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From big band to Steely Dan

Denver Jazz Orchestra shakes up Dazzle

“I was told I should make an announcement warning people to silence their phones. I said, ‘If they can still talk on the phone over us playing, then let them,’” John Hines, one-fourth of the trombone section, stated to open the show. The Denver Jazz Orchestra, who specializes in a big-band style of jazz, enveloped Dazzle in a cacophony of sound on March 6.

Big-band jazz originated in the early 1910s and dominated music throughout the 1940s but has since died off in popularity with the entrance of rock ‘n’ roll and more contemporary styles. However, the Denver Jazz Orchestra has certainly brought big band back to life in their own unique and intriguing way. The group opened with their fast-paced and rambunctious rendition of “Flight to Nassau,” a more traditional and older jazz piece but still recognizable after the first listen.

After a few more traditional jazz pieces, some of which featured the combustible saxophone section, the group ventured into more contemporary and recognizable pieces with vocalist Donna DeVine gracing the stage in a 20s-inspired ensemble. The group breathed a breath of fresh air into the long outdated big band genre with their portrayals of “Don’t Know Why” from Norah Jones, and, of course, no jazz show is complete without “Witchcraft” by Frank Sinatra.

The Denver Jazz Orchestra harkens to older big bands. Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry

The orchestra proved their ability to live up to their predecessors in big band while also paying homage to them in their practice routines. Hines explained to the crowd that their every other Monday rehearsals stem out of an ode to New York-based big bands in the early beginnings of the genre. While unique in style, the group is also unique in membership. Unlike most other jazz groups in the Denver area, the orchestra isn’t affiliated with any other organization or universities in the area; however, some of the members of the band can be found in the orchestra pit at the Buell Theatre.

As the night progressed, the orchestra continued to play a mixed set of new and old charts. Audience members were graced with the group’s interpretation of various familiar, and equally unfamiliar, pieces—illuminating the orchestra’s versatility, talent, and uniqueness. The group took the audience on a trip from classic pieces, like “Cheek to Cheek” by Fred Astaire, and back to more contemporary sounds with performances of “Aja” from Steely Dan.

A brief intermission included Hines on the mic humbly cracking jokes like, “The more you guys drink the better we sound,” led to the orchestra migrating into areas of early rock ‘n’ roll and blues genres with pieces like “Groovin’ Hard” that features a boogie-woogie bassline—arpeggiated eighth note chord progressions—and a guitar and drum solo alongside the other brass instruments featured in the ensemble.

As the night began to wind down, the orchestra began performing some of their favorite pieces that were saved for last. A group favorite and the shortest tune of the night, “Pressure Cooker” by Sammy Nestico that rings in at just under four minutes long, spotlighted the orchestra’s immense talent and ability to refresh and modernize big band jazz for a younger crowd.

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