All Carl Hoffman ever wanted, since he was 12 years old, was to play trumpet in a band.
It took nearly half a century for him to get around to doing it, but today the retired Marine Corps general is leader of one of the most popular swing bands in North County.
At a meeting of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, he puts a trumpet to his lips and launches into a rousing Dixieland rendition of "Back Home Again in Indiana." The audience breaks into clapping and cheering.
At Ocean Hills, a retirement community in Oceanside, the dance floor is filled with oldsters twirling to the strains of the Hoffman band playing "In The Mood," "New York, New York," and "Mack the Knife."
At 70, Hoffman's boyhood dream is a reality. He and his six-piece band, which has evolved from its original Dixieland style into a version of the big bands of the 1930s and '40s, are in steady demand. They play at country, dance, golf and community clubs, birthdays and weddings.
Hoffman's career on stage was a long time in coming.
He started out on track for it: While in high school, he won a nationwide trumpet competition and was awarded a scholarship to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
But, when World War II broke out, he was sidetracked into the Marines. He took his trumpet with him, though, using it at one point to out-duel a Japanese soldier playing his horn in the jungle night at Guadalcanal.
When the war was over, Hoffman decided to remain a Marine. He saw two more wars--in Korea and, as a brigadier general in Vietnam. Near the end of his 38-year Marine Corps career, Hoffman held a series of top commands, the final being commanding general at Camp Pendleton.
All along the way, the trumpet remained a part of his life. Once, when the legendary trumpeter Harry James was visiting Camp Pendleton, the two played together on stage.
When Hoffman retired 12 years ago, he and his wife, Allene, and their two children moved to the Hidden Meadows area of Escondido.
"Here I was, retired from the Marine Corps, building a house in Hidden Meadows and wondering what I was going to do with my time," Hoffman recalled. "I had a degree in music from Drake . . . and I thought about starting a band, but I wasn't sure how to go about it."
Enter Dave Easterbrooks of Oceanside, a retired cosmetics dealer who spent his spare time playing tenor sax and clarinet.
"Dave and I had become friends, and he also wanted to form a band. So he worked on it and before long we had a nice six-piece band, playing Dixieland music," Hoffman said.
With Easterbrooks' help, Hoffman enlisted four other men, all but one still with him, to perform in the Carl Hoffman Band.
Dick Adams of Fallbrook, a retired teacher, plays the piano; Gordon Gimber of Vista, a one-time coffee distributor, is on drums; Charles Coulter of San Marcos, once a college professor, plays the trombone; and rounding out the band is bass player Bob Graham of Oceanside, a beer distributor and the only member who also works a regular job.
"We realized rather soon that Dixieland is very happy, pleasant music to listen to, but after a while people want something else, so we found we needed to expand. . . . We graduated to a big band sound, although there are only six of us. Swing music, that sort of thing. We throw in some songs, and we've even written some arrangements of our own," Hoffman said.
The band makes regular appearances to entertain the nostalgia set, whose 60- and 70-year-old legs can be found rug-cutting on any given night. The Balboa, Lindy Hop and Shag are familiar dances where the band plays.
The most requested number? "In the Mood," by far, says Hoffman.
The ramrod-straight band leader, an imposing figure as he stands to play his sweet trumpet, has a smile on his face.
For him, this has been a most satisfying second career.