Swinging Without Johnny : ‘Tonight Show’ orchestra keeps busy on the road long after the final broadcast.
On May 22, 1992, when NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” had its final broadcast, the curtain also fell on what was probably the longest-running job in music. For some people, like saxophonist Tommy Newsom, working with Doc Severinsen’s orchestra had provided 30 years of employment.
“A year-round job in music was almost unheard of,” says Newsom, 64, who lives in Tarzana. “And then to think that it lasted that long, and occasionally they’d give you a raise. Not bad!” A Portsmouth, Va., native, the saxophonist also served as Severinsen’s assistant conductor on the TV show.
Its end has not meant the demise of the band, however. Flashy trumpeter Severinsen has taken his orchestra, without the “Tonight Show” name, out on the road on several occasions, and has performed with the ensemble at the Playboy Jazz Festival and at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
Only once, though, has the band played without him at the helm: as the Tommy Newsom orchestra, it performed outdoors last summer at Warner Park.
This evening, under the banner of the “Johnny Carson Big Band,” the former “Tonight Show” musical gang makes its second appearance sans Severinsen. Gathering almost all the orchestra’s regulars and using a handful of subs who actually played the show, the 17-piece band appears at the Castaways in Burbank. The performance is a benefit for Burbank-based Bridge Focus, a nonprofit social service agency that offers programs aimed at preventing drug, alcohol and child abuse.
Trumpeter Conte Candoli, 65, of Sylmar, the jazz great who played with the band 20 years, organized the event. “This is my attorney’s favorite charity, and I wanted to do something for him,” he says. “All of the guys volunteered their services gratis.”
And gladly, says Newsom. “Conte asked us, and everybody said ‘Yes,’ except a couple of guys, like Pete Christlieb, who will be out of town,” he adds. “This is a good group of people and everybody loves to play.”
The lineup for tonight goes like this: Candoli, his brother Pete Candoli, Maury Harris, Chuck Findley and Snooky Young will play trumpets; Ernie Tack, Gil Falco and Charlie Loper, trombones; Newsom, John Bainbridge, Bill Perkins, Lee Callet and Brian Scanlon, saxophones. The rhythm section consists of Ross Tompkins, piano; John Leitham, bass; Bob Bain, guitar, and Ed Shaughnessy, drums.
At the Castaways, the band will play a concert set, and then two sets for dancing. Candoli says that compared to the band under Severinsen’s aegis, “we’ll play what I think is a wider selection of tunes, and play more standards.”
“And we’ll feature a lot of the individual members, which is a nice way to showcase the band,” Newsom says.
Many of the arrangements will be Newsom’s. They include a version of “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” showcasing Young; the classic “Stardust,” spotlighting Findley, and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” featuring Newsom on alto.
“It’s always a pleasure to play these tunes all the way through, which often didn’t happen on the ‘The Tonight Show,’ ” Candoli says.
And to play them for a receptive audience, Newsom adds. “This is a musical opportunity,” he says. “We get to reunite the guys and have an audience that’s tuned into what we’re doing. They’re coming there for that purpose.”
Candoli and Newsom, like most of the Carson show regulars, have kept busy since the show ended. Candoli has traveled numerous times to Europe--he just got back from Spain and heads for Switzerland in April--and appears in the United States, supporting his recent album, “Sweet Simon.” Newsom, who says he plays “once in a blue moon” at Chadney’s in Burbank, also is a regular at jazz parties and festivals.
Where and When What: The Johnny Carson Big Band. Location: Castaways Starlight Ballroom, 1250 Harvard Blvd., Burbank. Hours: 8 tonight. Price: $35. Call: For tickets, (213) 480-3232. For information, (818) 563-5666.