Cecil's Big Band with Mike Lee Cecil's Jazz Club West Orange, New Jersey February 20, 2012
A completely packed crowd at Cecil's Jazz Club on a Monday nightnot a common scenebut this was the beginning of the club's final week of operation and the final show for Cecil's Big Band. Led by tenor saxophonist Mike Lee
for the last five years, the 17- piece band has played virtually every Monday night over that time, week in and week out. Made up of some of the most talented and accomplished musicians in the New York metropolitan area, the personnel have included veterans who've played with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
, as well as up-and-comers from the jazz program at William Paterson University and elsewhere. There have been the occasional subs and other comings and goings, but it's clearly been a strong and steady working band, as evidenced by the great camaraderie, superb musicianship, and exciting performances on this last Monday night.
The first set featured the most recent coterie of regular members, and the second set brought in guests who have played with the band over the years. Both were anchored by the solid rhythm section of Brandon McCune
One particularly notable highlight was "Old Dog," Mike Lee's original composition and arrangement, which featured his inventive explorations and mature artistry on tenor sax, sprinkled with rich, angular lines. Trumpeter Ted Chubb
's "Minority." The latter tune featured two sparkling, extended alto sax solo cadenzas by Mike Lee's 16-year- old son, Julian Lee. You'd think he was a pro twice his age, the way he deftly circled through bebop lines with occasional funky blues inflections, even venturing into some wilder, outside playing at one point.
Other band members contributed original compositions and arrangements, including trombonist and alto flugelhorn player Scott Reeves
, the well-known drummer who founded Cecil's a little over eight years ago, put his heart and soul into it, and built it into "'the spot for jazz in Jersey," as described by the Star- Ledger, the largest-circulating newspaper in the state. Lee didn't mention anything about the band finding a new home. Until they do, he and Chubb are continuing to make appearances in the New York metropolitan area and elsewhere with New Tricks, and we're certain to hear more from the rest of the members of Cecil's Big Band.
Bob Kenselaar is former Assistant Curator of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, and has published articles on music in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, the Annual Review of Jazz Studies, and The Aquarian Weekly.