Washington and Lee University's Fancy Dress Ball, once deemed "the college social event of the early 1970s - another casualty of the times.
"To get all dressed up and go to a fancy ball was ridiculous." said Fran Lawrence, a Charlottesville lawyer who was on the student committee which eventually engineered the demise of the annual dance.
Last month, however, 3,000 formally attired collegianswere again swinging to the big band music of Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd at the 70th Annual Fancy Dress Ball. And with the return of such balls - Fancy Dress was revived in 1974 at Washington and Lee - have come the big bands that go with them.
The return to normalcy of college campuses after the turbulent "60s has meant good news to the Big Bands, once considered an integral part of the college social scene.
Willard Alexander, the New York agent who handles the Woody Herman Herd, the Glenn Miller orchestra and the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras among other well-known bands, claims that overall grosses are up 100 per cent from two years ago, with many of this bands being booked 48 weeks out of the year. And the reason for success, he says, is kids.
"This is a cycle of entertainment which is returning - with innovations," said Alexander, a longtime band figure who prides himself on discovering a young clarinet player named Benny Goodman. "The interesting thing is that a tremendous interest is coming from the high schools and colleges."
Meanwhile, at least one hotel chain is betting chat the jazz and swing music will have people dancing again. The Hyatt Regency hotels in San Francisco and New Orleans (and begining in April, Washington) are hosting tea dances with a 16-diece band. Started as an experiment in October, the San Francisco Hyatt Regency has now extended the program "indefinitely," according to publicist Lonnie Calhoun, because of what she calls "tremendous" turnouts - about 1,000 people each week fill the Regency's lobby.
California's campuses are also feeling the revival of interest.
"I'm besieged by students who are trying to join the band," said California State music professor Joel Leach. "When I came here eight years ago we had trouble staffing just one band," said Leach, who also judges at jazz festivals across the country. "Now we have 88 musicians in four different bands. I have to turn people away."
Academics also note that the rekindled interest is creating superior college jazz musicians.
"The college jazz player today would have been considered a giant 20 years ago," said Dr. Thomas Ferguson, professor of music at Memphis State University's music department. "The improvement is remarkable."
And it is the young college jazz musicians who are now staffing the legendary big bands, giving new life and fervor to an old swing style. One jazz spokesman noted that high school and college players are playing the same charts as Maynard Ferguson and that Stan Kenton gets most of his musicians off the college campuses. The average age of the Woody Herman Herd is 26, and the piano player is 22.
"The last time I played at Washington and Lee was in 1942," said the 63-year-old Herman, the maestro of such classics as "Woodchopper's Ball" and "Caledonia." "The only difference is that back then they were wearing dress shoes and top hats with their tuxes instead of tennis shoes and baseball caps.
Albeit the attire is somewhat different and the music is often contemporary song dressed in brassy, big band arrangements, it seems to many including Herman himself, that jazz and big band arrangements are trumpeting a strong influence on the nation's college and high school campuses. In many cases it is the professors who are revitalizing the music associated with afternoon tea dances, Metronome and Glen Island Casino instead of love-ins, Rolling Stone, and Fillmore East. The death of big bands such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Duke Ellington - usually traced to musician leader James Caesar Patrillo's two-year recording ban beginning in 1942 - was actually the birth of singers who didn't need the sonorous blasts of trumpets and trombones to make it big- singers like Frank Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Dick Haymes and Peggy Lee.
"No, I don't think the big-band era well return," said Matt Betton, executive director of the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE) , an organization of 2,500 teachers from the grade school through the college level.
"But the tremendous influence jazz and big band groups are having on campuses today is determining an era for the future."
The NAJE has even conducted an informal study of the growing number of stage bands which are flourishing on the nation's campuses, estimating that there are some 18,000 high school jazz bands. Some 15 states have an all-state jazz band competition on the high school level and now over 20 major universities are offering a degree in jazz, something which "was unheard of " five years ago, according to Betton.
Dr. Dave Uber, professor of music at Trenton State College and director of the Priceton University band, says that the instruction college players are receiving today is much more advanced that 10 years ago, another cause for his students' interest.
"There seems to be a return to a clean, full-band sound - sort of a neo-romantic style," said Uber. "The interest is in the full, sonorous sound that only a stage band can produce. Besides, the kids have fun playing a swing band."
Original arrangements are now available on a large scale. Roger Letson of the Hal Leonard Publishing Co. in Milwaukee terms the growth of jazz and big bands on campuses "remarkable" and says that sales for such arrangement are at an all-time high.
But by far the biggest influence has been the big bands themselves. Woody Herman, Glenn Miller, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Harry James are just a few of the big bands touring the country playing the music of their legendary leaders. But instead of arriving just two hours before the show for a campus visit, most of the bands arrive in early afternoon and set up workshops and seminars for the college, high school, even junior high musicians, bringing yet another generation under its influence.
"This is the most gratifying thing," said Herman, who is in his 41st year of big band involvement. "We know we are influencing them greatly."
Herman says that at least four out of every seven engagements are on school campuses. Jim Daniels, a 23-year-old bass trombonist in Herman's band, says the college audiences are the best.
"Kids are into jazz now," said Daniels, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music. "It's actually more fun to play the old stuff for them."
The air of Blue Room Formality and sonorous trumpeting is nothing new for Washington and Lee's Fancy Dress Ball, once a regular engagement for the big bands during the '40s.
"It's kind of funny tosee the kids dancing to the same music I did when I was here," said James Farrar, the university's dean of admissions. "I think this is something the kids are enjoying more even though most of them aren't familiar with the music."
As the beer flowed freely from one end of the ballroom the students danced like their parents before them.
"Gosh, I have never heard a lot of this music," said a Sweet Briar girl whose date had long since shed his formal jacket. "It's kind of slow at times, but it's got a nice beat."
But for bands like Woody Herman's the new interest means stardust bank accounts are back. Hermie Dressel, Berman's manager, says that the maestro is making three to four times as much money as he did in the early '40s, and Herman himself says the money is "much better," even considering the inflation factor. And RCA is going to release a live Woody Herman concert recording next month.
From Willard Alexander's viewpoint things couldn't be better, even though costs now run from $11,000 to $19,000 a week to field to band. In 1973 the total gross for his big band business was $5 million; in 1976 the gross was $10 million, and Alexander says this year's figures are already ahead of last year's. "Every single band I have today is booked and on the road," he says.