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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Big Band Swinging in Springfield, Massachusetts

JT Lynch photo

The joint was jumping on Saturday night at for the Springfield Armory Reunion and commemoration of  the 1943 Benny Goodman concert that was held on the Armory grounds. The war workers got a special treat that day in 1943, and so did the visitors to the Springfield Armory National Historic site when Dan Gabel and the Abletones recreated a 1940s Big Band concert.

It was fantastic.

Though inclement weather drove the concert indoors this year (it’s usually an outdoor celebration), and while unfortunately, band leader Dan Gabel was not in attendance, the show was a delightful success.

The orchestra delivered a variety of peppy ditties, slow romantic ballads, and jubilant jazzy hits of the golden age of the big band era that moved some to dance, some to sing, and all to marvel at the excellence of this tight group of musicians.

Their vocalist (in the old days it was “girl singer”) is Elise Roth, who looked the part in a period gown, rhinestone necklace and bracelet, bold lipstick, and her hair coiffed appropriately. More than illusion, the most exciting and charming aspect of her performance is that she sang in the style of the 1940s big band songstresses.  This is an attention to detail that is worth noting and marveling over; for this is not mere mimicry, but a demonstration of educated interpretation of a music genre that is intricate and complicated.  Ms. Roth has her roots not only as a jazz vocalist, but also as a classical vocalist, who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Dan Gabel, whose knowledge and appreciation of big band music is something wonderful, has gathered into this 18-piece orchestra colleagues, friends, and former students like a pied piper (he plays the trombone himself), and he clearly picks only the best. Craig Robbins, recent magna cum laude graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, plays jazz trombone and also sang two numbers, the lovely ballad, “The Way You Look Tonight,” and the swinging, “The Lady is a Tramp.”  Jim Gancarz, drummer, belted out the beautiful, “Berkeley Square” (“boy singers”), and did a mean Gene Krupa imitation throughout on the drums.

These three singers are young, as, indeed are most of this orchestra, and if the first surprise is seeing young people so gloriously talented, so knowledgeable, and so comfortable performing this music which has ceased to hit the popular music charts a couple of generations ago—the second surprise is suddenly realizing their age doesn’t matter.  It’s the music that matters, and they drew a standing ovation from the crowd last Saturday for their truly thrilling musicianship.

JT Lynch photo

John Clark on bari sax and clarinet took on the role of leader and emcee in Dan Gabel’s absence, and he provided humor, and a pleasant ease of guiding the audience, as much as the musicians, from one song to the next.

I was especially looking forward to this event because I’ve followed Dan Gabel and his bands (he also helms the High Society Orchestra which plays music of the 1920s), and always hoped to have an opportunity to catch one of their gigs—which play mostly in the eastern part of the state.  Having him come out to western Massachusetts and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site was a joy, and I was determined not to miss it.  I’ll remember it for a long time to come.

You can learn more about Dan Gabel and the Abeltones here at the website, and at the Facebook page. The orchestra has also produced some CDs.  Look for his upcoming events here.

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