Fred Forman’s cornet


In seeing the words “Forman Model” on the bell of a horn by the Frank Holton Company, one may presume it to be one of the many artist-linked models the company developed through-out the Twentieth Century. The list of persons for whom trumpets and cornets were named (without delving into tubas, baritones, trombones, French horns and saxophones), only some of whom actually played a role in developing them, includes E.A. Couturier (cornets), Herbert L. Clarke (cornets), Gustave Heim (mouthpieces and maybe a trumpet), Benjamin Klatzkin (trumpet),  Joseph Gustat (trumpet), Edward Llewellyn (trumpet), Don Berry (trumpet), Al Hirt (trumpets and cornet), Maynard Ferguson (trumpets), Dave Stahl (trumpet), Bud Brisbois (trumpet), and Don Ellis (trumpet) – and yes, perhaps, Fred Forman. If the Forman Model is indeed a model and not a custom horn, the distinction being that it is not a model unless multiple are built and offered for sale to the market, it would be the very earliest known example of an artist-linked horn from Holton.

Before detailing the horn itself, it would be worthwhile to examine who Fred Forman was. Therein clues may possibly be found explaining why Holton put his name on his new cornet in the summer of 1906.

The story of Fred Forman begins with Kentucky farmer Austin R. Forman (1826 – before 1870) and his wife Catherine (b. 1835) who went by the name of Kate. At some point, they moved from Kentucky where both were born, and which in pre-civil war America was still a recently settled frontier, to the virtually unsettled frontier of the Kansas territory, specifically the newly established Wayne Township. It is not clear if this was before or after the birth of their two children who remained alive as of the census of 1870, Emma Forman (b. 1855) and Harry W. Forman (1857 or 59 – after 1940). Harry’s place of birth is listed as either Kentucky or Kansas in different census records.

Harry Forman married his Iowa-born wife Ewen (1856 – before 1920) and settled in Creston Township Iowa. Another census records her name as “Eben” and Creston Township as being in Kansas, but both are likely mis-reading of the handwriting. Statehood for Kansas had been achieved when the Formans were only 4 or 5 years old, but that change had played a role in the great tragedy of their youth, the American Civil War. The author has found no record of Austin Forman’s death and from military rosters, it does not appear that he was a combatant. None the less, Harry Forman’s father died during the social and economic devastation of the war and the post-war crisis. When the Formans married, Harry’s mother Kate lived with them.

Harry appears to have been a part of the industrial age, although his home in those years was a rural farm town. The family appears to have been financially secure as a rural middle class household. This would have afforded their child a chance for education beyond the farm chores that filled his peers’ days. Harry owned his home without mortgage and the census delineated that it was not a farm property. His occupation in 1910 is listed as “Train rasle {sic} examiner” working for an unspecified railroad, and in the census of 1900 was also listed with the word train and an illegible term.

Fred Fielding Forman was born into this household in September of 1879. At the time of the 1900 census, only child Fred remained at home at the age of 21 and is listed as a music teacher. This suggests that his higher education, if any, would likely have been at a school in Des Moines or Ames Iowa, some 60 miles to the NorthEast by train.  Sometime between 1900 and 1905, Fred moved to Denver Colorado and took a job at the College of Music, presumably the University of Denver College of Music that continues today. His residence in 1905 was a rental at 306 West Colfax Avenue. His training to qualify for the job is not recorded, but it is known from other sources that he was proficient on several instruments and also as a composer.

The teaching job did not last and Fred’s address of record by 1907 was his work address of the Lubinski Theater. His occupation listed in city directories had changed from teacher to musician. Possibly he found theater life more to his liking than teaching in general, or perhaps it was just a more exciting life for one in his 20s in an urban setting. It is likely that the teaching job ended in the spring of 1905, as he toured with Brooke’s Chicago Marine Band during the 1905-1906 season.

In the summer of 1906, Forman took up the baton of the Denver Municipal Band. He was quite young for such a high-profile position. Founded as a Grand Army of the Republic post band just after the war, it was another of the post-war emergent town bands in the United States that were typically established as a social outlet for veterans. It was started by Alex Sutherland, a bugler who was among the few survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade - which logically he must have sounded for his unit, exposing him to the horrific sense of shared guilt that would come from having broadcast the order that cost so many of his comrades’ lives. In 1891, the GAR Band’s name was changed to the Denver Municipal Band as its expanded role in the community was recognized and the membership transitioned to fewer ex-soldiers and more young musicians. Among Forman’s predecessors at the podium in Denver were such notables as trombonist and celebrity bandmaster Frederick Innes and cornetist Herman Bellstedt. Still functioning today, it is one of the older such bands in existence.

It was during this time that Fred Forman contacted the Frank Holton Company in Chicago to order a New Proportion cornet. One of the traditional aspects of the Concert Band that is not found with many other ensembles and genres is that conductors were often performing artists in their own right, not just before transitioning to the podium, but also while they served in that capacity. It was not unusual for a conductor to turn over the baton and take up his instrument for a feature solo on a routine basis. This tradition continues today in the few surviving true town concert bands as well as in many British brass bands.

The Holton company was making only about 125 instruments each month working out of a loft space and would not open their first factory until the next year. Holton’s  New Proportion models had just been introduced in 1905. Securing an order for a high-end custom configured horn from this noted western soloist, whose career seemed to be on the rise between touring with a prestigious ensemble and becoming bandmaster of the civic ensemble in a major western city, must have been received with great excitement. In the 1906 summer edition of the company promotional periodical Holton’s Harmony Hints, the advertisement for the New Proportion short model cornet included an option that does not appear in what surviving prior literature there is to review – a seventh finish consisting of heavy gold plating and full length bell engraving. From the statement also featured on page 6 of that same issue regarding Forman’s order, it can be inferred that his horn, which is in that finish, was the first such to be delivered by the company.

One presumes that E.O. Anderson, Holton’s sales agent in Denver, would have been quite happy to have landed this particular sale.

This issue of Harmony Hints contained letters of endorsement dated as late as the middle of May, and by traditional serial number charts, the horn in question would have been built in April. However, there are other records of horns built in the 1909/1910 timeframe that show conclusively that the traditional serial number listing is a bit off during this time. This horn was actually built in July or in the first week of August, aligning it time-wise to be Fred Forman’s own cornet.

After quality checks, casing and shipping, the horn arrived in Denver from Chicago in the first week of September of 1906. It was customary, along with the discounts and special favors usually accorded celebrity customers by the company, for the customer so favored to return the courtesy by issuing a generous endorsement letter promptly. Forman did so and on September 15th wrote:

“Friend Frank:

The cornet came the first part of last week and it is without doubt the greatest instrument I ever had in my hands. It seems that you have all the good points of the other high-grade cornets, and a lot that they haven’t got. The model is beautiful, and in perfect proportion, the workmanship and finish excellent. The scale is more even that I ever expected to see on any cornet, and it has the easiest blowing upper register of any cornet made today, in perfect tune from pedal G to the G above high C, and the lower tones have the power of a trombone. Some cornets have a fine upper register, while others have a fine lower, but I think you manufacture the only instrument that has both.

I want to thank you for giving this model cornet my name, as I consider it quite an honor to have the best in the world with my name on it.

This testimonial is unsolicited and you have my permission to print it if you see fit, it being my honest opinion of the Holton cornet (best made).

Wishing you all the success in the world I beg to remain,

Your sincere friend,


These testimonial letters are very formulaic and appeared in every band instrument maker’s promotional literature at the time. Each of the standard elements is present, those being that the horn is the best ever, its technical characteristics are superior, particularly intonation and carrying power, that the fit and finish are perfect, that the endorsement is unsolicited, that the writer has deep emotional warmth toward the company, and finally that future success is deserved/expected/wished for the company. What is interesting is that the language is a bit less formal than the norm. Most such celebrities were East-coast and urban-born folks, with good educations and who had been taught to write very formally. Forman uses the right nouns and verbs, but they are strung together with prose that lacks certain articles and other niceties that formal writing uses while casual speech does not. His writing reflects his rural upbringing in what had not long before been frontier territory.

From this, his job history (with the Denver Band gig ending after 1908), and his frequent changes of address, an image of who Fred Forman was begins to emerge.

Fred Forman came from a rural upbringing where, despite his father being technical rather than agricultural in occupation, the rural setting still would have left life routine and rather boring. He did not learn to speak and act with pretense as someone from a city and wealthy family might, and his musical abilities were not fostered as a recreational activity for a spoiled youth with too much time on his hands, as was so typical of many celebrity musicians of the day, though certainly the middle-class nature of the household may have afforded him more such opportunity that those around him in town. His was, at least in part, a natural talent that had manifested in spite of the lack of music education typical of farm country. He appears to somehow, either on his own or through some unusual opportunity in Creston, have learned multiple instruments including members of the string, woodwind and brass families.

Blessed with talent as a musician in the popular genre of the day, moving to an urban center would have opened a great many social opportunities and probably was a bit overwhelming for a kid from farm country Iowa. As can be seen in the photo below, even though it has been vandalized by a website attempting to lay claim to public domain content by digitally mutilating it with their name (which does not constitute derivative art, sorry!), Forman was not a bad looking man certainly in his twenties and no doubt enjoyed the opportunities that came to him in the city greatly.

One may imagine that the stodgy life of a college professor, with its repetition year after year and the inherent social conventions blocking romantic interaction with women close to his own age, but there as students, may have contributed to his leaving teaching for life as a working musician. Certainly there was both excitement and companionship abundant in touring band life as well as the theater world to which he returned in 1909 as he faced turning 30 with employment at the Majestic Theater by 1911

The Majestic was renamed Empress in later years as shown below.

In 1911, he is listed in the Denver City Directory as a musician at the Majestic Theater and room 65, 2012 California, which was about 3 blocks from the Majestic. By 1915, he is no longer listed in Denver and drops out of the records during this decade entirely. Holton stopped publishing his endorsement after he left the Denver Band in 1908, and other than the singular mentions of this horn (note that it is always mentioned as a singular entity in the Holton articles), there are no other mentions of a Forman Model, nor has the author seen one in over 5 years of seeking out every Holton sale in the marketplace.

The horn itself looks like a short model New Proportion at first glance, but is not exactly.

This engraving pattern on Forman’s cornet is clearly done by hand and does not appear on any other Holton horn. However, the basic elements of it are present in the full length engraving option from this time onward such as this 1911 trumpet that is engraved to a transfer pattern,

Or in this Llewellyn trumpet from 1929, over 2 decades later.


The bell crest changed over time, but the botanical vine theme remained a constant on Holton mid and full length engravings until such luxuries vanished with the depths of the Great Depression. Holton never offered full length engraving again after that time except the long mid-length engraving of the Holton Stratodyne trumpet in the 1950s, which was a geometric texture pattern unique to the line.

If this was the first horn to be produced with full length engraving as the premium gold-plated top finish, then it is a unique piece of Holton company history. However, that is not what separates this from the Holton New Proportion short model that the body of the horn is built as. These horns were built in a variety of bore sizes and came as either low pitch only or high and low pitch, with the tuning slide setting the length to one or the other. Low pitch horns came with slightly longer valve slide sleeves, while HP/LP models were shorter and included a second set of elongated slides to go with the LP tuning slide. This model is built in low pitch only, but the length normally provided in the tuning slide has instead been provided in a longer bell. The body is that of a standard low pitch model with the associated valve slide slides, but the tuning slide is a high pitch slide.

Pictured below between a low pitch configured HP/LP from 1906 on the right and a high pitch configured HP/LP from 1908 on the left, one can observe the difference in the length of the tuning slides on the outside examples and see that it is about equal to the increased overall length of Forman’s horn.

Holton 1906 Forman compare to short.JPG

After cornet virtuoso Ernst A. Couturier came to work for the Holton firm as both promoter and road man in 1907. Holton stamped “Couturier Model” on quite a few New Proportion long model cornets, though they do not appear to be any different than the others not so marked. It could be that they are one of the bore size options exclusively, and so on, but there does not appear to be anything about them that would not have been available without the name in 1905.  This is not such a case.

The tubing dimensions of Forman’s horn match those of the 1908, which while it’s receiver reinforcing ring has slipped out of position, is an excellent playing, fully functional example of the short model in gold plate with the, by then templatized, full length engraving first apparently seen on Forman’s horn. It is a Holton “0” bore, or roughly the modern .459” diameter. Forman’s horn while largely intact, unfortunately was not maintained and all slides are seized. But that can be addressed in the future should there be a reason to make it playable.

In the 1910 census, Fred’s father Harry is in Nashville Tennessee. It is possible, though no record has been found to validate this, that Fred may have joined his father in Nashville. It appears that Fred’s mother was deceased by this time.

After the period during which Fred Forman is missing from the records, he reappears in Oakland California in 1920. His widowed father Harry is also living in Oakland at this time, and the elder Forman may have moved there while Fred was in Denver, as a misinterpretation of that might explain the reference to Fred being an Oakland native in the following press release published in The Musical Courier, November 18th, 1920 on page 49:

“Fred F. Forman, former Oaklander, whose creative genius has brought him once again to his native city, took up the baton of the T and D orchestra, October 24, in place of the present leader Dr. Carlos De Mandil. Mr. Forman plays the violin, saxophone, harp and trombone. In addition, he is a composer of no mean ability.”

Fred is noted elsewhere as leading the 1920s Fred Forman Orchestra at the Rialto and other theaters, which may well be the same ensemble described. An article, about a musical theater program revolving around two rival railroads written by C. Gardner Sullivan, published in the San Francisco Chronical in January 1922 is among those referencing his ensemble as the “Fred Fielding Forman Orchestra”. What is most interesting in the piece, beyond the incorrect native Oaklander statement, is that cornet is not listed among his proficiencies. That is most odd for a man who was previously touted by an instrument maker nationally, as well as by the premier touring ensemble he soloed with, as an artist on the instrument – presumably his primary instrument. From these scraps of information it is only possible to offer conjecture as to possible explanations.

For instance: as Forman was someone who had a less refined upbringing and became immersed in the excitement and dalliances of urban life in his twenties, did he possibly follow the lead of Col. Conn and get into one too many fights damaging his lip and losing his ability to perform as a solo cornet? Was that perhaps a factor in leaving the band in 1908? Had committing to theater life simply taken all of his time and denied him that which he would need to maintain his proficiency at artist level on cornet? Or had family life done the same?

One scrap of information that helps little, but adds the last conjecture to the list is that he is listed in Polks in 1922 as married to Helen W. Forman at a rental at 625 Ashbury in Oakland. The marriage presumably happened after the 1920 census, as just Fred and his father Harry are sharing a residence in that census. This too appears to have been a temporary state, as he is not listed as married in the 1930 census record, and his listing in the 1925 and 1930 directories does not include Helen. The 1925 listing is a home at 850 Geary however, suggesting family accommodations, while the 1930 address is a room in the Lyric Hotel. After his death, a Mrs. F. Forman is listed in the 1940 directory at 1898 Geary, so the precise nature of the relationship other than in 1922 is not clear.

Fred Forman died in 1939 and thus was not in the census of 1940. His father Harry was alive and residing alone in San Mateo at the age of 81 or more years old. The roster of the San Francisco Symphony found at indicates that his last decade was spent playing bass in the Symphony during the 1931-34 and 1935-38 seasons. The same source indicates that the Kansas native had taught at San Mateo Union High School prior to 1931, which suggests that he moved there with his father. It is not known if he and Helen remained together at that time, but as Helen appears in Oakland in 1940 while Harry is in San Mateo, it is likely that she was not a part of that household.

What can be seen from following the words “Forman Model” to these scant records of a man’s existence is that Fred Forman was most likely a man who lived an exciting, if not overly lengthy, life of great transitory nature. Not only was his time on earth barely, if even, 6 decades in an era when those who lived past 5 years old routinely lived into their 70s, but he was constantly on the move from the time he first left the farm country until his death. His address is never the same in two consecutive city directories, and his place of employment seems to have changed almost as often. He was a middle class youth in a farm town, then a teacher, then a celebrity musician as a cornet soloist, then a band leader, a theater musician and orchestra leader, then a teacher again, and finally a symphony bass player. His life brought him into contact with and then separated him from people with great regularity, making his social network a constantly dynamic entity. He lived gig to gig and check to check. The art of negotiating pay, and making ends meet between gigs must have been among his skills. One may imagine that by 1922, his experiences after so long as a musician in a popular genre of the day, just as is the case for pop musicians in the present day, might have conditioned him behaviorally in ways that made married life particularly challenging for him. Without much of any record on line, determining how successful he was at it remains an open question, but it does not appear that Fred ever found time for having children - which contributed to his lack of footprint in historical records.

The horn is unquestionably a unique design. If no others appear, the question of it being a model rather than a custom horn for a celebrity, will remain unanswered. It is odd that Holton never advertises this model or details the unique longer bell architecture of the horn anywhere. Perhaps they did and that edition of Harmony Hints is just not currently known. This particular horn though is a unique link to the past of the Frank Holton Company, as its serial number tells us it was the first, Mr. Forman’s horn, and we can not only examine its unique qualities, but tie it to the corporate propaganda surrounding its creation in the early days of what would become one of the largest, and for the trumpet world, at least from a design standpoint, most influential and thus important of American makers

As for Fred Forman, it seems likely that he was never a rich man monetarily, this cornet suggesting that ages 26-30 may have been the wealthiest period of his life, but by any deductive analysis of what little is known of him, he must have enjoyed a great wealth of life experience.


Compiled by Ron Berndt, 6 Oct. 2016


Back to