Hot Jazz, Cool Treats
Audience members clapped in time as the Buzz Jones Big Band rounded out its 30th-anniversary concert with a saucy swing version of a patriotic tune. Overcast skies had sent the under-the-stars event indoors, but the sunny strains of jump and swing kept listeners clapping and toe-tapping all evening long.
In fact, a few sang along with guest-vocalist Cathy Chemi, as she launched into a string of popular tunes from the '40s and '50s. As in years past, some music fans announced requests and heaped praise on the band members during the intermission.
“We always get a nice crowd at Dickinson, and they give a lot of good feedback, every year,” said Ron Axsom, contributing faculty in music, who has played trombone in the 16-piece band since its founding by former Dickinson music instructor and bandleader Buzz Jones. [Story continues below.]
A rehearsal band goes big time
Jones was a young music instructor who had just moved to the area from Maryland when he assembled the band in 1979 as an outlet for fellow musicians who were big-band enthusiasts. The group presented its first Dickinson concert/ice-cream social two years later, at the invitation of Professor Emeritus Truman Bullard. The event was a big hit, and a three-decade tradition was born.
Over the years, the Buzz Jones Big Band completed multiple tours of Europe; performed with Tony Bennett, Bob Mintzer and the U.S. Navy Commodores; and appeared in the Montreaux and North Sea International Jazz Festivals. Members also have toured with the Buddy Rich and Glenn Miller orchestras and have played backup for The Temptations and The Four Tops.
For the joy of it
The musicians have come and gone in the years since, said Axsom, one of three original members who still plays in the band. But, he said, the spirit of camaraderie remains.
“I think the band has stayed together all this time because we all enjoy playing this kind of music, and we enjoy each other’s company,” said Axsom, who has just hired several fellow members as backup musicians for The Temptations at an upcoming gig at the Luhrs Performing Arts Center in nearby Shippensburg, Pa.
“It’s satisfying to play with good players who love what they’re doing. We have a good time.”
By MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
Photos by Carl Socolow ’77