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Big Band Report

DJO: Thirty Years and Counting

By Published: November 6, 2005
I was reminded recently that the Dallas Jazz Orchestra is now more than thirty years old (which I should have known after reviewing its latest album, The Big 3-0, recorded in 2004). That's a long time for any big band to stay together, and would have been true even the in so-called Big Band Era, when no more than a handful of ensembles managed to do so. It's even more remarkable in a country in which bands aren't subsidized, as they are in a number of countries overseas (an enlightened concept that has somehow never caught on in the States, although we do have our armed services bands).

Much of the reason for the DJO's longevity can be traced to the know-how and tenacity of Galen Jeter who formed the band in the mid-'70s and has kept it running ever since. Jeter, a trumpeter who was educated at the University of North Texas and played with the Woody Herman Orchestra, among others, moved to Dallas in the late '60s and was employed as a high-school teacher in nearby Garland. Looking for ways to keep the big-band spirit alive in his area, Jeter called on local musicians to help form a group, and the first rehearsals were held at the SMU band hall in 1973. Shortly afterward the band was off and flying, and has never looked back. For the past twelve years the DJO has had a regular weekly gig at the Village Country Club in Dallas.

As the band's reputation grew, top-notch players from across the country were drawn into its orbit including saxophonists John Park and Allan Beutler from the Stan Kenton Orchestra and Bill Tillman from Blood, Sweat and Tears. Another key to the band's success is consistency. Players tend to remain with the DJO for many years. Baritone Beutler has been a member for 26 years, trumpeter Chuck Willis 21, guitarist Kim Platko 18, trumpeter Steve Rudig 15, trombonist Dave Bowman 12. That's a lot of mileage.

It wouldn't have been possible, of course, had the DJO not kept a busy schedule, which it has, appearing frequently in the Dallas area as well as backing such well-known artists as Steve Allen, the Four Freshmen, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams and Doc Severinsen and performing at many Jazz festivals at home and overseas. The DJO has recorded eleven albums, some of which may be out of print. Besides The Big 3-0 (JazzMark 119), those in my library include Scrapbook (JazzMark 116), Turnin' Twenty (JazzMark 113), Thank You, Leon (Sea Breeze 2041) and Romeo and Juliet (no label).

Leon is a tribute to Leon Breeden, a longtime director of the Jazz Studies program at North Texas, while Turnin' Twenty marks the band's twentieth anniversary in 1994 and Scrapbook, a retrospective, is subtitled "The Best of the First 25 Years. Thirty years, as we said, is a remarkable achievement for any big band, especially in today's musically retarded environment. Way to go, DJO! May you have many more anniversaries!

Speaking of Anniversaries . . .

The great Oscar Peterson celebrated his eightieth birthday on August 15, and a party was held at the HMV flagship store in Toronto where Canada Post, the country's postal service, unveiled a commemorative Peterson fifty-cent stamp, marking the first time a living Canadian has been so honored for personal achievements. The stamp blends two sepia photographs, one of Oscar leaning against the top of a piano, the other an overhead shot of his hands on the keyboard. Such an honor, Peterson said, is "beyond my wildest dreams. Also honoring Oscar was fellow Verve recording artist Diana Krall, a longtime fan who first saw him perform in Vancouver when she was a sixteen-year-old high-school student.

As the party was winding down, Peterson, who suffered a stroke in 1993 and has been slowed since by arthritis, said he'd like to play a new composition of his own, "Requiem, dedicated to such legends of Jazz as Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker as well as to his longtime band mate, bassist Ray Brown, who died last year. It was a fitting climax to a well-deserved celebration of Peterson's life and extraordinary talent.

And Speaking of Honors . . .

Vic Hall was honored October 8 during a concert at the University of South Florida in Tampa for his more than thirty-seven years as a Jazz broadcaster at radio station WUSF-FM, a position from which he recently retired. The concert was part of a Jazz Masterworks series with Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge Orchestra with guest conductor Slide Hampton. The second half of the concert was devoted to Hampton's compositions and arrangements.

Before leaving USF, don't forget that the university will host a Jazz Composers' Symposium next March 9-11 with guest composers Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton and Dave Douglas. For information, contact Dave Stamps, USF Center for Jazz Composition, 4202 East Fowler Avenue, FAH 110, Tampa, FL 33620, phone 813-974-4285, or e-mail dstamps@arts.usf.edu

And one last reminder, that the 2006 North Texas Jazz Festival will be held March 31-April 2 at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Addison (just north of Dallas). For information, go to www.addisontexas.net or phone 1-800-ADDISON.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'!


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