May 24, 2010


Hey! So where did spring go?! When I left for work this morning it was raining, but by the time I finished up, there was an inch of snow on the ground with more still falling heavily. Rusty has never seemed to mind the cold or snow, but he'll be disappointed when he has to forego his usual walk.

Last night I played 3rd trumpet in an Artie Shaw Centennial concert with the New Deal Swing Band. It was held at the Kol Ami Synagogue as part of their regular concert series and was absolutely packed! Last year's Benny Goodman Centennial was the same way.
The auditorium was decked out in flowers and featured a spiffy black-and-white-checked dance floor brought in for the occasion. Before we started our program, free dancing lessons were offered by the Salt Lake Jitterbugs (a local swing dance troupe) and then on the first half of the show, they performed a few numbers with us.

The New Deal Swing Band was put together by Utah Symphony clarinetist Tad Calcara, and originally featured primarily USO musicians. Since its inception in 2003, its evolved to include more local jazz players than USO, but there are still a couple of hold outs. I've played with the group for the past 3 or 4 years and generally we end up doing 4-5 concerts per year. It's always a fun challenge for me to try to imitate the big band style of the 30s and 40s. On a couple of occasions I've had to play lead in the group (an adventure lemmie tell ya), but fortunately last night the trumpet section was led by two players more suited to the style: Keith Davis on lead and Reed LeCheminant on solos. I think we made up a pretty hot section--it's always a blast for me to play with those guys!

Tad Calcara is an incredible musician. He sounds amazing in the USO of course, but is really well versed in swing as well. He spent years digging through archives to obtain original charts and our book is chock full of great, if sometimes nearly illegible, music. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the swing era's music and musicians, plays the clarinet parts flawlessly--and with as much flare as Shaw or Goodman--and can hold his own at the keyboard to boot. I am always in awe of musicians with such diversity of skill.

The first half of the show was as much a history lesson as a concert and incorporated archival video of Shaw's bands alongside more recent interviews done with him. In a couple of cases, the original band would start out a tune on the video and then Tad would bring us all in to finish it out. It was a bonafide miracle that the video syncing worked last night! In rehearsal a week before it was stubborn as a mule and nearly made Tad loose his cool several times.

Tad, as someone in the band remarked, "is better than Wikipedia", can expound eternally on swing, and related some pretty interesting stories last night. Here's one that I remember:

When Shaw was young, he was turned on to music after hearing a saxophone player performing on Vaudeville. He worked for months at a deli to save up the $40 he needed to buy a used C melody saxophone and instantly got to work listening to records and imitating what he heard. After a while he felt proficient enough to audition for a local dance band. The director was thrilled with his ability until he put a piece of sheet music on the stand. "What do you want me to do with that?" Shaw asked. The director replied that unfortunately he couldn't give him the gig unless he could read music. Shaw asked him to hold the position for a month and wowed everyone by coming back in said amount of time able to read anything put in front of him. He was only 14 at this time!

On the second half of the program, the dance floor was opened to everyone in attendance and a surprisingly large crowd stayed out on the floor, some trying out their newly learned moves and others showing off more substantial amounts of time spent in formal training.

It was an enjoyable evening, but I was eager to get home and into'll be another week of early mornings. I was supposed to be working only part time at Cannonball this month, but a shipment arrived and there are a TON of horns that need engraving. For now they still need me to do the bulk of the engraving, and I'm mainly doing what I can to prevent Ryan from getting too overwhelmed. I guess it's good to be needed, but I hope they're able to get things going without me at least by the end of the month.

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