The Big Bands tend to come and go in the public's eye, but last night, ensconced in the rustic poshness of Wolf Trap, three of the best -- the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Woody Herman's Young Thundering Herd -- held forth before an overflow crowd.
The theme for much of the evening was nostalgia and the Dorsey Orchestra, led by Buddy Morrow, seemed the most anxious to please. The musicians offered up renditions of the band's greatest numbers including "Boogie Woogie" and "Night Train." While the playing was faultless, it also lacked the fervor of the original versions. It is one thing to recall names like Sy Oliver and Sinatra (who were once associated with the band). It is another to recapture the passions they once aroused.
The same could not be said of the Ellington Orchestra under the direction of the Duke's son, Mercer Ellington. By far the classiest ensemble of the night, the band presented faithful versions of classics such as "Mood Indigo" and "God Bless the Child." They brought to the music a sense of joy and genuine affection for the material that made each song sound fresh.
Woody Herman and The Young Thundering Herd rounded out the show with a super-charged set. There was a mingle of old and new styles. Standards like "Woodchoppers Ball" were mixed with compositions by modern composers such as Chick Corea in a performance that demonstrated the constantly evolving nature of big band music.