Musician rubbed elbows with the stars
He was content to play the foil for dinner-jacketed superstars and leading ladies of the big-band era, never boasting of his ties to Hollywood’s elite.
But in Southern California in the 1940s and ’50s, and later in the showrooms of some of Northern Nevada’s most prestigious resorts, Elbert Russell Moncrieff was in his element providing the music for a generation of Americans.
Services for Mr. Moncrieff, who was 93 when he died in Grass Valley Wednesday, July 7, are planned for 1:30 p.m. Friday at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Grass Valley. Interment will take place at Heritage Memorial Cemetery in Dewey, Ariz.
Music was Mr. Moncrieff’s meal ticket.
He first picked up a trumpet as a boy growing up in Willits and later lied about his age to earn an enlistment into the Navy at 16. He served as a musician in 40-piece military bands aboard the USS Omaha and USS Melville ships during his 1926-29 enlistment, touring Australia and Japan.
After his service, Mr. Moncrieff moved to San Diego and married Marjorie Ruth Endicott in 1933, whom he spotted at a big-band dance.
He moved to North Hollywood, where he began to cultivate relationships with the big band elite, including Harry James, Les Brown and Rafael Mendez. But it was a simple three-word comment clarinetist and big-band virtuoso Benny Goodman paid him during a practice session that set Mr. Moncrieff’s sights high.
After a session, the King of Swing walked into the Los Angeles studio and proclaimed “Sounds good, kid!” to the young trumpeter.
“He was young, and that was a memory that he carried with him for the rest of his life,” said Mr. Moncrieff’s son, Robert C. Moncrieff of Chicago Park.
Mr. Moncrieff spent much of his time recording music for movies produced by MGM, Columbia Pictures, United Artists and Fox studios, work that was afforded him as a member of the Los Angeles musicians union and the American Federation of Musicians.
Mr. Moncrieff never made money like the stars he befriended, his son said, and he never pined for the fame and fortune of stars such as Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Durante and Ella Fitzgerald, who spent time with Mr. Moncrieff once he began a second career as a showroom musician at places like Harrah’s Reno and the since-imploded Mapes Hotel’s top-floor Skyroom showplace.
“Ella’s singing with him in Heaven,” Mr. Moncrieff’s son said. “They’re all having a giant jam session up there.”
When he wasn’t on stage playing, Mr. Moncrieff pursued his passion for the outdoors, which included pistol shooting, hunting deer and antelope and fishing.
So avid was Mr. Moncrieff’s pursuits that in 1966 he became Nevada’s pistol-shooting champion and competed in the world championships. Until he moved from Arizona into a Grass Valley retirement home recently, Mr. Moncrieff kept a large gun collection in his home.
“He couldn’t understand why Highgate (Retirement Village, where Mr. Moncrieff last lived) wouldn’t let him keep his guns in his room,” his daughter-in-law Beverly Moncrieff said Monday. “He said to them, ‘What kind of place is this?'”
Mr. Moncrieff was born Dec. 2, 1910, to Isaac Henry and Laura Russell Moncrieff. He was a life member of the American Federation of Musicians and a member of both Los Angeles and Reno local musicians unions. He was a life member of the National Rifle Association and other pistol shooting organizations and ranges in Nevada and Arizona. He was a 23-year member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Prescott, Ariz., and recently a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Grass Valley.
In addition to his son and daughter-in-law in Chicago Park, Mr. Moncrieff is survived by a daughter and son-in-law, Barbara and Robert Fisher of Vista; grandsons Robert Moncrieff of Gilbert, Ariz., James Moncrieff of Richmond, Va., and Michael Moncrieff of Sacramento; granddaughters Catherine Shaffer of San Jose, Amy Cate of LeGrande, Ore., Kelly Sovilla of Switzerland, Margaret Mueller of Chicago, Ill., and Suzi Isbell of Vista; 11 great-grandchildren; niece, Bette Morris of Folsom; and great-nephew, Michael Morris of Chico. He was preceded in death by his wife of 69 years, Marjorie Endicott Moncrieff, in 2003; sisters Marie Hall in 1973 and Grace Moncrieff in 1928; and brother, Robert Moncrieff, in 1962.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Music in the Mountains Camp Scholarship Program, 530 Searls Ave., Nevada City 95959.
Arrangements are under the direction of Hooper and Weaver Mortuary.
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