1 April 2017

Big Band Scene (April 2017)

This month Patrick Billingham surveys recent big band gigs and examines the legacy of Glenn Miller.


    The Big Band@Brunswick programme continued last month with a debut performance by Big Band Sounds, who are based near Uckfield. This well rehearsed ensemble played mostly mainstream charts and standards. Ably supported by singers Jo Kimber and Andrew Wood.  Although the programme consisted mainly of mainstream standards, there was plenty of scope for improvised solos which were shared out among the band members.

    The following Sunday, Straight No Chaser were on their home ground at The Hassocks Hotel.  This was another Bassey plays Basie with Mark displaying his talent as a vocalist as well as on trombone.  The final number on the programme was Gordon Goodwin’s Count Bubba. This chart highlighted the precision of the SNC sectional playing. An added dimension to the evening’s entertainment were the lindy hop dancers on the large space in the centre of the room.  If you missed this gig, there is another chance to hear this excellent band at this month’s Big Band@Brunswick.  See the list at the foot of the column for details. 

    Later in the month, I went to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.  Or, at least, a depleted GMO.   Their bassist Paul Scott was in A & E following an encounter with an irregular pavement in Brighton.  But modern technology in the form of an electronic keyboard meant that pianist Bunny Thompson was able to able to cover for him with his left hand while maintaining the piano sound with his right.

    There was a strong visual element to the show, right from the first number, where the trombone section performed a carefully choreographed routine at the front of the stage while continuing to play.  The other sections did the same later on. I guess it helps to know the charts and not to have to rely on the dots.

    The repertoire wasn’t restricted to the Miller pad. Hot Toddy, a 1950s hit for Britain’s Ted Heath Orchestra, and the Sinatra classic New York, New York were included.

    The Uptown Hall Gang, a Dixieland quintet, was the band within the band.  On this occasion playing a spirited version of The Saints, with an impressive drum solo by Bob Cleall.  

    Vocal duties were undertaken by Catherine Sykes and Mark Porter and a close harmony trio the Polka Dot Dolls.  As well as the Moonlight Serenaders, a close harmony quintet where Catherine and Mark were joined by one each of the saxophone, trumpet and trombone sections.

    The Swing Time Jivers, a dance quartet, demonstrated their versatility, skill and wit at various points of the afternoon.

    So if any big band leaders out there want to up their popular appeal, the above contains quite a few pointers.

    I hope that I haven’t caused any of you, my dear readers, to expire of apoplexy, to shout at, or even throw things at the screen, or to stamp on your smart phone. In the past, elsewhere in the SJM, the subject of intolerance in the jazz community has been discussed.  The mutual contempt between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ – the latter being around for 70 years now. The attitude I witnessed at a jazz festival where the Angelo Debarre quartet with its roots in The Hot Club of France earned a standing ovation from the audience.  Apart from three who sat grim and stony faced with their arms folded; they had turned up early for the Alan Barnes set on next.  Perhaps they thought that a violin had no place in jazz.

    It would be nice to think that we big band aficionados are immune to such petty prejudices.  Sadly, not so.  Mention Glenn Miller, and there seem to be three responses.  It’s a pity that Glenn Miller died, but his music has survived; it’s all right, I suppose, but my band play it only to keep the punters happy; it is great music that has stood the test of time.

    Some serious big band musicians dismiss the music as commercial and trite. But we should look at it in context. During the band’s heyday, in the late 1930s and early 1940s a recorded tune had to be no longer than a little over three minutes, due to the limitations of the 78 r.p.m. discs.  Unlike later, when 33 r.p.m. microgroove discs became available, there was no opportunity to explore, or develop, an idea at length.  And being commercially successful, there was the opportunity to try out new, and sometimes, ahead of its time, material.  In the concert reviewed here, Tuxedo Junction was expanded to around ten minutes by a succession of extended solos.  So who is to say that this sort of thing didn’t happen at live, unrecorded, gigs 75 years ago.

    If you would like to explore Miller music beyond the popular standards, Moonlight Serenade, American Patrol, In The Mood, String of Pearls, Pennsylvania 6-5000, etc. there are a couple of tracks that I think are worth listening to. They were on an EP which sadly has long disappeared from my possession. The Spirit Is Willing, with contrasting trumpets and My Blue Heaven, which shows how writing and improvising had progressed from the early days of the band.

    At the risk of causing offence in some quarters, I plan to return to the topic of Glenn Miller and his music in later columns.


    Next month:  A look at what is on in the Brighton Festival Fringe, and hopefully other news and another band profile.  If you would like your band featured, and I have not already contacted you, please get in touch.  Or if there is anything else, such as gig news, or feedback on this column, that you would like me to include in May’s Big Band Scene, please send it to me by Monday 24th April.  My email address is g8aac@yahoo.co.uk.  


Big Band Gigs

April – early May

 † a regular monthly gig

bold italics part of a regular series


Sunday 2nd April

†12:45 – 3:00 pm, Sounds of Swing Big Band at The Horseshoe Inn Hotel, Posey Green, Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux, East Sussex BN27 4RU (02035 645225).   Free entry.


2:00 – 4:00  pm, Saxshop at The Brunswick, 3, Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF (01273 733984).  Free entry with charity collection. Doors open  1:30 pm.


3:00 pm, The Gordon Campbell Big Band at The Hawth, Hawth Avenue, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 6YZ (01293 5536236).   £15/14.50.


7:30 – 10:00  pm, Big Band @Brunswick: Straight No Chaser at The Brunswick, 3, Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF (01273 733984).  Free entry with collection.


Wednesday 5th April

†8:30 pm, The Fred Woods Big Band at the Horsham Sports Club, Cricketfield Road, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 1TE (01403 254628).  £2 (Club members free.)



Thursday 6th April

†7:30 pm, The Maestro Big Band with Nicki Day at the Hope Inn, West Pier, Newhaven, East Sussex BN9 9DN (01273 515389).  Free entry  


Sunday 9th April

†12:00 – 3:00 pm, Groovin’ High Big Band at the Ravenswood Country House Inn, Horsted Lane, Sharpethorne, West Sussex RH19 4HY, (01342 810216).   Free entry. 


Tuesday 11th April

†8:00 – 10:30 pm, The Ronnie Smith Big Band at The Humming Bird Restaurant, Main Terminal Building, Shoreham Airport, West Sussex,  BN43 5FF (01273 452300).  Free entry with collection.


Sunday 23rd April

†12:30 – 3:00 pm, The South Coast Big Band at The Junction Tavern, 99 Station Road, Polegate, East Sussex BN24 6EB (01323 482010).   Free entry.


Monday 24th April

8:15 pm, The Downsbeat Swing Band in the Village Centre Hall, Trinity Road, Hurstpierpoint, BN6 9UU (01403 257387/07985 079080).   Free entry with collection for The Brainstrust charity.


Wednesday 26th April

8:00 pm, The Ben Waters Big Band at The Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, BN43 5EG (01273 464440).  £20.


Friday 28th April

†8:30 – 11:00 pm, The Les Paul Big Band at Patcham Community Centre, Ladies Mile Road, Patcham, Brighton BN1 8TA, £5.  For further details contact Steve (01273 509631) steven_paul1@yahoo.co.uk (Bring your own refreshments.)


Wednesday 3rd May

?8:30 pm, The Fred Woods Big Band at the Horsham Sports Club, Cricketfield Road, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 1TE (01403 254628).  ?2 (Club members free.)


Friday 5th May

12:30 – 2:00 pm, Perdido Players Swing Band at Holy Trinity Church, Church Street, Cuckfield, West Sussex RH17 5JZ  (01444 456461)  Free admission with soup.

8 pm, Brighton Festival Fringe: Straight No Chaser Big Band with Alan Barnes playing Sir Duke, A Portrait of Ellington, at Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton BN1 1UF (01273 696022).  £12.


Saturday 6th May

7:45 pm, ConChord Big Band at Sackville School, Lewes Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex,  RH19 3TY (01342 410140).  £20 with food/£12 without..


Sunday 7th May

†12:45 – 3:00 pm, Sounds of Swing Big Band at The Horseshoe Inn Hotel, Posey Green, Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux, East Sussex BN27 4RU (02035 645225).   Free entry.

7:30 – 10:00  pm, Big Band @Brunswick: Terry Pack’s Trees at The Brunswick, 3, Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF (01273 733984).  Free entry with collection.

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