POP BEAT : BIG BAND SERIES READY TO ROLL
Summer’s arrival this weekend means that school’s out, the beach is in and Disneyland’s annual big band festival is on.
Beginning Saturday with Joe Graves leading the Harry James Orchestra, the series will bring a dozen of the world’s best-known big bands to the park’s Plaza Gardens bandstand over the next 11 weeks.
And with so much emphasis in recent years on youth-oriented attractions at the major theme parks (including Disneyland’s own “Videopolis” teen nightclub that will be unveiled this weekend), the big band series seems to be one of the few remaining heavily promoted events that also appeals to the over-21 crowd.
“It’s designed to enhance attendance into the park,” said Nancy Eskew, Disneyland’s manager of talent booking, “but I wouldn’t say that it’s geared strictly to the older folks. Our entertainment policy is to have something for everyone. For someone like Woody Herman, there will be a younger segment who will just sit and watch while those in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and up will be dancing.”
Eskew said the festival is billed as a “big band” showcase rather than a jazz festival “because the term ‘jazz festival’ has the connotation of a sit-down event. Except for the final week’s performances by Buddy Rich, which is for sit-down listening, this is specifically advertised for dancing and romancing.”
This year, the park has introduced a $40 “Big Band Passport” that permits nightly admission to Disneyland throughout the summer. Though the park also offers a “Videopolis Passport” at the same cost and providing the same entry privileges, Eskew said that advertising a separate “Big Band Passport” lets the adult crowd know that it hasn’t been forgotten.
Following the Harry James Orchestra, the festival will continue with the big bands of Ray McKinley with “Peanuts” Hucko and singer Connie Haines (Sunday through next Saturday), Bob Crosby, the Bobcats and Kay Starr (June 30-July 6), Myron Floren (July 7-14), Les Brown (July 15-20), Cab Calloway with his son Chris (July 21-27), Dick Johnson leading the Artie Shaw Orchestra (July 28-Aug. 4), Thad Jones and the Count Basie Orchestra (Aug. 5-10), Lionel Hampton (Aug. 11-17), Tex Beneke (Aug. 18-24), Woody Herman (Aug. 25-31) and the traditional closing performances by Buddy Rich and his band (Sept. 1-7).
For the musicians, performing at Disneyland provides a change of pace from the types of shows they usually play.
“It’s a fun, good-old-summertime kind of thing,” said 73-year-old bandleader Les Brown, in a telephone interview from his West Los Angeles residence. “We like it because people get to dance for a change. And 90% of what we play these days is private parties, so our week at Disneyland is one of the few times the public can hear the band. It’s also a different audience. Most of the private parties and corporate functions we play for are older crowds, and we have to stick to the old songs. We can be more daring at Disneyland. It’s a place where the guys can really open up.”
Veteran vibraphonist-percussionist Lionel Hampton, who marks his 50th year in show business this year, said he, too, looks forward to Disneyland’s summer music festival.
“After we play Disneyland, we’ll go to other parts of the country and the world and people will come up and say, ‘I saw you at Disneyland and liked it,’ ” said Hampton, 72, reached by phone at his home in New York.
Because he sponsors a series of music scholarships at several colleges and universities, Hampton said his band’s performances at the park go hand-in-hand with his general interest in encouraging young musicians to pursue jazz.
“They have their own student bands playing on the grounds every year. Last year, I invited two or three of those students to apply for my band,” Hampton said.
“The band I’ve got now has been together about two years, and we’ve got a lot of great players from Boston, from the New York School of Music and from the Eastman School. So without reservation I say that we’ve got the greatest big band in the country. And it swings like mad.”
Hampton rejects the suggestion that big band music might just be an exercise in nostalgia for those who come to the Disneyland festival.
“Swing music is really folk music,” Hampton said. “People can feel it, move to it and dance to it. People will always want to dance and enjoy good music. That will never go out of style.”
ROCK OPERA, OC STYLE: Take elements of the Who’s “Tommy” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” put them in a live performance setting and you’ll get an inkling into the tone of “Myme’s Trip (Knowledge to Question),” an original rock video created by UC Irvine graduate student John Anthony Reiss.
Though it is more impressionistic and less story-oriented--not to mention infinitely less costly--than those rock opera classics, the highly ambitious one-hour video uses live and pre-recorded music as well as art, dance, spoken word and special video effects for its philosophical exploration of the World According to Reiss.
“Myme’s Trip,” which was taped during a live performance March 17 at UCI as part of Reiss’ thesis for a Fine Arts degree, is being aired Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and July 1 at 8:30 p.m. on Irvine Community Cablevision’s Channel 3. Reiss is also trying to line up more showings of “Myme’s Trip” on other local cable systems.
In an interview earlier this week, Reiss, a self-taught musician, said, “This isn’t your typical leathered-up rock video. I want to produce videos that provoke thought, that give something back to the viewer instead of just using video to sell a product.”
In addition to writing and performing all of the music for “Myme’s Trip,” Reiss, 25, said he also directed the video and used his art background to carefully select artworks by Picasso, Van Gogh and others that are incorporated into the production.
“The video has two purposes,” Reiss said. “First, I can show it to people who couldn’t come to the live performance, and, second, I hope to use it as a visual resume.”
Next week, however, his video ambitions will be put on the back burner when he heads to Austria to study German and music at the University of Vienna. “Maybe I’m doing things backwards by taking off just when I’m starting to get some exposure with this video,” he said, laughing. “But this trip is going to help me set the direction I want to take with my life.”
ON THE AIR: Singer-songwriter Nick Pyzow, back in Orange County after a tour that included stops in New York and Texas, will be the featured guest Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the “Back Door Beat” local music show on Saddleback College-based public radio station KSBR (88.5 FM).
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for three Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre shows: Jimmy Buffett (Aug. 2), Ratt (Aug. 3) and Al Jarreau-David Sanborn (Aug. 13). . . . Also going on sale Monday will be a second Culture Club show Aug. 18 at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . The Wild Cards’ performance tonight at At My Place in Santa Monica has been canceled because of a hand injury sustained earlier this week by drummer Jr. Sotelo. . . . The Lawns (the current edition of the Suburban Lawns) will be at Panache in Long Beach on Tuesday. . . . David Lindley returns to the Golden Bear June 28-29. . . . Rick Nelson will perform at Pearson Park in Anaheim June 29. . . . The Minutemen will play Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach on July 9.