixieLand Bands Volume II".
The FF5+2 was not some polished studio band with tight engineering, but an exercise in spontaneity and improvisation in the true spirit of jazz. They truly didn't even believe in practicing as they explained it in one interview, just having fun. Maybe that is the best part of listening to them, because they sound so spontaneous and are very full of life and laughter. They make you want to dance along. Interestingly, as animators they were used to creative sound effects and included this art in their music too. For example they used an anvil on one track, sirens, bells and whistles.... and it works! This album is great for Disney history buffs since it was recorded at the nostalgic Golden Horseshoe Saloon in Disneyland and you can hear them bantering with the audience, who is going nuts over their music. The voice you hear introducing each song is none other than Ward Kimball himself. They played at different spots throughout the Disneyland park throughout the '60's. This album is one of the shortest produced by the band, but very unique due to its LIVE status. You can hear the gang joking and hamming it up with each other during songs and in-between both. I only wish I had a video of this performance. Very clean sound on this re-release, high quality CD. The Good Time Jazz label was kind enough to reproduce not only the original cover but even the original liner notes. The actual number of musicians in the group changed from time to time, but at the time of this recording it was seven.
Start your FF+2 collection with this recording and you will want more, they are just great fun!! The cover art on this album is a photo of the band is at Disneyland in the teacups in Fantasyland. Some of their albums were themed, such as on "Goes to Sea", all the songs titles on that album have to do with the sea. Check out the cover artwork from band leader and animator Ward Kimball on some of their other albums. There is a ton of archival footage of the band, as well as home movies. With all of their recorded performances, I just wish someone would release a DVD of them since I have to buy a bunch of DVDs with one or two songs each in order to see them. Now that would be a real treat.