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They're playing 1945 all over again

Trumpet player and vocalist Chuck Par-Due plans a show paying tribute to two of his big musical influences: Harry James and Frank Sinatra


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO -  Cheryl Morris and Chuck Par-Due found each other through band leader/trumpeter Harry James. On March 10, the musical couple will be among the performers at '1945,' a Harry James/Frank Sinatra tribute show at the Bossanova Ballroom. Chuck Par-Due can trace big moments of his life — his passion for big band music, his trumpet playing, even his marriage — in part to Harry James, the late great trumpet player and big band leader.

Par-Due was a 14-year-old growing up in Miami in the 1960s when he decided to become a musician. He announced to his father, himself a band leader,”that I would rather play the trumpet or die,” Par-Due recalls, laughing.

But Par-Due couldn’t afford trumpet lessons, so he wrote a letter to Harry James. James’ secretary, Viola Monte, wrote back and started sending sheet music, a Harry James model trumpet, mouthpieces and other goodies to the young teen. She also sent itineraries of the band leader’s tours. So it was that whenever the Harry James Orchestra played anywhere near Par-Due’s home, the kid went to see the band, and James became the young teen’s friend and mentor.

In 1979, Par-Due — now in his mid-20s — spent two days with the band in St. Louis. He noticed the pretty young singer whom James had just hired — her name was Cheryl Morris — but they didn’t have a chance to get acquainted. “I stood within 6 feet of Cheryl and never met her,” Par-Due recalls.

Fast-forward 30 years: Par-Due joined the Harry James Appreciation Group on Facebook (he’s now the group administrator) and saw a message from the same Cheryl Morris, who had gone on to sing with the Harry James Orchestra for 11 years. The rest of 2009 was a whirlwind: The two became Facebook friends, pen pals, cell phone pals. Par-Due came to visit Morris in Portland; five days later, they got engaged.

The Par-Dues — Chuck is 59, Cheryl 60 — have been married 3-1/2 years now. They live in Gresham and perform together at local retirement centers, private parties and other venues (Cheryl still sings under her maiden name).

All of which brings us to 2013 and a concert that Par-Due is planning to pay tribute to the music Harry James and his other big musical influence, Frank Sinatra. Titled “1945,” the March 10 show at Portland’s Bossanova Ballroom will feature performances by Par-Due — who describes himself as “a vocalist in the Frank Sinatra style and a trumpet player in the Harry James style” — and the 17-piece Mike Curtis Jazz Project, including former members of the Harry James Orchestra, along with Morris as special guest vocalist.

The event (21 and older only) will aim to re-create a 1940s evening of dancing and listening to original arrangements of music by James and Sinatra: “You Made Me Love You,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “My Way,” “New York New York,” and many more hits from the big band era and beyond.

“Harry James had the No. 1 dance band in the 1940s,” Par-Due says. James was active from 1939 until his death in 1983; his orchestra has continued to carry on, and these days it’s based in Seattle, Par-Due says.

This is the first time he’s organized such a tribute show in the Portland area, and he hopes it will be the first of other gigs to follow. “We’re fighting to keep our music alive,” he says.

As for Viola Monte, Harry James’ secretary from 1943 to 1983 — the one who started the correspondence with 14-year-old Chuck Par-Due — she’s now 89 and living in Hollywood. “We just went to visit her,” Par-Due says.

If you go

What: “1945,” a tribute to the music of Harry James and Frank Sinatra (21 and older only)

When: Sunday, March 10, 8 p.m. (doors open at 7)

Where: The Bossanova Ballroom, 722 E. Burnside St., Portland

Featuring: Chuck Par-Due and the Mike Curtis Jazz Project, along with guest vocalist Cheryl Morris

Tickets: $15 advance, $25 day of show, available at www.bossanovaballroom.com