Big Band, Big Noise…. Big Society?

A blast of big band experiences has been fun and food for thought this week. First up was a regular (monthly) Wednesday night performance by the Trowbridge based DS Big Band at Southwick’s Farmhouse Inn. The bands repertoire is provided by the protean transcription and arranging talents of Jon Harpin whose prodigious output seems to mean they rarely repeat themselves as well as get to some rarely visited corners of big band history. You can also be sure you are hearing the arrangements pretty much as penned by the greats. So, ‘I’ve got it bad and that aint good’ had the full Ellington treatment complete with those lovely piano counterlines and an impressive Johnny Hodges like reading of the melody by alto player Sam Aldred. Every time a chart by one of Basie’s famous arrangers Sammy Nestico was announced the band cheered and a rollicking swinger ensued and generally a classic Basie ending to boot. This was great fun and a celebratory canter through music of a classic era, loudly cheered by a packed house; all this on a wednesday night in October. This band has been going a long time (20 years?), the chairs occupied by largely amateur musicians and a collective that brings people together, sustaining itself through the largely unrewarded commitment of a few people. And this another layer of the music scene that’s repeated across the region. So Thursday night found me having a go myself in the piano chair, depping at the rehearsal for a Bristol based big. A mild roasting was in order. Having set my key board up, some band members set three crates of music down by me, the band leader shouted “189′ please, counted us in and we were off ( I just managed to spot the words ‘solo no rhythm section’ on my score as we started so the first sounds of the evening apart from the click of the drummers sticks was my frantic sight reading of a Basie like opening intro before the band swung in with roar. And so it proceeded – the highest number called was 695 which made my head spin at the thought of how long it must have taken to accumulate that much music; over 700 arrangements. And check out what it cost to buy just one big band score (here for instance).  The scope for improvisation is very constrained in these settings but there’s a great adrenaline rush from that mighty ensemble playing. Another delicious layer of our cultural life.

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