EACH SUMMER The Post and the Weekend section host Weekend's Weekends, a series of free concerts featuring a variety of music from top local talent in our community. The concerts are held at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in cooperation with the National Park Service of the National Capital Region. This Friday, we present the last of three concerts, a Big Band/Small Band Swing Night featuring the Brooks Tegler Big Band and the J Street Jumpers in a program tracing that dance-inspiring jazz craze from its heyday in the '30s and '40s and jump blues side trip in the '50s and on into the '60s.
Carter Barron Amphitheatre is at 16th Street and Colorado Avenue NW. Free tickets for Weekend's Weekends will be available at the Carter Barron box office beginning at noon. Tickets will also be available starting at 8:30 a.m. at The Post at 1150 15th St. NW. There is no scheduled rain date. Picnic areas are available in the park around the amphitheater. For more information, call 202-334-4748.
BROOKS TEGLER BIG BAND
Brooks Tegler, who may be the busiest drummer in Washington, sees Friday's program as part chronological hit parade and part swing history, in a program that will kick off with native son Duke Ellington's 1930 classic "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo."
"It'll be basically a tune per year, with a first set of a dozen or so tunes," Tegler explains. "We'll cover the '30s to the '40s. Things start to get fuzzy in the mid-'40s, post-World War II, as far as what was going on in jazz, so I decided to stop in '45 and pick up with the J Street Jumpers.
"Then we'll pick it up in the '50s and '60s, where it gets a little more nebulous," Tegler adds, noting that "while it's a lot of the same [big bands], there are some differences. A lot of early Count Basie was pretty similar in that it was a blues-based big band; the Basie of the '50s and '60s was an entirely different animal. In my opinion, a lot of it changed simply because of who the drummers were: Joe Jones was very different from Sonny Payne, and then Butch Miles was very different from Sonny," says Tegler, who spent much of last weekend at Blues Alley hanging out with Miles as the Count Basie Orchestra helped the Georgetown club celebrate its 40th anniversary.
According to Tegler, "We're pulling a lot from the same groups, the point being a lot these bands hung on into the early '70s and beyond, notably Basie and Ellington, so there's a fair amount of stylistic difference. I'm actually using three different sets of drums."
Such attention to detail is what Tegler's known for, whether it's re-creating the historic 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert or evoking the fabled military big bands of World War II through his Allied Aviation Federation. Patterned after groups like the 4th Fighter Group's Flying Eagles and the 78th Fighter Group's Thunderbirds, the AAF was particularly busy during last year's Smithsonian-sponsored World War II Memorial ceremony, including re-creating pre-mission briefings that used both reenactors and veterans of actual missions.
"That's my World War II jones -- I'm a World War II historian -- and it was a perfect blend to put together a band doing World War II material," Tegler explains. He was also the primary model and organizer of the other models for the sculpture panels at the National World War II Memorial.
"That was pure luck," Tegler explains. "Scott Campbell, who helps me a lot with the big band and also works with the Nighthawks, saw an article about the sculptor and said I ought to talk to the guy. So I called him and said, 'I've got all the clothing, all the equipment and all the people you could possibly need as models,' and for 21/2 years we worked in the studio, using drawings and pictures and building panels out of that. There are four or five panels where you can recognize each one of us individually. I'm all over the place -- my favorite is the aircraft factory where I'm sitting in the middle of the panel with a hat on, smoking a cigarette."
That may not be politically correct, but, Tegler says, "what the hell, everyone did it then. It was part of the fabric of the culture." Speaking of fabric, Tegler's big band had one advantage in presenting its Glenn Miller tribute: "We already had all the uniforms."
Tegler gets to re-create the famous Goodman Carnegie Hall concert several times a year, clarinetist Joe Midiri playing Goodman to Tegler's Gene Krupa. "It was a remarkable concert, and I know every little hiccup and belch in that recording," says Tegler, including the unreleased section featuring Krupa coming out and tuning his drums. "That concert has its own electricity, and we've done it 50 times and never had a bad night with it."
Krupa, Tegler points out, has always been his "main inspiration. He was a beautiful cat and an extremely musical player, very much involved in the melody of what he was playing."
He's particularly pleased that one of the people playing in his band is trombonist Jennifer Krupa, whose father was Gene Krupa's cousin. She was one of the first members of the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, formed in 2001 at the new Juilliard Institute for Jazz, as well as a former member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra under the direction of Bob Wilbur. "She's an absolute monster," says Tegler, who will feature Krupa on Ellington's "Hy'a Sue. "She knows Tricky Sam Nanton inside and out."
Tegler's most recent CD, "It's Been So Long," recorded as Tegler's Capital Combinations, features 11 different (and differently sized) ensembles drawn from the local talent pool, including current and former members of the city's military jazz groups. For more than two decades, the drummer has also had a small-group Sunday afternoon gig, for the last two years at the Starland Cafe (5125 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 202-244-9396). "It's a quartet, but it's inevitable that we have at least two or three people come down to sit in and play, oftentimes people who work in the big band as well."
THE J STREET JUMPERS
Some of the players in Tegler's big band -- including horn players John Jensen, Vince McCool and Don Lerman -- are also members of the J Street Jumpers, which saxophonist Charlie Hubel formed in the early '90s out of the ashes of the popular Uptown Rhythm Kings. Playing a vigorous repertoire encompassing what it calls "the irrepressible swing of Harlem in the '30s, the infectious L.A. jump-blues sound of the late '40s, and the soulful passion of classic '50s New Orleans R&B," the group managed to predate and survive the swing revival of the late '90s.
"It's a funny thing: You almost don't want to say swing at all even if you play authentic swing music, because it's a double-edged sword," Hubel notes. "While it was going on, we definitely benefited when people wanted to call us a swing band, but we're much more of a jump-blues group. We'd get calls from all over but then it passed, and once the fad passed, it was on to the next old new thing as people said, 'Oh, that's that swing thing, we want something else.' "
Meanwhile, Hubel says, "we're just doing what we've always done, regardless of what the current thing is."
"The music definitely swings," he explains, "but the label 'swing band' puts you in a box. If you do some Hot Lips Page and it's an authentic swing tune, that's fine, but then if you do a jump blues, Jimmie Liggins or Wynonie Harris, people don't think of those names when they think of swing. Sometimes they think you should only do one thing, but we do a lot of different stuff. I almost want to call us a classic R&B band, but that's so vague, too, and you run into problems trying to explain the type of music you do."
The Uptown Rhythm Kings were local jump-blues legends, and Hubel says he always loved that genre of music, "with a least two or three horns. When they broke up, me and Vince and Don, who were also in that group, figured: We love this music, let's try and do it. It certainly wasn't 'Let's have a nine piece band and make no money!' It's tough and we generally don't play clubs, except Blues Alley once or twice a year on a Monday night. With nine people, there's just no budget for it."
In fact, the J Street Jumpers started out as a sextet, with no guitar and no front person, "and then it kind of grew," Hubel says. For some years now, the band has had a great front person in Juanita Williams, who for 15 years served as lead vocalist for the Airmen of Note, the prestigious Air Force Big Band originally founded by Glenn Miller. She'll be doing some Dinah Washington and Ruth Brown classics Friday.
"Juanita can do anything -- straight-ahead jazz, pop; she can do it all," Hubel says. "She also grew up with this music and knew all about it but had just never sung it before, was never in a group that did it. She really likes it."