ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Big band celebrates 25th anniversary

In 1990, Duluthian Randy Lee had a vision. He wanted to create a 16-19-piece big band jazz orchestra consisting of "the finest jazz musicians around" the Northland. He wanted to create a band full of people who wanted to play complex jazz pieces....

2305692+0207.DBN_.BigTime Jazz sax.JPG
Randy Lee, Sondra Mowers and Rich Mowers play "South 21st Street Shuffle" by Maynard Ferguson during a Big Time Jazz Orchestra practice in the Hermantown Middle School on Jan. 30. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)

In 1990, Duluthian Randy Lee had a vision. He wanted to create a 16-19-piece big band jazz orchestra consisting of "the finest jazz musicians around" the Northland. He wanted to create a band full of people who wanted to play complex jazz pieces. But he also wanted to give back to the community that raised these musicians. So that's exactly what he did.

"I started talking to people who I knew were good musicians. We got together and after we played our first concert, I said, 'You know, this could be something great,'" Lee said.

Last year, the Big Time Jazz Orchestra celebrated its 25th anniversary as a band and as a nonprofit organization. The band functions as a nonprofit dedicated to promoting big band jazz music, providing educational opportunities for children of the region, and plays several concerts a year for charitable organizations. In its 25 years, the band has donated to or played on behalf of 28 organizations including University of Minnesota Duluth and University of Wisconsin-Superior scholarships, Community Action Duluth, Northwoods Children's Services, the Salvation Army of Duluth and many others.

"We don't get paid for these events. We do it because we love it," said alto sax player Sondra Mowers. "I think it's important that we all give back to the community in any way we can. And for us, why not give back with our talents and our gifts?"

Lee says he can't believe it's been 25 years. Today, only four original members, including Lee, have remained in the band since its inception.

ADVERTISEMENT

Others, such as Mowers, have been around for 20-plus years. Mowers was invited to join the band in 1992 after returning to Superior. After she graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a master's in music performance, Mowers played on cruise ships for a few years. Mowers joined the band to explore the big band genre.

"It's not music you get to play everyday because you need a number of talented musicians to pull it off. And you need to practice a lot, too," Mowers said.

Being in the band also led Mowers to meet her future husband, Rich.

"We're both alto sax players, so we sat next to each other. We started talking, became friends and eventually got married," Mowers said. "We're both band directors so we have the same passions."

UWS jazz band director Greg Moore says he appreciates the friendships he's developed since joining the band in 1998. He was new to the area when he started teaching at UWS. When a tenor saxophone spot opened up, he was invited to join.

"We kind of think about music the same way and it's a very comfortable group to be in. It's also very musically challenging," Moore said. "A lot of this particular type of jazz music we wouldn't be able to perform elsewhere. You might call it the concert jazz band music that's designed more for listening than for dancing."

The band plays pieces from a mixture of sources, from standard classics by Glenn Miller to funky pieces by Tower of Power. This fall the band did a concert series dedicated to the music of Count Basie.

Besides playing complex big band music and raising money for local charities, the band is also dedicated to collaborating with high school jazz bands and promoting jazz education. In 2013, the band collaborated with the Duluth East High School Jazz band to play a few selections.

ADVERTISEMENT

"To inspire kids and share this great music with them is amazing. You don't know the impact you're going to have on their life. When you share your passion, you might instill a passion in their lives too eventually," Mowers said.

If you go

What: "Dance Attitude" with the Big Time Jazz Orchestra

Where: The Sports Garden, 425 S. Lake Ave.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9

Cost: $2 at the door

 

ADVERTISEMENT

2305699+IMG_3399.JPG
The Big Time Jazz Orchestra at practice. ({Photo by Teri Cadeau)

Related Topics: MUSIC
What To Read Next
Learn more about these pets looking for permanent homes.
Sometimes, life’s gifts come to us in surprising ways.
Learn more about these pets looking for permanent homes.
Some years, winter just pushes all your buttons.