Be sure to circle May 19 on those calendars

Published 1:34 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

I can’t wait until May 19. On that day, the Tar River Swing Band will return to the Turnage Theater to play another concert. We performed a Christmas concert at the Turnage back in December. The theater was sold out, and the audience was as good as it gets.
On May 19, we will bring five trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, a rhythm section and four singers in a new show, “Let Freedom Swing,” to the beautifully restored Turnage. It is going to be a great show.
As the drummer/leader for the Tar River Swing Band, you would think that I grew up listening to jazz, but I didn’t. I listened to rock ’n’ roll: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the like. However, I gradually found myself pulled toward the “horn bands” like Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago and Tower of Power. Little did I know then that I would eventually learn to love the “big-band” genre.
Jump forward to 2011 and after 10 years of performing in casinos with Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and the like, and I am a music professor at ECU, one who plays big-band jazz around eastern North Carolina. In the Tar River Swing Band, we play music in all styles. Each concert is different depending upon the theme or season. In recent years, we have developed a schedule of playing a Christmas jazz concert in December, a themed spring concert in April and various performances throughout the rest of the year.
Surprisingly enough, there are still folks out there who have not heard of the Tar River Swing Band.  Who are we? Well, TRSB was founded about 1999, when high-school band director J.C. Sykes decided to get a bunch of friends together to play big-band music and have fun. The members of the band came from all walks of life: doctors, teachers, corporate executives, computer geeks. They got together to play because they loved the sound of big-band music and wanted to play all styles from the 1940s to 2010. Eventually, the band got good enough that offers to perform at concerts, weddings and private events started to come in. I joined the band on drums about four years ago and was impressed that despite the fact that the members all have “day jobs,” they are all dedicated to the music.
This year, Mr. Sykes decided he would rather play his saxophone than stand in front of the band, so I took over as the leader. It has been a challenge, since I am generally a soft-spoken, gentle kind of person (think Atilla the Hun), but I am gradually getting the hang of being a band leader.
On May 19, we will bring our 2011 spring concert, “Let Freedom Swing,” to the Turnage Theater to celebrate the music, the culture and the veterans of the World War II years. According to Tom Brokaw, the World War II generation was “The Greatest Generation.”
The Tar River Swing Band agrees and is presenting this concert to honor the men and women who kept us free and grew our nation into the position of leadership that it holds today. We performed this concert in Rocky Mount in April, and the audience’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Based on that reaction, we decided to bring it to Washington.
Be there to hear “Let’s Dance.” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” “Sing Sing Sing,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and much more at 7:30 p.m. May 19.
I can’t wait!

John Wacker