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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

SBCC’s jazz big bands integrate diversity and innovation in shows

Anthony Zell
The “Monday Madness” Big Band playss “Oops” by Mike Mainieri at City College’s Jazz Ensemble Concert on Nov. 20 at the Garvin Theatre in Santa Barbara Calif. Director Andrew Martinez dedicated this performance to Dr. Charles Wood, a long time teacher and mentor to many of the musicians in the band.

In the late 1980s, three of City College’s jazz ensembles were formed. The Good Times Band, Lunch Break Big Band, and the Monday Madness Big Band have continued to perform for Santa Barbara’s music community for decades.

These bands will be showcasing their skills for their end-of-year performance at 7 p.m. on April 29 at City College’s Garvin Theatre,; the annual Big Band Blowout concert. 

The bands all have aspects which can be categorized by skill and music style. The directors are keen on upholding their reputation as award-winning jazz ensembles. 

The Good Times Band was founded in 1987 after an overwhelming number of students auditioned for various jazz groups around campus, but with not enough spots to go around. Former leader and founder, Charlie Disparte decided to create another band for the campus. Disparte died this last year.

Ending his 21st year as lead director of The Good Times Band, Eric Heidner spoke about his experience.

“This band puts the community in community college,” Heidner said. “We have people from all aspects of life in the band, from students to retired community members.” 

The nature of the band is founded on inclusivity, according to Heidner.

“A Big Band is usually about 18 to 20 members,” he added. “But we’re a little bit bigger because we want to let everybody in…so we have 22 members currently.”

“The band was originally a pretty small Latin-style band, but over the years I’ve watched it grow into something larger,” said Robert Cortez, who has been a member of Big Band on and off for 25 years. “Seeing the evolution of the band has been so neat [and] even though I don’t need to be here anymore, I chose to be here.” 

Focusing more on traditional style jazz, the band draws inspiration from Count Basie, Stan Kenton, and many more.

“We are going to be performing a version of “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin on Monday,” Heidner said. “We did that piece with the band about 15 years ago, and haven’t done it since.” 

Heidner adds how the strength of the players pertains to the literature chosen. Which has kept the band busy this semester with rehearsing and several other performances. 

The Lunch Break Band and the Monday Madness Band were founded in the fall of 1988 after Charles Wood was hired to be the director of bands in the music department at City College. 

Instead of naming the classes by a preset CRN number, he chose their title based on rehearsal times. Monday Madness represented the chaos of trying to schedule on the busiest day of the week, and Lunch Break was named via their early afternoon scheduling, according to Wood. 

The Monday Madness Band consists of 19 members that focus on playing a high caliber of jazz.

Former member and tenor saxophone player, Andrew Martinez, has been director of the Monday Madness band since 2019. Martinez has also been filling in as director for the Lunch Break Band since September, while James Mooy is on sabbatical.

For the Monday Madness Band, Martinez draws inspiration from Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Glen Miller, and other musicians who he believes left an impact on the jazz world. 

“Think of the stuff your grandparents used to listen to and how since then, all these different jazz groups have come about to develop these cool funky modern sounds,” Martinez said. “We now call that style of music, Modern Big Band Jazz.”

The 19 piece band practices advanced literature with the goal of teaching performance skills that they believe are needed for growth in their musical careers. 

“We’re getting students ready for a professional level, teaching them how to practice, how to listen, how to learn,” Martinez said. “Taking advantage of [practicing] is the best way to learn how to bring out the music from a piece of paper.” 

Cainan Birchin, a 16-year-old City College student, joined the band in January.

“I never got the chance to play in a group until I joined,” Birchin said. “The main crux of the genre is improvisation and conversing with your constituents, so this experience has really just made me a better musician.”

He expressed how the atmosphere of the band is light-hearted, but when it comes to rehearsing, Martinez makes sure the band stays true to its skill level. Studying renowned Big Bands from the 1960s-1970s is the priority when picking out literature. 

“[Music] is pretty much my life’s purpose,” Birchin added. “It is my ultimate gift and there’s really nothing else I would do. Honestly, I’m not sure what else I could be doing.”

The Big Band Blowout for the 2024 school year will start at 7 p.m. running until 9:30 p.m. with a $15 general admission fee or $10 student and senior fee, which can be purchased here

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