St Thomas Big Band – Perth Royal Show 8th October 2011

The St Thomas Big Band performed as a part of the entertainment for the Perth Royal Show on Saturday the 8th of October 2011. This show proved to consist of a number of firsts for the band including being the first time they had performed at the Royal Show, the first performance for trumpeter Andrew Boyes and baritone saxophonist Emerson Brophy as well as being the first performance where the band was wearing their brand new band uniform. The new shirts, organised by the band’s Musical Director Simon Montgomery and the Director of Culture from Aquinas College Chris McMillan, give the band a new image of professionalism with the red and black colour design being in the school colours of Aquinas College, a Catholic School for boys in the tradition of Edmund Rice, which is where the members of the band attended high school.

The performance on the Carter Lawn Entertainment Stage was scheduled to start at 11:00am however, due to factors outside of the band’s control the stage time table was running quite behind and it wasn’t until 11:45am when the band commenced it’s first song “Chameleon”. Due to the band’s late start there were not many people sitting in the designated seating area as Tim Fiori started the famous bass line associated with this funk tune, by the end of the first song due to the band’s energy and spirited solo improvisations by Patrick van der Moezel (tenor saxophone), David Tran (alto saxophone), Michael Evans (Trumpet) and Gavin Nicklette (piano) the audience size had swelled to nearly being at full capacity.

The band continued the first set and immediately demonstrated their skill in performing a diverse array of songs with the next two songs being the Count Basie classic “Splanky” and the Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”. Both of these songs featured the skill of tenor saxophonist Patrick van der Moezel with sensitive solos that demonstrated a clear understanding of the traditional big band style and were reminiscent of the great tenor men of past years including Webster and Hawkins.

St Thomas’s drummer, Steve Connaughton, was featured in the next tune “Sing Sing Sing” a high energy swing tune written by Louis Prima. Steve’s hard driving drum rhythms throughout both the solo parts and the horn sections provided the perfect foundation for the saxophones to move in fluent 8th note lines whilst the trumpets played their sizzling melodic lines. It was possible to picture this band playing in one of the large band halls of the 1930s to couples performing a “Quick Step” to this upbeat rendition of a  crowd pleasing classic swing tune.

To finish the first set the band moved into an arrangement of the Stevie Wonder classic “Superstition”. The rhythm section laid down a heavy toe tapping groove for this well loved song with Steve Connaughton being consistently on the time with the drums and Gavin Nicklette playing out the famous electric clavinova part on the keys. This song featured the skill of trumpeter Michael Evans and Alto Saxophonist David Tran in high energy and powerful solos.

The St Thomas Big Band began it’s second set with the jazz standard “Summertime” which featured the trumpet section and in particular Michael Evans who performed the melody with a harmon mute the first time through before being joined by the rest of his section. The band moved into a spirited saxophone soli that build brilliantly in its intensity into Michael Evans’s trumpet solo. To keep in the traditional swing style the band moved into the Count Basie classic “Shiny Stockings”. Written by Frank Foster originally, this arrangement featured all the nuances in style that have been associated with the Basie Band style over the years including tasteful saxophone solis and a great / extensive use of the lower brass sound, layback on the beat and dynamic contrast. From the first chord performed by the saxophone section in the introduction through to the band shout chorus the St Thomas Big Band performed a swinging rendition of this great Basie tune.

The band continued in the traditional swing genre with the next tune “Body and Soul” featuring alto saxophonist David Tran. “Body and Soul” is a jazz ballad that is perhaps one of the most well known tunes from the 1930 era largely due to the recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. David rose to the challenge of performing such a well known piece with a sensitive and musical approach to the melody accompanied by the rich chordal backings of the rest of the big band. The solo section, performed in a double time feel, featured David’s skill to move melodically through the chord progression with his improvisations being accompanied by the big band soli parts including the trumpet section and saxophone section soli which provided some release and contrast giving David more melodic ideas to cultivate into his own improvisation.

“King Strutt” a funk tune written over a simple 12 bar blues provided a great contrast in style to the previous song performed by the big band. The crowd again started to grow in size as Tim Fiori started the bass groove that the entire song is built upon with numerous people stopping in the streets around the stage and taking pictures and videos of the band performing. The band continued to build in its intensity wit the tight and crisp horn lines and the interplay between the saxophones and brass up to the open solo section which featured Patrick van der Moezel and David Tran. The band kept the energy and intensity of the song up throughout the solos with the introduction of the simple backing lines which were quite rhythmic in nature each time the soloist reached it’s last chorus.

Moving back into the swing genre the St Thomas Big Band commenced the high energy introduction of the Gershwin tune “O Lady be Good” the saxophone section soared into fast flowing quaver lines as the brass and rhythm section provided chordal hits, the result was a sound not too dissimilar to what would have been expected at the commencement of a Gershwin musical theatre show. The melody of the song featured David Charlesworth on trumpet, Mason Tores on flute and David Tran on Alto Saxopone before the band took over over the bridge of the tune and the band continuing to build in it’s intensity through to Charlesworth’s solo. After the conclusion of the solo the saxophone section launched into one last soli for the day, performing with great enthusiasm and energy they setup the perfect transition into Tim Fiori’s bass solo and key change for the climax of the song.

As the crowd were applauding the band launched into their final song for the day “The Chicken”. The soul introduction for this tune featuring the tenor saxophone, bass and drum fills gave a taste to the audience at the musical display of excellence and funk that was to come. As the rhythm section launched into the songs primary groove it was impossible for the toes of the listeners to not be tapping away. The melody and backing lines were performed with a crispness and tightness that would be hard to be surpassed, the soloists Patrick van der Moezel, Emerson Brophy (baritone saxophone), Gavin Nicklette and Simon Montgomery (soprano saxophone) all continued to build the song’s intensity accompanied by the backing lines and stabs from the rest of the big band. This intenisty was momentarily released after the last solo with the bass and drum break before the horns brought the melody back in for one last time.

Thanks must go to the Royal Agricultural Society for the opportunity for the St Thomas Big Band to be a part of the 2011 Perth Royal Show.

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