It’s hard to believe that we are celebrating our 17th year of developing and performing new music for big band. What started out as an idea for composers to have a big band to try out their new works, and for musicians to play contemporary big band music, has blossomed into not only a community of musicians and composers, but a community-at-large filled with wonderful audience members, supporters, photographers, video artists, graphic artists,audio engineers, poets, actors, writers and new music projects outside of the band. What follows is a a little bit of our history and few highlights of the past 17 years.
There are many stages of running a big band:finding the venue to perform at, putting together the PR, contacting the musicians, working with guest composers, organizing the rehearsal and feeding the band at the rehearsal! We started out at a Masonic Temple on Bloomfield Ave in Montclair, NJ in October of 1996. It was pouring rain that night, I mean pouring..rivers of rain water running down Bloomfield Ave..I was convinced that no one would show, but they did, and as our guitarists Larry Maltz recently said to me about that night..”we were all so happy to be there!”. We didn’t start out as a full big band on that night, but we had our core group and new music to play, and we all decided to give it another try the following month.
Meanwhile, I scouted out better rehearsal spaces, and found that at the Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair. I spoke with the Minister of Music, Dr. Gaylord French, who told me we could rehearse in the chapel in exchange for some new compositions for his choir, and I said yes! I became the composer-in-residence at the church, and our big band had a home for the next 2 years. At our second rehearsal we had a full big band, a lot more music and we all had a great time. I contacted Vickie Tierney and asked if we could perform at Tierney’s Tavern in January (1997) and she gave us the last Wednesday of every month. We had two more rehearsals and off we went! We moved over to the Unitarian Universalists Congregation of Montclair for our rehearsals in 1999 and stayed there until 2006. In March of 2006, I accepted the job offer as organist at the Allwood Community Church in Clifton, NJ, and beginning in the fall of 2006, we made Allwood our new rehearsal home.
One of the nice things at Allwood is their industrial size kitchen! In the early days of our rehearsal at Central Pres, I noticed that on our breaks, band members would go down to the local pizzeria, which would mean our breaks would go a little longer. Once we moved to the Unitarian Church, I brought food to the rehearsal from “Beyond Pita” which was right across the street. But Tom Colao (a.k.a.chef Tomaso) and I had always fantasized that one day we would be in a spot where we could really set up a meal, even prepare one if we wanted to, which is exactly what Tom and his lovely wife Jackie did for my 50th birthday at our rehearsal at Allwood..what a feast we had!
Most of the time I bring food from Falafel Hut in Upper Montclair along with some tasty desserts, and always a robust pot of coffee! Bringing food to the rehearsal may seem insignificant, but it gives those musicians who are running from another gig a chance to get a bite to eat, and it gives all of us a chance to talk and catch up with each others lives, a very integral part of our community. I believe that where a band rehearses has a lot to do with what we can accomplish during that rehearsal. At the Allwood Community Church, we are most of the time, the only ones in their Fellowship Hall, which gives us a lot of privacy and room to stretch out. Everything we need is right there, we can stay as long as we want and there is plenty of parking! All of this, including the food, means we can really focus on the music, and at the same time not feel pressured to leave the space because another band is coming in to rehearse, or the facility wants to lock up. it is a rare thing to have a rehearsal space dedicated to a band, and we are extremely grateful to the Allwood Community Church for their generosity.
As I stated in the beginning of this post, we began our performance history at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair in 1997 and stayed there until June of 2003. While searching for a new home for us, we did some special performances in the area: the New Jersey Performing Arts Center for their “Sounds of the City” Festival,the grand opening of “Cecil’s Jazz Club” in West Orange, NJ, the Burgdorf Cultural Center in Maplewood, NJ, before finding our new home in November of 2003 at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, NJ. Having a regular place to play has been a long time tradition for big bands, and Trumpets Jazz Club has been that place for us for over 10 years, and Wednesday night is still our night! We have also performed on special festivals:the Montclair Jazz and Blues Festival(1998), Jersey Jazz by the Lake (1999),12 Miles West Theatre (1998 & 2006), The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (2009), the Lake George Jazz Weekend (2009) and the Meadowlands Environmental Center (2013).
Along the way we have had over 100 guest composers and performers including: vocalists, actors, poets, rappers, DJ’s, turntablists, film makers and spoken word artists. We have performed special projects that range from Hip Hop, Soundpainting, Opera and Music of the Spheres. We have championed and resurrected music that had been lost or long forgotten from Oliver Nelson, Jaki Byard and most recently George Russell. We have opened our community to young composers just getting their start, to well established composers who wanted to try out some new ideas. We have celebrated and helped our fellow band members through all of life’s ups and downs: marriage, divorce, death, birth, adoption, kids going off to college, grandchildren, our own children in the band, band members who move away, new band members who come in, and of course the biggest challenge of my life, cancer and the triumph over cancer.
None of this could happen of course, without the support of our incredible audience members,fellow musicians and composers, radio DJ’s, photographers, film makers, video artists, graphic artists, journalists,audio engineers, venues, concerts promoters and all of those who have volunteered their time and talents, of which a huge shout out goes to Natascha Radke Henke for being one of those special people who stepped in right when we needed help! We are a group of musicians who genuinely care for one another, genuinely care about the music and are dedicated to our mission of developing and performing new music. For more information on the band and our music you can go to our DMOCBB page and our cd “Live at Tierney’s Tavern” page. You can also watch this wonderful film “DMOCBB-A Sonic Party” by photographer/film maker Dennis Connors, who, with his incredible talent not to mention years of his time, has been documenting the band since 1997. He is currently working on a feature film about the band. Happy Anniversary to all of us, and many, many thanks to all of you who have been a part of our journey thus far…hey..we’re just gettin’ started!!