Nostalgia was being wholesaled Tuesday night at Pasadena's Ambassador Auditorium as the "Big Band Hit Parade" marched undaunted to tunes provided by pianist Carmen Cavallaro, singers June Valli and Herb Jeffries and the Gene Krupa Orchestra.
The fact that drummer Krupa died in 1973, some 22 years after he disbanded his orchestra, has little bearing on today's music business realities. Krupa's name and the music with which it is associated represent a salable commodity to audiences still mourning the passing of the so-called Big Band Era.
Brent Brace (who actually looks a bit like Sal Mineo) played Krupa rather convincingly in this rather shoddily packaged show. Brace played the part, twirling his sticks and happily bashing away as the 12-man band worked its way through a couple of Krupa showpieces ("Sing, Sing, Sing" and "Disc Jockey Jump"). Oddly, Brace, a Los Angeles musician, keeps better time than Krupa ever did, and the band, staffed by musicians not yet born when Krupa gave up his band, sounded good on a variety of tunes.
Jeffries, who has maintained an unspectacular career on the basis of "Flamingo" (recorded some 45 years ago), gave a solid performance of tunes from the Duke Ellington songbook. His ability to swing far outdistanced his ballad outings.
Singer June Valli, remembered for her role on the "Lucky Strike Hit Parade," displayed her lack of vocal identity by covering about 20 hit tunes, only one of which, "Crying in the Chapel," was her own hit. Her limited vocal range was displayed on such ridiculous songs as "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," "Jambalaya" and "Wheel of Fortune." A Judy Garland medley only made one long for Garland.
Closing out the concert was Carmen Cavallaro, a society pianist whose claim to fame was recording the sound track to "The Eddy Duchin Story" in 1956. For his bit Tuesday night, Carmen, as he was known early in his career, played a variety of pop tunes without distinction.
Nostalgia, these gatherings serve to remind, ain't what it used to be.