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Thursday, April 26, 2012 02:22 am

Big on the Big Band

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Johnny Slu’s All Star Big Band playS the Springfield Jazz Society Spring Brunch on Sunday, April 29.

While lollygagging somewhere recently I ran into longtime Springfieldian and self-proclaimed “jazz junkie” Byrd Davis. We talked about the upcoming Spring Jazz Brunch (Sunday, April 29, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., K of C Hall on Meadowbrook, 217-414-2955) and the history of jazz performance during Byrd’s stay in the capital city. He wrote an article about his connections with local jazz musicians and venues, mentioning several places and people that I’ll share with you.

In the late 70s when Davis returned to Springfield, several now nostalgic names such as the Black Angus, the Southern Air, Forum 30 (now the Hilton) and Mr. J’s were area restaurants, lounges and bars regularly hosting jazz nights. In 1980 he wandered into the State House Inn to see Dick Garretson and the Springfield All Star Big Band, ecstatic as the “energy spilled over into the crowd and the buzz throughout the room was electric” in the packed house. Soon that gig was over and Byrd gives credit to Blake Everist for taking “the hand off” and providing jazz enthusiasts four nights of live music weekly at Norb Andy’s during the 80s. Next on his laudable list comes Richard Tyrer at Lime Street Café hosting jazz on the weekends after Norb’s changed hands and Arch Bailey teaming up with the Springfield Area Arts Council to invent the still happening Uptown Friday Nights at Robbie’s. All this was wonderful music but came only in small combos, leaving the “big band void” still at large for Davis.

During the late 90s, John Sluzalis organized a local big band that played at On Broadway for a time and later did Spillway Lanes as the Bowling Alley Big Band until 2007. In his vital world of live music, Davis claims to “make it on mostly jazz combos and contemporary music,” as Norb’s, Marly’s, Lime Street and Robbie’s consistently host jazz group performances, but “deep down inside I miss my big band.” Truly an original sound happens when 17 musicians play together on specialized arrangements of classic jazz standards, pitting the power of swing with the complexity of jazz to make a vivid and powerful sonic revelation. As Byrd continues in his piece “there’s nothing like a thick-layered sound of a well arranged big band chart” and adds “though it had its era, I consider it a timeless art form and as vibrant as ever.”

I thank Byrd Davis for his observant and thoughtful story and also for his unbridled enthusiasm for live jazz music and especially the big band sound. As a longtime member of the Springfield Jazz Society (formerly the Jazz Society of Greater Springfield), Davis and the SJC invite you to the Spring Jazz Brunch featuring the amazing sounds of Johnny Slu’s All Star Big Band this Sunday. Opening the performance is the LLCC Jazz Band under the direction of Jane Hartman. This year the event honors the good work of Gene Haas and his positive and immense influence as an area educator, conductor and musician for decades.

In other news, please support and enjoy the monthly Hoolie at the Celtic Mist Pub this Thursday featuring “good folk for good folks” by Mark Butler and his group, the Fake McCoys, featuring Gaye Harrison, Danny Kerwin and Mark Hudson. The music starts around 7 and includes Celtic classics and Irish pub singalongs plus pipers, drummers and dancers from St. Andrew’s Society and Ogilvy Studios.

Congratulations to Hipbone Sam for getting music on 50,000 TouchTunes Jukeboxes all over the U.S., Canada and on U.S. military installations. Search the digital online jukeboxes for the Best of Hipbone Sam and play away on the collection of 14 original tunes. Let me hear you say… Yeah!!

Until the next time, jazz it your way.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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