from 2007
BRUCE HEALEY
talks about his start with Disney, the Fun With Music
show and a bit of Disneyland history

by Scott Wolf

Bruce Healey

From my earliest days going to Disneyland, I've always loved the music throughout the park. And while I love the attractions, for me there's something electrifying about sitting in the audience for the shows and parades.

Naturally, it was exciting for me to interview Bruce Healey. Bruce is a wonderfully kind person who has been responsible for the music for every show and parade at Disneyland since 1986, and he is often involved in the music for other parks as well.

I'm sure you will enjoy learning about Bruce's musical life as much as I have.

Scott Wolf: What type of music did you enjoy when you were growing up?

Bruce Healey: When I was very young I don't think I had any specific music focus. But as I became a teenager I was somewhat interested in classical music due to my musical education but then I became very interested in jazz and big band music. So from the time I was about sixteen until I was out of college I gravitated towards that quite strongly.

SW: Who were your favorite bands?

BH: The Woody Herman band and Buddy Rich's band and Count Basie's band, mostly those, but then there were some others that came along that weren't all that well-known. There was a Jack Dougherty big band. I don't know that it even had a name but he produced an album of kind of contemporary big band stuff that was really cool. He was producer for the Carpenters.

So, just all kinds of things... I was loving Blood, Sweat and Tears and Tower of Power and all kinds of groups like that.

SW: How did you get into music yourself?

BH: I started as many people do at age eight, taking piano lessons reluctantly. I'd rather play baseball. And when I was eleven, sixth grade, I decided I wanted to play drums and was fortunate enough to have a teacher who was a symphonic percussionist himself. He was a substitute in the production section of the L.A. Phil., but also taught school music. So I just started going to music summer camps, Idyllwild School of Music & the Arts, ISOMATA, up at Idyllwild and playing percussion there.

Then when I got to about age 16 I started to get more interested in playing the piano and jazz and arranging.

SW: What was your first job in music?

BH: My first job in music was my sister's wedding. I had a trio and my mother hired me to play at my sister's wedding. Didn't pay me very much. (We laugh) It was justified at the time.

When I was eighteen, my senior year in high school, I started playing casuals with my trio. Little cocktail things or fashion shows. I just played a lot of casuals all the way thru college.

SW: With the trio?

BH: Yeah, and other groups, too. I got together with some other folks and put together some other groups and did a variety of things.

So I went to college, studied music in college, got a Bachelors of Composition from Cal State Fullerton. I went to USC grad school and studied composition and orchestration there for about three semesters. I studied commercial arranging privately and along the way I started writing whatever I could writer. In college I had my own big band that I put together and wrote original big band things for and arrangements, I and a partner, and we went out and performed a few times but it was mostly kind of a laboratory for us.

I started arranging for shows for anybody who would hire me. I did a lot of community college-type theatre program shows and also along the way when I was a senior in high school, 1967, I got a job at Disneyland marching in the Christmas parade playing drums. That was my first job at Disneyland. I think it was called Very Merry Christmas Parade at that time but it was an all-live parade. There was no recorded music, it was all live bands.

SW: Was that common for Disneyland at that time?

BH: Yeah, because we didn't have a parade audio system of any significance at the park at that time. We didn't get a parade audio system in the park until the Electrical Parade in 1972. I think that was the first time we had any kind of audio system specifically to address parade performances. It might have been available earlier but that was certainly the first parade that took advantage of recorded material in that way.

SW: Were you still at Disneyland at that time?

BH: I continued to work in the Christmas parade all through college, every Christmas season, and I started to play occasional shows, either on keyboard or percussion, that were seasonal.

It wasn't probably until my last year in college or shortly after I got out of college that I started doing that. It was right around that time and I became known to the person who was head of the talent casting department at that time, Sonny Anderson, who hired me to write arrangements for some of the small bands in the park that were playing. Atmosphere groups. Then I started writing arrangements for shows.

SW: Were you still doing that Christmas parade at that time?

BH: No, it was after that. I stopped doing the Christmas parade and they started changing the Christmas parade and didn't have as many live bands in it after awhile so I was moving on to different things.

SW: Why did you first choose Disneyland? Did you aspire to have a career there one day?

BH: I just wanted a job (he chuckles), and I grew up in Garden Grove just three miles away from the park so it was a good opportunity. I was one of the many, many thousands of people who have paid their way thru college by working at the park. I did other things as well but some of it was working at the park.

SW: So you ended up arranging music...

BH: Yeah, I continued to do small shows here and there and Mouseketeer shows and Kids of the Kingdom shows when they were doing those kinds of things. Eventually I got hired to do a Buena Vista promotional tour for The Rescuers.

SW: Was that through Disneyland?

BH: Yeah, they were produced thru Disneyland but it was for Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. So I went out for three or four weeks. I flew on Mickey One, the corporate jet. It was a gulf stream one turbo prop. Our cast for the tour all went out that way. They usually went out on that airplane and flew around the country in that era. So I played organ and we went around to malls and played our little show and did some hospital visits and television visits and I started getting interested in production. I was watching people work in the television side of it, live TV.

We'd go to Chicago and do the Bozo show live.

SW: What did you do on Bozo for example?

BH: I had pre-recorded the organ because we couldn't count on having an instrument at each one of the TV stations. So they just played the tape and I stood in the booth behind the Director and I watched the Director call the show and I watched how all of that worked. It was interesting to see how live TV worked. I got a lot out of that in that way, it was an unexpected experience.

Basically, we had a couple of small production numbers that involved Bernard and Bianca and Orville the albatross and Medusa. They'd just go in and do their little dance number and they'd play my track and that would go out on the air. It would be different every time.

SW: Were the voices pre-recorded?

BH: We didn't use any character voices on that. Medusa was the only speaking character on that tour and she was a human.

After that, I got hired to do a show that ran for about six months called "Fun With Music" which was an educational program that the company put together. In the old days of the Fantasyland Theatre of old, which was a little movie theatre in Fantasyland, we converted that to a live performance venue for this music education show.

SW: Where was that in Fantasyland?

BH: Approximately where the Village Haus restaurant is. This was about 1976 or '77. So it was a live stage show with film and live performers and a six piece band that I was the leader of and I played the piano.

SW: Were you on the stage leading it?

Bruce Healey - Fun with Music showBH: No, there were these little opera boxes on either side of the theatre that we made into an orchestra pit. Three of us were on one side of the theatre and three of us were on the other side which was a very challenging thing to deal with in terms of staying together.

SW: How were you able to conduct the other side of the theatre?

BH: We just rehearsed and got accustomed to what it sounded like to be at an approximately forty to fifty foot distance.

After that i got a job in the Disneyland Band playing drums and piano. I didn't play drum set, I played bass drum and I played percussion on the noon concert when they had a noon concert.

SW: Was that in Town Square?

BH: This was at Plaza Gardens stage. We used to do a 1:00 concert at Plaza Gardens stage everyday and we played a whole variety of music. It was quite a fun concert to play. It was the highlight of the day for the band. The band was a little bit larger then, so I played percussion and one of the woodwind players would play keyboard and when that person retired I took over that spot and played keyboard, so I was in the band for about two years before I got promoted to the music department as an Arranger/Copyist.

All along I was doing odds and ends arranging for the park before that but I got hired full time for the staff Arranger/Copyist.

SW: They also had the well-known big bands at Plaza Gardens. Did you ever get to see any of those bands you said were your favorites like Woody Herman or Count Basie?

BH: I did see Woody Herman at Plaza Gardens and I saw Count Basie and Buddy Rich and just about every big band that came thru there at that era. It was a great experience.





 
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