Big bands are going to be around a long time
New big band is starting up in Tualatin; musicians are invited to join
Big band music first became popular in the mid-1920s, and if Suzanne Short has anything to say about it, the glorious music produced by brass, woodwind and rhythm instruments won't be disappearing on her watch.
To expand big band's influence on more musicians and audiences, Suzanne, who is a big band keyboard player and manages two musical groups, is teaming up with her friend Brad Davis, a trumpet player and leader of the local big band Kansas City Rhythm Kings, to create the New Horizons Big Band.
The New Horizons Big Band, sponsored by the city of Tualatin, is expected to be composed of former or current high school or college musicians playing trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, standup bass, jazz piano and drums.
The mission of New Horizons, which is a nationwide program, is to keep big band music alive and accessible to the general public through performances by community musicians, and Suzanne and Brad encourage all interested musicians to attend their first meeting in September. (See sidebar.)
In the meantime, Suzanne, who lives in the Highlands, has been making music most of her life. Growing up first in Eastern Oregon and then Portland, her mom taught piano lessons, and "because you can't take lessons from your own mother," Suzanne started studying at age 12 under Earl Hazelle, who taught her to read chords and chord signatures.
Apparently destined to make music her career, Suzannes second husband was a band leader and keyboard player, and when he lost his piano player, Suzanne took three quick lessons and started playing jazz piano in his band in Oregon and Arizona.
When Suzanne returned to Oregon as a single person, she started her own band, Swing Sensation, which plays two to four times per month; she also formed a duo with Brad, with whom she used to play in the Let's Dance Band when she previously lived in Portland, with Suzanne playing the keyboard and Brad playing the trumpet.
Suzanne also plays solo at events, including the Vancouver Senior Center's twice-monthly dances. "I use prerecorded rhythm and bass while I play the melody," she said, adding, "Now I get paid to do what I used to do for free. I know how to create bands, book bands and advertise them. In Arizona, I helped band leaders start bands."
Suzanne has always loved big band music, and after a friend said to her, "There are not enough places for big bands to play," she already was aware of a way to keep the music alive in the metro area.
"To book a full big band costs $3,000 to $5,000, so they are usually only used for conventions, shows and weddings," Suzanne said. "While I was living in Arizona, I investigated the New Horizons program."
The New Horizons International Music Association was started in 1991 by Roy Ernst, professor emeritus of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., as a way for adults, including those who had been active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long period, to perform again.
The first New Horizons program was designed to serve the senior population, and a minimum age of 50 was arbitrarily set as a guideline, since that is the age of eligibility for joining AARP, according to the website. Many New Horizons programs that have started since then are designed specifically for senior adults and have minimum age requirements, but others are open to adults of any age. The policy of one of the New Horizons programs is "If you consider yourself to be an adult, you're eligible." The targeted age range and requirements, if any, are local decisions.
The first program at Eastman started with a band, and over the years orchestras were added. Now there are dozens of New Horizons programs across the U.S., with the new one originated by Suzanne and Brad starting up this fall.
"I think big bands are going to die if we don't do something," she said. "Even 10 to 20 years ago, big bands were still playing, but rarely do I book big bands anymore. I don't want this music to go away."
Suzanne approached the city of Tualatin's senior center, the Juanita Pohl Center, about sponsoring a New Horizons band by letting it rehearse there one evening a week in return for putting on performances three or four times a year.
"This is a community band," she said. "It's going to take a while for people who haven't played in a long time to get up to speed."
According to Suzanne, the ideal big band consists of three trombones, three or four trumpets, and five saxophones - two altos, two tenors and one baritone - plus a brass and rhythm section composed of a bass player, a piano player and a guitar player.
"At some point down the line, we might add singers," Suzanne said. "We hope that having some more experienced players mixed in with the less experienced will help the band mature, and we can arrange group lessons.
"This is going to be exciting - this big band thing is going to be great!"
Suzanne said that the partnership she shares with Brad in this endeavor is a match made in heaven. "He is an excellent musician, and he is glad to be able to utilize my business skills," she said.
And Suzanne is excited by the caliber of the musicians who have already contacted her about performing in the New Horizons Big Band.
"This is something I love," said Suzanne, who has three grown children and nine grandchildren. "Brad and I both love it. We just don't want big band music to die, and there are some great musicians in town."