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Compaq Big Band History

The Compaq Big Band began as the DECbigband, formed in March 1975 as one of many employee clubs at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) of Maynard, Massachusetts. This was at the time when DEC was rapidly establishing itself as the premier company in the emerging minicomputer industry, and as one of the largest employers in New England. With a small amount of startup funding provided by the corporation for music, music stands, and uniforms of blue corduroy pants and matching vests, the group took in musicians of widely varying ability and experience, from all sorts of high-tech positions in Digital. The only requirements were a love of big band music, dedication to work hard each week at practices, and a willingness to perform without compensation. Rehearsals were held in the cafeteria of the Maynard company headquarters complex - the famous Civil War-era woolen mill with exposed pipes and beams, drafty windows and lanolin-soaked, uneven wood floors.

Throughout the mid-1970s and 1980s the group performed at a number of Digital corporate functions each year, then branching out into community outdoor concerts and benefit dance events in the Greater Boston area. These band activities helped amplify Digital's positive image as it grew and prospered into a global computer manufacturer. Digital, in turn, assisted the band very early on by purchasing "formal" uniforms consisting of gray dress slacks, navy blue blazers, vests, and bow ties - the "Boston Tuxedo." However, the band quickly reached the point where it required no monetary subsidy from Digital, and went on to expand its role as a self-funding group with a nonprofit philosophy.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the band experienced a period of membership turnover mirroring the changes taking place at Digital, and indeed throughout the computer industry. As hiring at DEC slowed, so did the influx of potential jazz musicians to fill the band's ranks. Later, as "downsizing" hit Digital, several members changed careers and/or geographies, causing more attrition in band membership. It soon became clear that for the band to survive, let alone prosper, it would need to complement its Digital employee ranks with talented, local area jazz musicians. As these broad changes were taking place in membership, there were less opportunities to perform at Digital-sponsored functions, and the band expanded its performance schedule to include public functions and venues in the Greater Worcester and Southern New Hampshire areas. The band also took the opportunity to incorporate more, and more challenging, charts into its growing music library.

In 1998 the band faced additional challenges as DEC was absorbed into Compaq, headquartered in Houston, Texas. Through this transition the band continued to present a positive image for Compaq, providing high quality, affordable, big band music to the New England community. In late 2000 the DECbigband became the Compaq Big Band, a reflection of the changing times, and in recognition of our continuing relationship with the Compaq community.

Early in this decade Compaq was acquired by Hewlett-Packard (HP), headquartered in Palo Alto, California. For several years the band received wonderful support from HP in the form of a free weekly rehearsal venue and storage space for the equipment necessary for weekly practice. In January 2008 the band stopped receiving that support from the company and is no longer affiliated with or supported by HP in any way.

Several current band members are DEC, Compaq, or HP alumni who maintain a connection to the company tradition and culture. The remainder of the band is made up of various area jazz musicians who embrace the band's nonprofit operating philosophy.



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