Harris does it again — Big Band returns

May 2, 2010 12:16:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


"Every time I walked on the street, someone would ask when was I going to put the band back together," says orchestra leader Gill Harris of Columbus. The time finally seemed right. 


The lush, four-part harmony from saxes, trombones, trumpets and rhythm section that dominated popular music in the 1930s and ''40s takes centerstage Saturday, May 15, at Trotter Convention Center, when Gill Harris and the Big Band Theory present an evening of Big Band-era music and dancing. 


"I kept putting getting a band together off until we had musicians like Denise Reid, Tony Derrico and Rick Montalto," explained Harris, who led a popular orchestra in decades past. "Around that kind of nucleus, we can build a band. And it is great fun -- fun for all." 


Reid is vocalist for the orchestra. Roger Burlingame will add his vocal talents to the program, too. 


With an early background in country music, Reid in recent years has enjoyed exploring a different genre, singing with master keyboardist Tony Derrico. With Harris'' resurrection of a big band, she is enjoying singing numbers that have stood the test of time. 


"I''m really enjoying these songs," she said. "This is a rare opportunity for people in this area to get to hear this type of music." 


The musicians hail from around the Golden Triangle. Some are PhD''s in music, science or mathematics. Music teachers, students, professional players and retirees are all represented. 


"Their day jobs might be anything," Harris smiles. "And, oh yes, a structural engineer, that would be me." 




Dancing shoes 


Big Band music was made for dancing, and members from several dance clubs from North Mississippi and Alabama are expected to take advantage of this rare night out. 


Harris said, "They''ve requested that we play a variety of rhythms such as swing, ballads, fox trots, waltz and polka -- and Latin rhythms such as mambo, rumba and cha-cha.  


"There''s going to be a large area for dancing," Harris added. 


The Big Band sound is singular.  


"There was a time when music, in order to be popular, had to have certain quality ingredients, said the orchestra leader. The lyrics of a song, for example, told a whole story. There was a melody that fit those lyrics, and that melody was played or sung with harmony that changed with a chord progression. That texture of sounds, multiplied through the use of mutes in the horns and other techniques, is one of the unique qualities that make the Big Band orchestra stand out. 




Trial balloon 


While big band aficionados are happy at the prospect of a new group in the Golden Triangle, fans need to show their support early. 


Putting together -- and keeping together -- this size ensemble is a challenge, especially when it comes to finding a workable rehearsal schedule for so many busy people, Harris noted. 


"This is a trial balloon," he said frankly. "If it''s supported, we''ll keep the group together. If it''s not, then we won''t." 




How to go 


Tables for up to 10 people may be reserved for $200. Individual tickets are $25. Purchase tickets in Columbus at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, the Frank Phillips YMCA, Rings & Strings and Trendsetters.  


Soft drinks and set-ups will be available for purchase. 


For more information about the event, contact the Arts Center at 662-328-2787 or e-mail Harris at [email protected]

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.