Jazz Reviews : Big Band Classic Provides Nostalgia, but Little More

The most appropriate theme for Tuesday evening’s Big Band Classic at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena would have been “I’ve Heard That Song Before.”

While none of the 21 performers on the bill actually performed the tune, the audience that packed the theater no doubt could say those very words about every other tune offered during the 2 1/2-hour tribute.

The third in the Big Band Era series, this concert’s purpose was to rehash the white swing music of the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.

Those applauding wildly the efforts of the Harry James Orchestra (a ghost band whose leader died in 1984) and singers Connie Haines, Art Lund and the Lancers, were, for the most part, cheering nostalgia. While the concert promised the best of James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, the Pied Pipers, et al., what was forgotten was the quality that made those names musical institutions.


The Pied Pipers, for instance, wouldn’t have survived a single night had their singing been as out of tune as the Lancers’ was.

While the James aggregation--populated, oddly, with youngsters whose parents were probably too young to remember much about the Big Band Era--performed capably, albeit with not much spirit, Haines and Lund seemed oddly out of place.

Lund, whose seven-tune set included a few megahits (“My Blue Heaven,” “Mam’selle”), has lost most of his once-rich baritone voice. But his segment was unpretentious and pleasant enough.

Haines, on the other hand, wallowed in embarrassing self-aggrandizement as she flitted about the stage coarsely whispering some of her hits (“You Made Me Love You,” “Swing Time Up in Harlem”). Her voice, too, has suffered the ravages of time.


Despite the fact that these shows tend to take on a sideshow appearance, the saddest thing is that the life left in the era’s repertoire is not explored. The songs deserve playing, not a mere rehashing that will turn them into museum pieces.