Big band music kicks off Jazz/Rock/Pop Series

Ed Sorrentino CAWB.JPG

By Ed Sorrentino
Oxymorons.  You hear them everywhere.  Phrases such as “awfully good,” “seriously funny,” or “original copies” just roll off people’s tongues.   Well, here’s a new one for you – little big band.

Some of you may be familiar with music from popular big bands of the 30s and 40s, conducted by bandleaders such as Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller.  Traditional big bands usually had upwards toward 20 plus musicians, with six saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, guitar, bass, piano, drums, plus male and female vocalists.  This unique makeup created a real danceable, full-bodied sound.

So, what’s a “little” big band?  It’s a smaller ensemble, fewer than ten musicians, playing music designed to create a fuller sound than one would expect from this smaller formation.  The music is fun and lively, and it’s the music our Jazz/Rock/Pop (JRP) department at South Shore Conservatory (SSC) will be presenting at our September 23 JRP Series Kick-off Concert.

Big band songs are familiar to all of us, and are often heard nowadays at all types of events.  One of the most recognizable tunes from this era is In the Mood, which composed by Joe Garland, although it’s always been associated with Glenn Miller who arranged this for his big band.  It quickly became, and continues to be, one on the most popular songs from the 1930s.

Back in the late 70s/early 80s, I performed with the big band Swing Shift, led by the great reed player and Artie Shaw Band leader, Dick Johnson.  It was here that I met some of the greatest jazz musicians in New England, among them, jazz trombonist Alan Cron who is now Rockland Superintendent of Schools.  Remembering what an amazing player Alan was, I invited him to join us for this kick-off concert, then thought about inviting other local music educators.  Performing together in concert would be a fantastic way to celebrate and recognize excellent area music educator/performers. I’d hoped to develop an arts-based collaborative culture, musician to musician, educator to educator, where we can perform together and share advice.  We don’t currently have an SSC big band program, but who knows where this could go?

As a big band drummer, I am often referred to as the “driver of the bus.”  Everything, timewise depends upon the drummer.  Big band music follows a very specific “road map,” a.k.a. written compositions and arrangements.  This type of playing is a real exciting challenge!  Even though the music is more prescribed than in-the-moment, it still allows for a fair amount of improvisation, and requires knowledge of the big band repertoire.  Every arrangement of the songs chosen for this concert has space for improvised solos.

This kick-off concert will not include only instrumental arrangements.  Voice Department Chair Emily Browder-Melville will be singing the famous 1924 George Gershwin tune Fascinating Rhythm. There may even be a nod to versatile vocalist Aretha Franklin, primarily known for her gospel and Motown contributions, but who performed beautiful renditions of jazz ballads and standards from the big band era.

Anyone who loves exciting, popular music is invited to join South Shore Conservatory as they present their JRP Series Kick-off Concert on Sunday, September 23, 1 pm in the Jane Carr Amphitheater at One Conservatory Drive.  Prior to the concert, the JRP department presents a fabulous jazz brunch.  For more information and tickets, visit or call 781-421-6162, x204.

Percussionist Ed Sorrentino is chair of South Shore Conservatory’s Jazz/Rock/Pop department.


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