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Big Swing Central: Big Bands in the Big Apple

Mingus Big Band
Maria Schneider

Every seat in the Village Vanguard is full when the rhythm section kicks off the first set. The rest of the band is still settling in. One of the alto saxophonists fiddles with his ligature while two seats away a tenor player looks for the music. A couple of the trombonists share a joke, and in the back row the trumpet players sit too quietly, like they just woke up and aren’t quite sure what time it is or what city they’re in. It’s easy to think that it might be an off night.

But the air goes electric when the brass and reeds hit their first notes together. It’s something you just don’t get from recordings-the power, the sound of 16 instruments blending in the air around you. As the soloists stand up to shout like revivalists, the audience begins to cheer and soon the musicians are calling out to one another, too, grunting their approval and nodding their heads in affirmation. The energy builds for over an hour, climaxing on the delirious mad dash “fingers.” The band members stand for a jubilant round of applause and come off stage like conquering heroes, beaming and upbeat.

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