Seats will be scarce when Big Band Theory hits the stage Friday
The Musical Director and Conductor, Robin Habermehl, wants you to know the group sounds nothing like the big bands of the swing era.
“We are talking big band jazz like Buddy Rich from the Seventies, Maynard Ferguson, stuff like that,” Robin says in an interview with New City Notes. “So it’s not a dance band.”
This Kitchener-Waterloo based 18-member jazz orchestra includes several talented writers and arrangers. With help from the Waterloo Region Arts Fund, the band recorded a CD earlier this year during a concert at The Registry Theatre.
That recording, which was mastered by Rick Hutt of Cedar Tree Studios, includes the legendary Canadian jazz master Don Thompson on vibes. The CD will be on sale Friday, and Big Band Theory will play the music from that CD during the show. It is all original and was written by band members Rob Gellner and Bruce Gordon, who both play trumpet. The Friday show will also include pieces by The Big Phat Band out of Los Angeles.
The show at The Jazz Room will have 17 musicians — five trumpets, four trombones, four saxes, piano, bass, drums and guitar. The band usually has 18 members, but one can not make the show.
“So it gets a little exciting,” Robin says.
Don Thompson is a recipient of the Order of Canada, and plays piano and bass in addition to vibes. He has a long, long list of recording credits as both sideman and leader. He toured with George Shearing for years, and played all of the famous venues in the U.S. with that great man, including Birdland and Carnegie Hall.
When Big Band Theory asked Don to play a show with them that would be recorded, Don agreed to provide a couple of charts, and do one rehearsal before the show. Turns out Don was so impressed with the musicians in Big Band Theory, he did seven rehearsals and an extra show at Cameron Heights Collegiate in downtown Kitchener. Don drove in from Toronto for each of the dates.
“It’s unbelievable the support we are getting ,” Robin says.
Big Band Theory was formed three years ago out of a pool of busy, gigging musicians who wanted to maintain their music-reading skills.
“Everybody is saying: ‘Oh man, we only play in trios and quartets, I don’t read anymore. That is the hardest skill to keep going, your reading,” Robin says. “So it’s that ensemble to be able to play very difficult, complex music at lightning speeds and making it all work.”
Big Band Theory rehearses every Sunday at the Waterloo Naval Association, and does an annual fundraiser for the venue in return. Don Thompson says he will come back to play that fundraiser with the band. Big Band Theory played the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival in July with Don Thompson on vibes, and last played The Jazz Room about a year ago to a sold-out house.
“The guys don’t do this for money, this is passion. We’ve got one guy who comes in from Mississauga, guys coming in from all over the place. And everybody is loyal to it, it’s unbelievable, because there is nowhere else to play this kind of stuff.”
Robin laughs about the last time big Band Theory played The Jazz Room.
“There is so much sound coming out of all these horns there are only three mics on stage just for soloists, 99 per cent of it is just acoustic,” Robin says. “People will sit three feet in front of us and say: ‘Geez it’s kind of loud.’ I said: ‘Well there are 18 guys up here. Like, what was your first clue?'”
In addition to conducting and singing, Robin plays tenor, alto, and soprano sax. The other sax plays are: Ken Hadley (flute, soprano, alto sax), Mark Laver (soprano, alto sax), Ryan Cassidy (tenor sax), Taylor Ellingham (baritone) and Tim Moher (alto).
The trumpet plays are: Bruce Gordon, Rob Gellner, Randy Brown, Chris Alcantara and Kevin Kalbfleisch. The four trombone players are Paul Ellingham, Ron Schirm, Robin Jessome and Steve Hagedorn.
The rhthym section: Andriy Tykhonov on piano, Andy Macpherson on drums, Greg Prior on bass and Stephen Zurakowsky on guitar.
The Jazz Room opens at 6:30 p.m. Friday. If you want a seat, get there early because the club will be packed with fans and jammed with waves of sound from blasting horns.