When Big Bands Ruled the Stage and Swing was King - Philly
A man in a gray sports jacket leans against the bar sipping a martini, as the sound of the bartender shaking a mixed drink rattles through the second and third floors. The lights glow blue and red as the band gets ready to begin. When all of the 15 members of The Big Horn Cavaliers take their place, nearly every inch of Johnny Brenda's stage is covered by either man or instrument. The band stands three rows deep with the typical sax, trombone and trumpet setup from front to back. The rhythm section crowds a small area all the way at stage left. The audience is very diverse in age. Young children, donning glow sticks, dance with their parents while senior citizens sip drinks at the balcony's tables. The Big Horn Cavaliers are dedicated to keeping the music of Maynard Ferguson alive. For two hours, this band meticulously covers his tunes in a fashion that Maynard would definitely approve of. When everyone plays together, they become a musical force to be reckoned with. That's not to say they were blasting their chops off. The musicians have a clear control and understanding of how the music should be played. At times they take the volume down to almost nothing, with only the rhythm section keeping on. At Other points, the entire horn section syncs up to deliver a solid melody. It was obvious that they've spent a decent amount of time working out the kinks in their set. The band leader was sure to mention that one tune they were about to play was a read through, but if he hadn't, I wouldn't have known the difference. It was just as tight as all the other songs they played. Almost every piece was written by Maynard Ferguson, but to keep it interesting, they pulled out a few Bernard Rich songs in the same vein of music. The second set opened with a raucous rendition of Maynard's "Gonna Fly Now," also known as the theme to Rocky. This was followed by the funk standard "Chameleon", complete with a round robin of solos. An upbeat cover of the Beatles classic "Norwegian Wood" went heavy on the trumpets, and had some players squealing to the tops of their ranges. Watching these guys was like a flashback to the 1940s. The large amount of players made it hard to keep track of who soloed on what tune. Even the band leader had a hard time. A woman from the balcony wrote down who played what on a piece of paper, and shouted the names down to him when the song ended. The on stage atmosphere is very casual. The musicians chat amongst each other before diving into the next song. Even a few chops are busted, especially about the drummer's coffee habit. I found this band to be a breath of fresh air in a scene that is often caught up with being the most indie band out there. The Big Horn Cavaliers take you back to a time when big bands ruled the stage, and swing was king.
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