Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The big-band legacy is alive and well in hands like these

Saxophonist Craig Christman brought his Stardust Memories Big Band to Port Charlotte on Monday, December 9, for a concert that scored well on every measuring chart. His mission with this five-year-old band from Collier County is to keep alive the legacy of America's classic large bands. 
Craig Christman

Performing for the Charlotte County Jazz Society, he did so in clever ways that also honored some of the second-generation outfits that emerged from the Swing Era's heyday. As a result. the CCJS audience was transported to big-band heaven for a few hours.

In this two-set, 23-song performance, the 18-piece Stardust Memories band performed  vintage material from the likes of Benny Goodman, Harry James, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw , as well as some Duke Ellington and Count Basie material. There was also a dollop of Stan Kenton, Quincy Jones and Doc Severinsen's NBC Tonight Show Band. The band also played two Buddy Rich band charts of classic material (Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" and Cole Porter's "Love For Sale"). 

Walt Andrus

Nelson Riddle's arrangements also figured prominently as singer Walt Andrus performed seven Frank Sinatra classic hits. Andrus, who moved to Southwest Florida several years ago, was a member of The Pied Pipers vocal group before trombonist Buddy Morrow hired him to sing with the Morrow-led Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Andrus worked with the orchestra for 15 years starting in 1988. He is blessed with an uncanny mid-career Sinatra sound when Ol' Blue Eyes was at his prime.

The high-octane Christman band roared through Glenn Miller's "In The Mood," "A String of Pearls," "Amercan Patrol" and "Sing, Sing, Sing," as well as a Miller arrangement of W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues." The delicacy of Stan Kenton's arrangement of "Here's That Rainy Day" showcased the band's subtler side.

Christman shifted to piccolo for his solos on Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova," more familiar to many as the movie theme from Austin Powers. John Keevil added a fine piano solo here. 

Tom Weaver, Paul Gavin, Terry Myers
The band closed the first set with "Sing, Sing, Sing," the highlight of Goodman's renowned 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. Drummer Paul Gavin, who was swinging hard all night, was up to the challenge on this Gene Krupa hallmark. It opened the second set with another burner, "Theme from Police Squad!," the short-lived TV show that inspired The Naked Gun movies.

Terry Myers
Andrus reprised "Night and Day," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Pennies From Heaven," (which Sinatra recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra), "The Song Is You," "That's Life," "My Way" (another Keevil highlight) and the night's encore, "New York. New York."

Christman turned in the evening's most poignant moment with his solos on a Dave Wolpe arrangement of the Johnny Mandel-Johnny Mercer classic ballad "Emily." He said it is a favorite tune - because it is his daughter's name.

There was another Tommy Dorsey Band connection at work. Saxophonist Terry Myers, a regular performer at CCJS concerts through the years. is the current leader of that band. He was in the spotlight on several fine solos.

An audience estimated at more than 330 turned out for the CCJS concert at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater.
The Starlight Memories Big Band

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