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The Brooks Tegler Big Band: This Is It!

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For more than three decades, drummer/singer/bandleader Brooks Tegler has been waging a one-man campaign to play, preserve and promote a generation of jazz about which he is obsessed: the period between the mid-30s and the end of the 50s — that golden era of big bands. Based in Washington, D.C., Tegler has managed to recruit a small army of sidemen (and women) whose day gigs often consist of playing in military jazz ensembles where reading and discipline translate into making the 17-piece Brooks Tegler Big Band a formidable organization. The main reason the band is such a precise powerhouse is Tegler. He is driven, and in turn, drives his band from the vantage point of his drums — a throwback to his all-time idol, Gene Krupa. His rhythm mate, Tommy Cecil, is totally in lock-step with Tegler. They make quite a kinetic coupling, but they do it with taste, not ostentation. Another reason for the band’s success is that all its members apparently believe in Tegler’s mission. Simply stated, it is to capture the spirit of the big bands by interpreting some of that era’s lesser-known charts, not copying them or their solo statements note for note. In the process, Tegler pays the highest tribute to a vital part of our history and to those who left their artistic imprints on it.

Among the best examples, two from Ellington’s book: “Hiya Sue,” with trombonist Jen Krupa (Gene’s cousin) on plunger (When was the last time you heard a chick on plunger?) with “Jack the Bear,” featuring outstanding bass work from Cecil as soloist, and in unison with the band. From the Artie Shaw book, “The Glider” shows clarinetist Joe Midiri at his best as soloist as well as doubling the lead in a sax soli. And Tegler offers some propulsive gap-filling. The Benny Carter band is represented by “Slow Freight,” providing guitarist Tom Mitchell opportunities to imitate a train and to sneak in a quote from “If I Only Had A Brain” in his solo. Two entries from Tommy Dorsey’s book: “Pussy Willow,” showing how ahead of his time arranger Bill Finnegan was; and the explosive title track. A fine adaptation by reed player Scott Silbert of “Snafu Jump” from Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band book becomes a showcase for lead trumpeter Kenny McGee.

There are other bands, (including, to be sure, Krupa’s), two vocalists and many other soloists: too many to be acknowledged, which leads to the only negative thought. Eighteen tracks in one hour means there was precious little stretch-out room. Most solos were much too short. It also means Brooks Tegler had too much to say. At least he said it eloquently and passionately.

Originally Published