IF YOU GO
Naples Jazz Orchestra
Where: Camber Park bandshell
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 18
Information: 643-6955 or 213-3058
Get an earful: www.thenjo.com/music.asp
Since the post World War II demise of the swing era as the reigning popular music, there has rarely been a time when someone, in the entertainment industry or out of it, hasn’t asked the question: “Will big bands ever come back?”
The fact is, they never really left. There’s still a Count Basie Band, progressive outfits like the Charles Mingus Dynasty, the Maria Schneider Band, Lorraine Desmarais Big Band, the Fat Cat Big Band, a fine Gene Krupa tribute orchestra led by Michael Berkowitz and collegiate and high school groups that rival any professional unit — remember last season’s Naples Jazz Festival? The most successful franchise of them all, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, is playing in three touring units all over the world.
Naples could also be listed on the map as one of the nation’s big-band hotbeds of the nation, due in no small part to drummer and bandleader Bob Stone, a local resident whose drums have backed up Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, the Four Freshmen, Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Helen O’Connell, Vaughn Monroe Woody Herman, Stevie Wonder, Dean Martin, Nancy Wilson and Harry James. While Stone has made a name here as music director of the Gulf Coast Big Band and as a teacher and adviser for decades in Collier County high schools, he’s had something bigger in mind to cement the swing scene as part of Naples. He has founded the Naples Jazz Orchestra, which hits its first downbeat as a group Jan. 18 and already has a half dozen performances through April.
This orchestra is not Stone’s first. From 1976 to 1989, he managed, directed, promoted and played in the Bob Stone Orchestra, one of the era’s best known. Stone also has been sharing his Mel Lewis-inspired drumming and big-band expertise, via leadership and coaching of various ensembles since the day he arrived in Naples 20 years ago. But having his own jazz orchestra will give Stone more opportunities to perform as well as teach.
Why start a jazz orchestra now, 20 years after coming to Naples?
“Naples only has hobbyist bands. I believe that Naples should have a world-class band, just so listeners can hear the difference, “he says. “But it’s not all al about the band. It’s about trying to start the Southwest Florida Youth Jazz Orchestra for high school and junior high school students. After teaching here, I found that the jazz programs were not on the same level as those in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, et cetera. Many of my colleagues are responsible for the great high school jazz band programs around the country today . This is the only way this wonderful music can continue.”
Stone says the NJO is “an orchestra of professional musicians of the highest caliber, not hobbyists, with players that are serious about being the best they can be.” He talks like a proud dad about the talent:
“We have so many wonderful players in the band I just don’t know where to start. Mark Pettey is without a doubt one of the finest jazz trumpeters in the country. I have played with most of the greats, and this guy is right there with them all. Mike Santiago is one of the best lead trumpet players in the business — anywhere. When you talk bass trombone you talk Adren Hance, a monster on the instrument.
“And of course there’s David Pringle on piano, noted jazz pianist, film composer and one-time musical director of the BBC in Scotland. Then there’s bassist Carl McVicker, a superb player who listeners may remember as the on-camera bassist on the Mr. Rogers television show for 24 years.”
This is no scaled-down, club-date crew. The NJO is 21 players strong: boasting five each of trumpets, trombones and saxophones; four rhythm players and two vocalists.
“I have over 20,000 big band arrangements, and the music that we are able to present is endless,” Stone says.
“Our thoughts are to do some theme shows, like a Sinatra show, Benny Goodman show, Basie show, et cetera, and I also plan to do a movie music and television theme show. As far as modern music, we will do modern big band arrangements, but no rap, heavy metal or anything like that. We are only interested in presenting great music and passing this concept along to young musicians,” he says.
Perhaps he will even be traveling again. An orchestra as large as this one is only performing locally right now, but Stone doesn’t rule out the right road trip.
“Who knows? The cost of traveling with a band of this size is enormous and includes a lot of planning, but you never know. Maybe someone will say, ’I want you guys to play my party in Califorina,’ so we’ll see.