2014 Rose Bowl, Litton 50th

Litton Band Trio Plans to Retrace 1964 Rose Parade

Forgive Phil Kelly for tooting his own horn, but he is proud of having been part of a mighty impressive marching band when he was in high school.

He was a trumpet player in the Isaac Litton Marching 100 Plus in the 1960s at a time when it was widely regarded as one of the nation’s best high school bands.

Under the direction of the legendary Sammy Swor, the Marching 100 Plus had some nice gigs, including a performance in the prestigious Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, Calif., in 1964.

“I have a newspaper story written by Nashville Banner (sports writer) George Leonard that says there was 1.5 million people on that 6-mile route and approximately 97 million people saw it worldwide on television,” Kelly said.

It was a memorable experience and one that Kelly and a couple of his old band mates — saxophone player Bobby Jarrett and trombone player Donny Dowlen — will relive this week.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the trip, the trio and their wives are headed back to Pasadena to watch this year’s parade and Rose Bowl game between Michigan State and Stanford.

They are scheduled to leave Monday, two days before the New Year’s Day game, just like they did 50 years ago, retrace their steps along Colorado Boulevard on New Year’s Eve and then watch the parade and game on New Year’s Day.

“I started feeling out the other guys about a year ago to see if they were interested in going back,” said Kelly, who also hopes to see some of the sites he missed on the first trip. “Mr. Swor obviously was big on everybody taking the right step and hitting the right note. You’re so intent on doing your job, and while you enjoy everything you’re doing, you also miss out on a lot of the other stuff that goes on around a big event like that. I’ve waited 50 years, and now I want to go back and see some of the behind the scenes stuff.”

Without hesitation, Dowlen and Jarrett said they were on board.

“I thought about it for about 30 seconds and then said, ‘Yes, I want to go,’ ” said Jarrett, who also was on Litton’s golf team, which won the 1964 Nashville Interscholastic League championship.

This will be the 125th Tournament of Roses parade and 100th Rose Bowl, which is college football’s oldest bowl game.

“I never really thought much about going back, but Phil pointed out we were coming up on our 50th anniversary, and that made me think it would be a good thing to do,” Dowlen said.

The 1964 Rose Bowl was between Illinois and Washington. After marching in the parade, the band members were given the option of attending the game or going to Disneyland. Kelly, Dowlen and Jarrett went to the game.

“It was about a 6-mile parade and there was over 130 of us in the band,” Dowlen said. “They offered us free tickets to the football game and only about 15 of us took them up on it. A lot of guys were too tired to go, I guess.”

The fact that Litton’s band got to perform in the parade proved that it was among the best in the nation, Jarrett said.

“All I can say is to be invited to the Tournament of Roses parade was a big deal, and not many high school bands were given the opportunity, so we must have been pretty good,” Jarrett said.

Litton was closed seven years later in 1971.

The game also offered a special twist.

“Of course, we knew nothing about Big Ten and Pac-10 football; we were all SEC people,” Kelly said. “And little did we know that one of the Illinois players was a guy named Dick Butkus, who played center on offense and linebacker on defense. That was his last college game we got to see, and Illinois won 17-7.”