By RA Monaco
At a time when budget support for school music programs are being slashed across the country the inter-generational dividends of America’s investment was on display at the 15thAnnual Wheaton Band Festival.
Fifteen summers ago, not many people thought the Wheaton Band Festival would’ve become the annual sounds of summer event that it has, according to WFMT/98.7 FM announcer Carl Grapentine.
As the voice of the festival since its inception, Grapentine has served to introduce the performing ensembles and, most importantly, credit the efforts and commitment of so many that have gone toward making the Wheaton Band Festival a musical tradition for the City of Wheaton and greater metropolitan Chicago.
Pushing aside the temptation to gush about the performances and the eclectic range of free musical entertainment—that’s right, free—the civic richness of the Wheaton Band Festival should not go unacknowledged. Event organizers Gail Sonkin, Janis Rogers and Myron Sonkin, with the help of too many to name, have worked each year to place musical instruments in the hands of disadvantaged children participating in the Salvation Youth Music Program while enriching our community.
Their boundless civic inventiveness also put instruments in the hands of children attending the second night of the Festival. The idea was cast as an “Instrument Petting Zoo for Children” with band members—a.k.a. instrument zoo keepers—on hand to answer questions and help spark the curiosity of these young minds. Hoping to foster their curiosity, the kids were allowed to explore—hands-on—the multitude of musical instruments they’d heard and seen during the evening’s opening performance by the Fox Valley Concert Band.
At a time when civic support for the arts and school music program budgets are being slashed across the county, the inter-generational dividends of America’s investment in school music programs was on center stage with two great nights of music at Wheaton’s Memorial Park.
The Chicago Brass Band under the direction of Dr. Colin Holman
The world-class Chicago Brass Band—who performed a free concert in May to help fund this year’s festival—got the festival started Friday evening with their unique brand of “British Tradition-Chicago Style.”
The 30-piece brass and percussion ensemble kicked off the event with the Philip Sparke piece Concert Prelude which he composed while still a student at the Royal College of Music in London.
The audience seemed most entertained by the light-hearted shenanigans of xylophone soloists Christina Foster and Daniel Heffner as they playfully nudged each other—don’t mess with Christina—for access to the instrument during the band’s performance of A Black and White Rag.
Celebrating completion of a 12th season, the ensemble concluded their evening program with the familiar Jimmy Webb tune McArthur Park, in perfect surroundings.
Trumpeter Jay Cohen and Swing Low Sweet Cadillac
Jazz enthusiasts weren’t forgotten Friday evening as Jay Cohen’s group Swing Low Sweet Cadillac turned up the heat under the festival’s music-stew performing classics from Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons and Hoagy Carmichael.
Tenor saxophonist Shelley Bishop took a chunk out of Straight No Chaser, a Thelonious Monk line which gave her license to swing over some straight-ahead blues. Also a member of the Elmhurst College Big Band, Bishop flashed a mature improvisational approach and big sound which is why she seems to be turning up as a side-woman all around town.
As the group collaborated on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s, Girl from Ipanema, it became evident Columbia college grads—drummer Joe Tange and bassist Mike Low—had already spent some time exploring this Bossa Nova standard together. Their groove gave piano player Tommy Muellner a fertile poly-rhythmic foundation to craft his improvisational ideas. Low’s lyrical improvisations followed and a colorfully textured drum solo from Tange seem to capture the hip-swaying inspiration of the composition.
Leader Jay Cohen put in a journeyman’s effort on the popular 1938 Hoagy Carmichael balled, The Nearness of You.
In remembrance of recently deceased Horace Silver, the ensemble collectively seemed to settle into their performance on his composition Song for My Father which was possibly the highlight of the group’s program. Shelley Bishop’s improvisations teased out textures of Latin-jazz inspired motifs over the changes while Low, Tange and Muellner provided a Brazilian flavored groove that had listeners oscillating in their seats.
On reflection and in the context of Friday night’s program, the Swing Low Sweet Cadillac ensemble was an excellent counterpoint to the bold brass-percussion styling of the Chicago Brass Band—a compliment to the planning of the Festival’s Board and Advisors.
The audience enjoyed a second night of perfect summer weather as the Festival resumed with the 75-member Fox Valley Concert Band performing our National Anthem followed by American We—the 1929 Henry Fillmore dedication “to all of us.”
Of particular interest in choosing the band’s repertoire according to musical director Dr. Colin Holman, is highlighting the work of local composers. The Fox Valley Concert Band honored that commitment by performing the composition of Chicago area composer Fredrick Beyer titled simply, Overture for Band. On reflection, an argument could be made that the piece deserved a more prominent placement in the program as the serious tensions and fanfare moments of the composition might have been even more exhilarating for listeners following the performance of the Star-Spangled Salute.
The program followed with the lively Philip Sparke composition Merry-Go-Round. In what many might consider within the classic traditions of concert band music, the playful and lively Philip Sparke composition generated plenty of toe-tapping throughout the audience.
The Warren Barker arrangement of the Broadway Show-Stoppers Overture kept those toes tapping and the audience in their seats. With Everything Coming Up Roses and other familiar melodies like People—made famous by Barbara Streisand—With a Little Bit of Luck, On a Clear Day, Try to Remember and That’s Entertainment the all volunteer Fox Valley Concert Band, drawn from more than 20 of Chicago’s communities, celebrated 36 years of civic support and a renewing dividend from our system of music education.
The Nite Hawks
Bassist Tim Marin lead The Nite Hawks calling up funk grooves for drummer Phil DiMaio on tunes like The Chicken and the often performed Joe Zawinul favorite, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy that featured Sam Drazin on keyboard, Richard Temple on trumpet and the tenor saxophone of Glen West.
The group changed things up for the audience with two compositions—Lake Shore Drive and Harlem Avenue—from the seasonally local saxophonist Greg Fishman who performs regularly with Chicago jazz favorite Judy Roberts and winters in Phoenix these days.
Following the group’s improvisations on the straight ahead Milt Jackson tune Bag’s Groove, trumpeter Richard Temple took a run at the Lee Morgan classic Ceora.
Covering an eclectic range of styles The Nite Hawks’ program was a clever interlude between Saturday night’s two larger performing ensembles to set-up the Festival’s finale.
Accompanying the Sounds of Summer - The Northshore Concert Band
There was plenty of singing throughout the Northshore Concert Band’s program. In fact, Memorial Park became a noisy place—no leaf blowers or mowers—with plenty of buzzing, chirping, whirring and choruses of the zing-zing-zinging along from the musicians of nature.
Under the direction of Dr. Mallory Thompson the 100-member symphonic band opened their program with His Honor, a composition by the prolific Henry Fillmore who wrote more than 250 marches, overtures and novelty pieces during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Following Claude T. Smith’s Eternal Father, Strong to Save, their performance included Symphonic Dances from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
In possibly the highlight of the evening’s performances, the ensemble—together with a full complement of Katydids—gave a stirring and at times exhilarating performance of Elegy for a Young American. The moody colors and grand textures of the Ronald LoPresti composition together with the musical excellence of the performance was deserving of the 58 season legacy enjoyed by this ensemble.
The Paul Lavender arrangement of John Williams, March from 1941, struck a chord with fans of the comedic ensemble that featured John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and John Candy in the 1979 period comedy directed by Steven Spielberg, “1941.”
No band festival could be considered festive without service to the legend of George Gershwin. Complimented by Warren Barker’s cleverness in blending the melodies of I Got Rhythm, Fascinating Rhythm, Embraceable You, Somebody Loves You and Someone to Watch Over Me the arrangement was met with the magnanimous skill of the ensemble.
Homage to John Phillip Sousa comes with the territory, as is often said, and the Band’s performance of Fairest of the Fair was easily up to the tradition.
The symphonic ensemble performed the Edward Cupero composition Honey Boys on Parade, following a gracious acknowledgement from the Band’s conductor Dr. Thompson, for the audience’s display of appreciation—everyone stayed to the conclusion of the program.
After a 15th year of success, it remains an open question—hint-hint—whether The Wheaton Band Festival Board and their Advisors might augment next year’s program with a featured vocalist to harmonize with rhythmic chorus of Katydids and fully compliment the sounds of summer—be there to find out!