Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Keeping alive that big-band swing and spirit

The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, led by trumpeter and singer David Pruyn, drew the Charlotte County Jazz Society's largest audience of the 2021-22 season for its hard-swinging concert on Monday, March 14. For the audience, and the players, it was a journey back in musical time to the big band era of the 1930s, '40s and early '50s. Back to when the big-band sound dominated America's popular music– and alto saxophonist Dorsey was known as “The Jukebox King.”

Eddie Metz Jr., Pruyn, Greg Diaz
Pruyn, who lives in nearby Nokomis, succeeded the late Bill Tole as leader of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in 2017. He pulled from the ranks of South and Central Florida's finest jazz musicians for this 16-piece band. His wife, singer Michele James-Pruyn, was the featured vocalist on six tunes.

Over two hours, they shared some 20 standards from Jimmy Dorsey big-band repertoire, and a few other gems in Pruyn's hip pocket. Opening with Jimmy Dorsey's theme song, “Contrasts,” they worked their way through hit after hit, including “Stealin' Apples,” “When You're Smiling” and “June Night.” The latter was the first of many features for reed player David MacKenzie, who put his fresh stamp on classic Jimmy Dorsey alto sax solos.

Michele James-Pruyn
The band played two versions of Dorsey's composition “I'm Glad There is You.” The first featured Pruyn on vocals, exploring the original Paul Medeira lyrics. Then they shifted right into Tole's subtle bossa-nova instrumental arrangement. It was clever and tasty.

James-Pruyn joined the program for a blend of uptempo and ballad features, taking on the role of the band's original songbird, Helen O'Connell. They included “Something's Gotta Give,” George and Ira Gershwin's “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and the Dorsey hit “Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy).” She returned in the second set for splendid takes on “Tangerine” and “The Man I Love,” finishing with a romp through the 1954 Rosemary Clooney hit “Mambo Italiano.”

Valerie Gillespie
There were interesting solos from everyone before this night was done. Alto saxophonist Valerie Gillespie was featured on Ray Noble's “I Hadn't Anyone 'Til You.” Trumpeter Randy Sandke was featured on “Poor Butterfly.” Pianist Jerry Stawski uncorked a side of his musical self that we rarely see as the band explored “JD's Boogie Woogie.”

Stawski, Pruyn, James-Pruyn
After intermission, Pruyn put on his Mel Torme tribute cap for one tune, singing the Gershwin brothers' “Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)” on a classic arrangement by the late Canadian big-band leader Rob McConnell.

The five-member sax section shifted into a flute and clarinet choir as the band explored Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's “All My Tomorrows.”

David Pruyn, David MacKenzie
MacKenzie was back in the spotlight, exploring Dorsey's robust alto solo on Cuban pianist Perez Prado's “Mambo en Sax.” It was one of four tunes from Jimmy Dorsey's last recording session before his death in 1957. They were released posthumously. The trombone section was featured on West Coast bandleader Bob Florence's ballad “Autumn.”

The evening's big finish included “More Than You Know,” which reunited brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey for a 1945 V-Disc recording after an on-stage falling out seven years earlier; Jimmy Dorsey's signature hit “So Rare,” which was released after his death; a fresh take on “America the Beautiful” featuring MacKenzie on clarinet and Herb Bruce on trombone; and a most-natural closer.

That closer was a searing version of “Two O'Clock Jump” featuring baritone saxophonist Jonathan Cestero. This arrangement touched on a variety of big-band covers over the years. The classic swing hit, based on Count Basie's “One O'Clock Jump,” was first recorded by Harry James, then Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich, among others. The band, powered all night by drummer Eddie Metz Jr., swung mightily.

The concert drew a crowd of more than 300 to First United Methodist Church in Punta Gorda.

The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra

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