Big Band Time Machine: A blast at TWT


Paradise Big Band’s annual seasonal special, Big Band Time Machine, was a blast at the Tennessee Williams Cabaret Sunday night — and that’s in more ways than one.

Full disclosure: I am a huge and long-time fan of the band. My real musical beginnings are rooted in forays from Columbus, Ohio to Buckeye Lake in one sultry summer in the mid-1950s to hear the maybe fifth incarnation of Woody Herman and the Third Herd (or was that Heard?). Elvis was OK but that was music! It swept me away — and so does, in its best times – Paradise Big Band.

Why then, you say, are you writing a review of this latest concert? Good question. The answer lies somewhere between journalistic integrity (“If it’s newsworthy, you’ll read it here!”) and the desire to give the band the most publicity and exposure possible, in case there is someone in the Florida Keys who doesn’t already know such a magical group exists. The easy answer is that Konk Life music maven Harry Schroeder is the founder of the band and a lynchpin of the trombone section. He can hardly review himself. Second string music reviewer Mark Howell wasn’t available. That left me.

Paradise Big Band is led by esteemed local music teacher Joe Dallas Jr. and this annual concert is scheduled to allow the participation of Pittsburgh resident Joe Dallas Sr. — like his son, a trombonist — and Berklee School of Music prof Jerry Seeco on trumpet. Besides Schroeder, Secco and the Dallases, local regulars are Les Dudley on tenor saxophone, Georges Hemund on baritone sax, Joe Fadlovich on trombone, Chris Burchard on guitar, Melody Cooper on keyboard, Bubba Lownotes (aka Barton) on bass and Skipper Kripitz on drums. (We missed Bill Goldner on sax.)

Every concert brings new talent and new energy – this time headlined by Mark Rose on tenor, alto and soprano (!) sax, Leif Cisneros on alto sax, Key West High School alum Daniel Reaves on trombone, Garett Taylor on tenor sax and Ryan Chapman on trumpet. Holding their own in ensemble were KWHS students Devin Avael and Kaley Tolbert on trumpet.

The Time Machine theme was a clever way to present significant music from the 1920s through the 1980s — many standards in new arrangements but also some less well-known tunes: Rhythm is Our Business at the behest of fan Alan Soloman and, with the director himself on vocals (who knew?), Rock This Town, the 1980s big finish to Act One. There was also the concert’s penultimate programmed number, April Joy, Seeco’s arrangement of a Pat Metheny number. The program comprised a happy variety of tunes — and Secco did a fine job on vocals with scat on How High the Moon, with a tip of the hat to Schroeder’s ‘bone.

The multi-talented Melody Cooper had vocals on the final number, another less familiar song, You Can Have It, by the team of Ames and Foster (folks I’d have to Google if I had time). Cooper has honed her always-fine coloratura soprano to a precise instrument and her talents range from opera to scat – the latter which she demonstrated in the final number — until the sound went out.

Yes, I know. That’s impossible. But it happened. I have no patience to delve into the technology of that unfortunate failure. Cooper made the best she could of it — but therein lies the problem, as I see it, of the entire show. The band was simply too loud.

In a space from proscenium to rear risers little larger than my 30-foot living room in New Jersey, why did a dozen-plus instrumentalists need to be amplified at all? Yes, most music these days puts an emphasis on loud. But that doesn’t make it right. The best vocal moment was Cooper’s unaccompanied opening to I Loves Your Porgy. Otherwise she and guest vocalists Amandah Jantzen and Michelle Dravis were, most of the time, drowned out.

And that was a damn shame.

Given all the fun – and the band really is Key West’s most fun music, after the Love Lane Gang – it’s really necessary to try a little modulation. Please.


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