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Play that funky music, jazz band

Ross Boissoneau - April 7th, 2008
Where can you go to get your fill of big band jazz? This Friday, April 11, you can head to Milliken Auditorium at the Dennos Museum to see not one, but two groups performing music by the likes of Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman and, um, Wild Cherry.
Yes, that’s right, the NMC Jazz Lab Band and the NMC Jazz Big Band will each perform a set of pieces recalling the heyday of the big bands. But Wild Cherry? Mike Hunter, who directs both groups as well as the NMC Vocal Jazz Ensemble, promises that the rendition of “Play That Funky Music” will be a treat for listeners of a jazz bent as well as those who remember its original incarnation in the disco-fied ‘70s. “It’s a really fun, funky big band treat, originally redone by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band,” said Hunter.
Something for everyone? That’s the goal, according to Hunter. That includes fans of vocal jazz, as the NMC Vocal Jazz Ensemble will be featured in between the big bands.
The performers are an eclectic mix of young and old, students and retirees, those who make a living in music and those who do so in other fields. What they have in common is a love of music and the desire to bring jazz to a larger audience. “These are all music lovers, and it shows in the playing,” said Hunter. “They have a good time, and so does the audience.”
In addition to the glorious sounds of Wild Cherry, the concert will featurearrangements from the dance bands of such stalwarts as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Count Basie, as well as the more modern sounds of Thad Jones (“To You” and “Cherry Juice”).
The show opens with the 17-piece Jazz Lab Band, a.k.a. the 5:30 band, which will perform five songs, including Count Basie’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” Goodman’s “Let’s Dance,” Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” and the uptempo “Samba de Carrera” by Dean Sorenson. “We’ve been working on some of these tunes all semester, and I’m really pleased with the way we’re sounding,” Hunter said. “We’ll also be bringing the clarinet back into the big band on the Miller and Goodman tunes.”
Following the Jazz Lab Band, the NMC Vocal Jazz Ensemble will be featured on two a cappella pieces - Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” and Kirby Shaw’s “Joy Sounds II.” It will then be joined by a jazz combo on “Taking A Chance On Love,” arranged by New York Voices singer Darmon Meader.
Concluding the show will be the Jazz Big Band, which will perform “Four Brothers,” a sax section feature from Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, the original arrangement from the Benny Goodman Orchestra of “Flying Home,” and other selections by Thad Jones and Sammy Nestico (Count Basie Orchestra). Then there’s “Play That Funky Music,” an off-the-wall hit in the ‘70s for Wild Cherry, later reprised by everyone from Vanilla Ice to George Michael.
The dance band selections that will be performed by the bands are part of a project in conjunction with NMC’s new audio recording technologies class to produce and present a recording of 1940s era music to World War II veterans at a WWII reunion scheduled for May, 2008. “Typically we only perform two shows a year, one at the end of each semester,” Hunter said. “This is a great opportunity to showcase the program in a different setting, and just as importantly, for us to give something back to those who sacrificed so much for us.”
While big bands have never regained the popularity they had in the middle part of the last century, the groups continue to attract both audiences and new players. In fact, the programs at NMC have generated so much interest, Hunter was forced to expand the program to accommodate all the players. “There was so much interest, we had to expand to a second big band three years ago,” Hunter noted. “It provides for a nice mix, with younger or less experienced individuals having the opportunity to advance their skills by playing alongside more seasoned players,” he added.
Hunter also noted the bands change slowly over time, with a couple of new players in the group each semester. “We get a little bit different personnel each semester, but the bulk of the group stays together. It helps us have a cohesive sound while always introducing something new to the mix.”
Tickets are $8 and $6 for seniors 62 and over and children under 12 and are available in advance through the Milliken box office, 995-1553, as well as at the door. For information about participation in the NMC Jazz Ensembles, contact Mike Hunter at mhunter@nmc.edu.
Writer Ross Boissoneau plays fifth chair trumpet in the 5:30 p.m. concert.
 
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