The Big Jazz Band at GCC Demands a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Brandon Hensley

Trumpets, and saxophones, and trombones, oh my!

There’s nothing like big band music to get one feeling warm as the weather starts to cool around the holiday season, and the Big Bad Jazz Band @ GCC entertained the Glendale College auditorium on Sunday, tapping toes and putting a smile on people’s faces for at least a night.

The band, directed by professional trombonist and Hoover High School music teacher Craig Kupka, played a two-hour set featuring different jazz and swing stylings from Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, as well as pop culture favorites “Respect” and “Over the Rainbow.”

Several songs allowed the 20 plus musicians to showcase their talents as improvisers. During Todd Dameron’s “Ladybird,” the crowd was introduced to trumpet player Ron Sewer, who was a brilliant soloist all evening. Sewer was spotlighted on every song that called for multiple solos.

The set list included mostly upbeat songs, really reliving the 1940s and ’50s, including a variation on Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” which lead trombone player Harry Smallenburg arranged in the key of B and called “Be Jammin” for this show.
Playing John Clayton’s “Nice to Meet You,” almost the entire band was introduced as each one took solos, including pianist Ricardo Tuttobene and Kupka on saxophone. Tuttobene was terrific all night, his lightning fast hands gliding over the keys. His playing really shined on Neil Hefti’s “The Kid From Red Bank,” and “Be Jammin.”

The saxophone players were also outstanding, including Puali Serra, who came after intermission from another gig in Los Angeles. Each sax player took over on Miles Davis’ “Dig,” a jumpy joint that allowed Serra, Kupka, Ralph Parillo and Rich Walker to strut their stuff.

The band did tone it down for a few songs, which featured the singing of Beth Bergman. Besides the up beat “Respect” (which wasn’t quite Aretha Franklinesque, but close), Bergman sang on “How Deep is the Ocean,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “The Look of Love,” each song showcasing her classic sounding voice and providing a breather from the otherwise frenetic set list.
One song that was not in the program was the band’s rendition of “America the Beautiful,” which was the last song played before intermission.

Maybe the highlight of the show, although short on length, the song was brilliantly done, really picking up when the saxophones came in for short fills. It was, in a nutshell, a most pleasant surprise.