Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brass act: Big Band Bonanza sounds

By Meredith Deliso

Traditionally, Monday night is big band night in New York City, at classic Manhattan jazz venues like the Village Vanguard.

Luckily for Brooklynites, some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz are coming to the borough, big bands in tow, with the Big Band Bonanza October 19 at The Bell House in Gowanus.

“This is our downscale, Brooklyn indie rock version of that,” says Carroll Gardens-based composer Darcy James Argue of the Brooklyn jazz night. “It seemed like a cool idea to take that Monday night and do a real post-modern take on that.”

Hence, bands like his own, Secret Society, Industrial Jazz Group, and Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, which take three completely different approaches to the big band tradition with a contemporary spin. There’s Argue’s band, which draws on a wide variety of musical influences “without tipping my hat too much,” says the composer and conductor. As the name implies, “There’s some sense of mystery to the music, a sense of unexpectedness.” There’s Sullivan’s band, which deconstructs and radically reinvents the music of Bjork, reconstructed note by note for a big band. And there’s the Industrial Jazz Group, led by Andrew Durkin, who’s “more of a prankster,” says Argue, with his radical juxtapositions of different types of music. “There’s some incredible wit and sense of playfulness in what he’s doing,” he says.

All and all, between the three bands, there will be close to 60 musicians taking to the Bell House stage, a venue picked precisely because it isn’t a traditional venue for contemporary jazz.

“We’re able to bring out people who aren’t the sort of usual suspects, the usual people you’ll see at the 55 Bar every night,” says Argue. “For people who are curious about jazz but possibly have negative associations about it, the whole point of what we’re doing is to challenge that and make a case for jazz that it’s a living music that’s actually relevant to people today.”

Adam Schatz agrees. The founder of, a jazz Web site that books shows around the city at non-traditional venues like the Bowery Poetry Club and Drom in Manhattan and Public Assembly in Brooklyn, he’s helping promote the Big Band Bonanza.

“It’s exciting to be able to bring this music to this part of town,” says Schatz. “There’s not much jazz represented in the Gowanus area, and where so many of the musicians live, it makes sense to put something big on there. And you can’t get bigger than having 30 musicians in one room.”

The Big Band Bonanza is October 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bell House (149 7th St.). Tickets are $15. For more information, call 718-643-6510.


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