#25: Watch Beasley’s Big Band

Apparently this is the week for completing 101 items; a few days after I scheduled bingo night, another former-coworker-now-friend sent me an invitation to attend his big band’s 20th anniversary celebration – which was to be held on the very next night after bingo. What could I do? When opportunity knocks, I just gotta take advantage. So, Thursday evening I found myself at the local community college, enjoying a pretty amazing jazz concert.

The band my friend is in was performing a collaborative concert with the college’s student jazz ensemble; when I arrived to the campus (20 minutes early) the two bands were onstage finishing their last rehearsal together. Not wanting to impose or be rude, I patiently waited in the small lobby outside of the auditorium – and stumbled upon a collection of various works created by this semester’s fine arts students. Many of the pieces were very good! If you’d like to see some of the highlights that caught my eye, you can click on this bonus link.

I happily spent the pre-concert wait time gazing at images and snapping pictures; and then my eye caught my boss’-boss’-boss enter the lobby. She saw me immediately, and the two of us chatted for a few minutes. She asked if my husband was coming to the concert, and I explained to her that he had a previous engagement and wouldn’t be attending – I was here solo. She then said, “You can sit with my husband and I if you’d like. Please? We’d love to have you.” What a kind offer! Of course I’d love to sit with the two of you; thank you.

So my director, her husband and I found a trio of seats a few rows from the front of the stage; then settled in and chatted while we waited for the concert to begin.

The first three songs of the evening were performed by the community college student jazz ensemble – and the very first song they played (“Vehicle“) was a staple of my high school jazz band days. I found it amusing how some things never change… In hearing the tune, and seeing the bassist play, and watching the students perform so earnestly-yet-rigidly, wanting to do so well yet still struggling to make soulful music, I was transported back almost 20 years to my own high school experience. It was both enjoyable and melancholy.

After fifteen minutes the students cleared the stage, and the 18-piece professional ensemble set up. Two minutes later, trumpets, saxophones, drums and bass hit us with a wall of sound. It was awesome.

As this segment of the concert began, the very first thing I became aware of was how genuinely joyful these musicians were. They were unafraid to smile, to sway, to move and groove… the delight in playing exuded not only from the sound produced by their instruments, but also out of their physical bodies. As a child I loved seeing live orchestras perform in part because I was mesmerized by the precisely choreographed movement of every bow – every musician pushed and dipped and pulled at exactly the same time, in exactly the same way…It was a visual delight as much as an auditory one. For that same reason, band concerts always left me wanting – I didn’t get that visual treat like I received with the orchestra. However, this big band broke that paradigm; while their movements were individual instead of choreographed, it was completely in alignment with the spirit of jazz (so it ‘worked’ for me). It was a delight.

The next immediate thing I processed was how LOUD the band was. These 18 musicians came to play – and they wanted everyone to KNOW they were having some fun.  🙂  I appreciated the volume (big band jazz should be loud) so I happily sat up in my chair, soaking it all in.

This concert was scheduled in part as a tribute to the band’s original leader, who passed away from cancer over a year ago. As the first number began to wind down, a thought entered my mind: If the band’s director is no longer here, who will lead the group? I sat, puzzled as to how this portion of the concert might continue successfully. With no formal leader, won’t the group succumb to anarchy?

Nope, not at all. Because each player was both confident and joyful, the group only needed a tiny nudge to begin together. Basically, the saxophonist sitting in the middle of the front row did a “1-2-3-4” count off before each song, and the rest of the band took it from there. Just wind ’em up, then let them go – and they will easily take care of the rest.

As the hour-long set continued, I delighted in experiencing the simultaneous energy and ease the musicians exuded. They were having fun, and they shared that vibrant energy among themselves and with us in the audience; but the group also seemed relaxed, too. Their energy was palpable, but not frenetic; they were joyful, but still controlled. They were happy without being manic or acting like they had something to ‘prove’ – they played in the tiny-but-amazing space of inclusive balance. It was so, so cool.

I watched as individual musicians stood, played a few bars of a solo, then sat back down while another peer assumed the spotlight for a few moments, then sat down and handed the limelight to another player. Each individual seemed to know that they were part of a larger collective, and that when the group as a whole was successful they were all individually successful, too. From this awareness and belief, each player freely shared attention and accolades with all of the others in the group. The genuine generosity of each person was beautiful to witness.

And the group shared the stage with us in the audience, too. As our collective listening and witnessing organism clapped for each soloist, that band member smiled and gently nodded in appreciation. As we audience members applauded at the close of each song, the band recognized our appreciation. The space of the auditorium contained this dynamic-yet-dependent interplay of attention and collaboration; in the 60 minutes we were all together, we formed a living, feeling entity.

Alas, all things must come to an end. After the professional band finished their hour-long set, the community college jazz ensemble re-joined the stage, and the two bands together played three numbers. The energy of the evening changed once the college kids took the stage – but it was really beautiful watching the professional musicians gently coach and encourage the striving-yet-struggling students. What an amazing opportunity for those kids.

After the final number ended and the house lights rose, I caught up with my friend (the one who invited me to the event) and thanked him (and his group) for a terrific concert. He said he appreciated me coming and supporting him, and for helping to honor and celebrate the memory of the late director, Chuck Beasley. Of course, my friend; I believe you did Mr. Beasley very, very proud.



About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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7 Responses to #25: Watch Beasley’s Big Band

  1. Pingback: Pre-jazz-concert entertainment | Smile, kiddo.

  2. Touch2Touch says:

    Lovely account of a lively, wonderful experience. Nothing like people really making music!!! It’s so exciting. And the physicality of it! You’ve got that right —


  3. A brilliant piece of writing Stef. So very evocative. I was there with you.


    • Stef says:

      Jonathan, thank you so much for your incredibly kind comment. It was a gift to be able to experience this concert – and I’m glad I get to share it with others now, too. 🙂


  4. Dodie says:

    I see Beasley’s Big Band plays at the Wabasha Street Caves. Our bandleader, Denny has recommended a visit there to hear a Big Band, looks like you found a good band to see/ hear.


    • Stef says:

      Dodie, I would absolutely recommend Beasley’s as a band to watch. I have seen them at the caves once before – and when they play, many high school and college age kids come (fully decked out in 1940s garb) and swing dance all night long. It’s very fun!


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