PHOTO/Mark Howell

Harry Schroeder celebrates his 80th birthday in style.


Paradise Swing Band celebrates Harry Schroeder’s 80th



The Paradise Swing Band’s April 2 concert at St. Peter’s Church on Center Street  was the latest triumph for this eight-member band and its founder-arranger Harry Schroeder.

His lineup on this occasion included Stuart King on trumpet (borrowed from Howard Livingston’s Mile Marker band), Les Dudley on tenor sax, George Hemund on baritone sax, Joe Dallas on bass, Hal Howland on drums, Linda Sparks on oboe (yes!) and Larry Smith sitting in on piano.

The band members stole the show to announce the day as Harry’s octobirthday. In addition to arranging and writing, as he always does, the charts for all the selections played, Harry has spent the past 30 years in the Keys, in the words of Joe Dallas, “as the father of a lot of stuff we do in Key West.”

During his time here, Schroeder has for a long while served on the adjunct faculty at St. Leo’s, plus 12 years as a cab driver in Key West, a decade or more as the much admired and appreciated music reviewer for the late Solares Hill and, as the founder of the Paradise Swing Band, was formerly famed for practicing his trombone out of doors to the amazement off passing commuters.

The first selection at the concert, introduced by Dallas who has evidently taken over the microphone in introducing the numbers at these concerts, was “Splanky” by Neal Hefti, a composer for Woody Herman, later for movies and TV and, in this instance, for the Count Basie Band. A blaring combo of wind instruments winding up and down and round about, against the cool drums of a super-cool Hal Howland, a talkative bass and an emphatic piano together turned the church into a nightclub — in the best sense, the audience applauding each solo with a congregation’s amen. And for a man of such mature years, Schroeder on the bone really is something.

Next up was “Dance of the Scarecrows” composed by Schroeder himself to find out what all four horns playing different lines and different rhythms would sound like. It’s become one of the band’s standards.

       “Annie Annie Over” is also by Schroeder, based on a game he and his fellows played at recess in a rural school in Wyoming. Stuart King’s trumpet was outstanding, laying down the building blocks for a great tune.

Next up was Linda Sparks soloing on oboe (wow!) in Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” Even by 7 p.m. that very evening the band did not know what that would sound like. It sounded revelatory. A yearning march evolved into a reedy waltz, plaintive and personal (and met with applause) with the horns finally eliding into a single sentence slip sliding behind. This is chamber jazz, something we’d not heard before.

“Lazy Afternoon,” from a 1954 off-Broadway musical called “The Golden Apple,” is the resurrection of an unusual and complicated piece of harmonic structure, a thumping march both funereal and funny, Larry Smith ultimately wild on the piano.

“Ask Me Now” by Thelonious Monk asked for more of Smith at the keyboard: Difficult chord changes leading to real beauty.

“My Girl” from Smokey Robinson closed out the first set with full-throated exuberance, especially from King’s trumpet and Schroeder’s trombone, taking the song to new heights as it reverberated through the rafters. Some girl!

The second set opened with “Terrestris” by Tom Harrell, a blues trumpet player. In his intro, Dallas said it proved “there’s no limit to what you can do with a great melody.” It also proved that Schroeder is writing his best charts ever.

“Moondance” up next proved that Irish rocker Van Morrison was ever a jazzman at heart.

Duke Ellington’s son Mercer, who played in his dad’s trumpet section and took over the band when Duke died, wrote “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” a ruminative meditation requiring a mute on Schroeder’s trombone part. Larry Smith’s piano was utterly beautiful, discrete and blowsy in turn.

Linda Sparks brought her oboe back for “Little Niles” by Randy Weston, a little-known pianist-composer. It was in 3-4 time (a waltz) and it was awesome, the oboe both sweet and plaintive, the band both polite and declarative, and highly supportive throughout.

The concert concluded with “This Can’t Be Love,” first heard by the band at Kim Gordon’s concert last year; Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues” in three-quarter time and “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid,” an all-in piece that concluded with a drum solo by Howland that lifted the roof. How cool is that?

Following the music, Rev. Rick Effinger of St. Peter’s cut and served Harry Schroeder’s birthday cake to grateful guests in the garden.

Schroeder has arrived with a wonderful noise at the gates of his next 80 years.










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