Rex Eugene Peer -- in Memoriam 

Rex Peer (1928-2008)

Next to my father, Rex has without a doubt been the most important man in my life. Here is the brief death notice published October 16, 2008 in The Messenger (an online service appearing in a number of cities):


POSTED: October 16, 2008

WAIANAE, Hawaii - Rex Eugene Peer, age 80, of Waianae, Hawaii, formerly of Nashville, TN, died Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008 at the residence of his daughter in Chapel Hill, TN following an extended illness.

A native of Atlantic, IA, Mr. Peer was the son of Willard Ralph and Olive Mae Harris Peer. He was a professional musician and a veteran of the United States Air Force. In addition to his parents, Mr. Peer was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara Benton Peer who died in January of 2008.

Survived by 2 daughters, Rachel Peer Thompson of Nashville, TN and Cindy Peer Green of Chapel Hill, TN; a son, Ryan Rex Peer of Nashville, TN; a sister, Dorothy Zehr of Fort Dodge, IA; four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008 from 4 until 8 p.m. at Lawrence Funeral Home. Graveside services will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 at Swanson Cemetery in Chapel Hill, TN.

LAWRENCE FUNERAL HOME and CREMATION SERVICES, Chapel Hill, Tennessee, in charge of arrangements. (931) 364-2233

Here is the obituary published in The Tennessean on Thursday, October 23, 2008:

Rex Eugene Peer

PEER, Rex Eugene Age 80. October 14, 2008. Preceded in death by Barbara Benton Peer, his wife of 56 years. Mr. Peer's career as a professional trombone player spanned six decades. He began in "territory" bands, traveling the midwest during World War II. After a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force, he earned his Master's degree in music education. He toured and performed with such artists as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Eddie Sauter, Bill Finegan, Urbie Green, Charlie Shavers, Eddie Fisher, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Cash, Danny Davis, Leon Redbone and many others too numerous to mention. Known in the Nashville community as "first call" for studio recordings, Mr. Peer stood out for his versatility to perform any style of music. His first love was big band jazz, but his talent and training enabled him to have a long and successful career. Mr. Peer's record company, The Nashville Sound Plus You, was a pioneer label in the "sing-a-long" genre that opened the door for the karaoke wave of the eighties and nineties. Mr. Peer spent the last twenty years retired in Hawaii. Survived by daughters, Cynthia Green and Rachel Thompson; a son, Ryan Peer; a sister, Dorothy Zehr; 4 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Visitation today from 4 p.m. - 8 p.m., at Lawrence Funeral Home, Chapel Hill, TN; Graveside services at 10:30 a.m. Friday, at Swanson Cemetery in Chapel Hill. LAWRENCE FUNERAL HOME, 931-364-2233.

Here is the piece I submitted to and which appears in the "Guest Book" accompanying Rex's obituary:

October 27, 2008

Rex was my trombone teacher, colleague, and friend, and I will miss him greatly. There was a lot to love and admire about Rex. He was a bit of a Renaissance Man, with interests and competencies ranging from trombone playing to band leading and conducting, composing and arranging, singing, historical fiction writing, inventing, music publishing, and music production and recording. Most importantly to me, though, Rex was a really nice, thoughtful, generous man with a great sense of humor, a wonderful musician and role model, often lauded for his particularly "tasty," musical playing, and an incredible teacher, always seeming to know just what I needed to learn next and exactly how to convey it to me.

I was a 5th grader from a small farming community when my folks took me to Rex's music store in 1958 to ask him if he would give me music lessons. He gave me a brief, eyebrow-raising audition. (I played "The Marine's Hymn" in several different keys, after learning from Rex on the spot what a "key" was!) The rest was history. I had gained the opportunity to study trombone with one of the best natural-born teachers and all-around excellent role models I could have found. And for the outrageous sum of $1 per lesson! (My parents were very poor, and Rex was very generous.)

After several years of study, Rex helped me get musical engagements that enabled me to earn money for my college education. His favorite way to introduce me to colleagues was, "I've taught him everything I know, and he still doesn't know anything!" (As I said, Rex had a great sense of humor, and we shared a lot of laughs over the years.) Rex did teach me just about everything, including a lot about jazz playing, music theory, and writing songs and arrangements. He also had me learn dozens of popular songs and "legit" solos so that I would have a repertoire for later use, and I'm still recycling many of those songs nearly 50 years later!

The period of my study with Rex, 1958-1966, was actually during the hiatus between his two careers. The first one spanned the 1940s and 1950s, culminating in his work in New York City at ABC-TV, the Waldorf, etc., as well as his touring with the Benny Goodman Sextet. In 1969 he moved from Iowa to Nashville, where he traveled with the Nashville Brass, worked in the studio orchestras for various network television shows, and played on numerous recording sessions and live gigs.

For 14 years (until I moved to California in 1985), we were colleagues in various commercial and jazz music settings, and we formed a two-trombone-and-rhythm band, the Hip Bones, in 1977, which played in clubs around Nashville and at the 1979 International Trombone Association Workshop at George Peabody College. Over the years, we corresponded by mail and email, and chatted by telephone, and we got together any chance we could during visits to Nashville or Hawaii. I will dearly miss those visits and the chance to share thoughts, concerns...and jokes...with my beloved teacher, colleague, and friend.

  Roger Bissell (Orange, CA)

I have several pieces with details about Rex that I will share here, including a 1961 article from the Atlantic Iowa newspaper and excerpts from one of the chapters of my autobiography. I hope that this material gives a fair indication of what a remarkable man he was. (REB)

Atlantic News Telegraph (c. 1961):  

Rex Peer, proprietor of the Peer Music company in Atlantic has literally seen most of the world to music. He plays the trombone and he must be one of the nation's better trombone players, for he has played with such famous conductors as Benny Goodman, Vincent Lopez, Woody Herman and others. He was on the Pat Boone TV show for a year and has played two engagements at the Waldorf. He toured the U.S. with the Benny Goodman-Louis Armstrong combined group in 1952 and in 1959 toured Canada and New England with Benny Goodman.

In 1955 he toured the Far East with Benny Goodman under the auspices of the U.S. state department on the cultural exchange program. On this tour the orchestra played in Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, Cambodia, Burma and Malaya. It was on this tour that the orchestra played a command concert for the king of Thailand. After the concert, the king, an ardent musician who, according to Rex, plays about like a king, joined the group in a jam session. He was so enthused about their music he gave each of the visitors a cigarette case bearing his crest.

In 1958 Rex travelled Europe with Goodman playing in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland and Belgium. At the Brussels World's Fair the group played a two week's engagement.

The most recent rour in which Rex participated was through South America, again with Benny Goodman. He returned home from this tour just last month. The group played concerts in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. Driving in from the airport at Buenos Aires, the bus passed through a slum area which boasted signs, "Castro Si, Yankee No," and others bearing the communist insignia, but they were told that only a small minority had any communist leanings.

While Peer's favorite instrument is the trombone, he plays almost all other band instruments. He has a bachelors degree in music education from Morningside college and a masters in music from Columbia university.When he came with his family to settle in Atlantic and take over the Peer Music company, which had been started by his father Ralph Peer, he hoped to be through with travel, but he has been called back by Goodman often and seen much of the world since his retirement.

Mr. and Mrs. Peer live at 300 Chestnut with their daughters Cynthia, 7, Rachael, 6, and their son Ryan, 1-1/2. His music company sells and services all types of musical instruments and has one of the largest record stocks in this area.

Excerpts from "Don't let it go!"--Notes on my Professional Music Career:
I began to play the trombone in 1956 (third grade). My abilities to transpose, play by ear, and improvise were already apparent by the fifth grade. That is when I began my eight-year period of study with Rex Peer, who later became my colleague.

My getting connected with Rex was actually a result of the first (and perhaps best) time the government warped my life. Until 1958, the Cumberland Independent School had two bands, both open to all children grades 3 through 12: the "Junior Band" and the "Senior Band." The designations were not based on age, but on ability. A skilled third grader could sit at the head of his section in the Senior Band--and a high school senior who was a total novice might sit last chair in the Junior Band. By the end of third grade, I had climbed to the front of the Senior Band trombone section, where I stayed throughout 4th grade, as I rocketed through the famous Arban Method for Trombone.

All of that changed with the much-touted "reorganization." The State Department of Education was pressuring independent school districts to consolidate. The larger tax base would allow more modern facilities to be built--supposedly leading to better education. Cumberland and Massena (where I was born, 6 miles away) decided to become C&M Community Schools. Beginning with the 1958-59 school year, grades 6 through 12 were bused to Massena, where there would be a "Senior High" band for those in grades 9-12 and a "Junior High" band for grades 6-8. Massena, who had had a crummy band, would be lifted up; Cumberland, who had a great band, would be pulled down. (My first encounter with socialism's "leveling effect--outside of my sister's eating up her share of the M&Ms first, then wanting half of what I had left! Hmmm---C&M, M&M--an ominous parallel?)

It seemed that I and the others in my 5th grade class would be left high and dry. There was talk of starting up a "Beginner" band (!), with private lessons for those who participated. But since neither I nor my parents could accept the outrage of my having to be in a band two levels and four years away from the one I deserved to be in, we tried to sign me up for "lessons only." Nothing doing, said the school officials. Fine, said my folks; we'll find a teacher for our son somewhere else. And they did.

Rex Peer was a native of northwestern Iowa and had played free lance in New York City for several years after getting his masters degree at Columbia. His father, Ralph Peer, was a world-renowned flutist and ocarina ("sweet potato") player, having appeared on "You asked for it" in the 1950s. More importantly, Ralph also ran the music store in Atlantic, fifteen miles from my home. His son Rex left the high-pressure scene in the Big Apple for health reasons and began working at the store to help his dad run the business and to give his family a more stable, secure life.

One day in the fall of 1958, my folks brought me in to see if Rex would give me lessons. He gave me a brief, eyebrow-raising audition. (I played "The Marine's Hymn" in several different keys, after learning on the spot what a "key" was!) The rest was history. I had won the opportunity to study trombone with one of the best natural-born teachers and all-around excellent role models I could have found. And for the outrageous sum of $1 per lesson!

Rex's favorite way to introduce me was, "I've taught him everything I know, and he still doesn't know anything!" (For my part, I envisioned him having a minor auto mishap in Atlantic City, New Jersey and the next day the newspaper headline reading, "Rex Peer Wrecks Pier.") Rex did teach me just about everything, including a lot about jazz playing, music theory, and writing songs and arrangements. He also had me learn dozens of popular songs and "legit" solos so that I would have a repertoire for later use.


I began playing paid engagements in 1963, the summer after my freshman year of high school. My first job was actually not paid, but should have been. I was invited to "sit in" with Johnny Fancollie's band on New Year's Eve, 1962, at the Anita Legion Club. He and his band members liked my playing so well that they invited me to play the entire job. Unknown to me and my parents at the time (Dad found out later), the manager of the club had thrown in an extra $20 to pay me. Johnny quietly pocketed it. My first experience with unscrupulous leaders!

Some of my Cumberland high school buddies and I started up our own band, the "New BelAirs," which played for several local dances, and for which I wrote some of the musical arrangements. Several of my All State pals from Atlantic also asked me to be in their band, the "New Jazztet," which likewise played some engagements as well as some concerts in the area.

The two main bands I played with during high school were Morrie Powers and the BelAirs (a band based in Coon Rapids, with whom Rex played regularly) and the Gil Wallace Orchestra, led by a handicapped piano player and music store owner from Greenfield. I only played a few jobs with Morrie, but I met Roger Newman, a sax player and local band director, who moved to Los Angeles and became quite successful as a musical arranger by the early 1970s. The lion's share of my income came from the many jobs I worked with Gil, for whom I also did quite a bit of vocal and arranging work.

My earnings, however, were not spent in pursuit of fast cars and pretty women. (Or is it: pretty cars and fast women?) It all went toward my college education fund, and my college program was to be a major in mathematics. I felt good about saving my earnings, but mathematics (which I dearly loved) was not my first choice.

My parents, children of the Great Depression, were very worried about the music business as a career choice. They were afraid that if I pursued a life as a professional musician, they would see me end up some day in the gutter or the poorhouse--or worse! Their fears led them to ask Rex to help persuade me to use my music making as merely a lucrative sideline to a more secure profession. These pressures, plus overly stingy scholarship funds at the two music schools I applied to, prodded me in the direction of the math program at Iowa State University.


I vividly remember standing in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Fort Des Moines [May 1966] and being riveted by the artistry and energy of trumpeter Bud Brisbois and the Drake University Phi Mu Alpha jazz band. As the sounds and sights of that concern rushed through my extremely nervous system, I made a promise to my dream of being a musician: "Someday, I'll come back to you. Somehow, I'll find a way." Less than a year later, I did...

I met some of those same musicians a short time later [June 1966]. Rex organized a jazz concert that was held in a small southwest Iowa town called Denison, and he used the Phi Mu Alpha band as his nucleus. He also asked me to be in the band and to do a feature jazz duet with him. We traveled together to Des Moines for the rehearsals. During the next several years, I worked with several of the Drake University guys on a number of state fair and other engagements.