THE BAKERSFIELD LITTLE BIG BAND
A Surprise Band From The North
By Harvey Barkan
Everyone loves surprises, and what a nice one was The Bakersfield Little Big Band! About 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Bakersfield is considered the west coast mecca of country-western music culture, with it's own area music characteristics, played in clubs, bars, and restaurants like the late Buck Owens' landmark Crystal Palace. The first surprise, getting past this stereotype, was hearing a high-caliber jazz band swing great classic tunes from the 1930's and '40's, the golden big band era, from Bakersfield! Now we know, jazz and swing are alive in Bakersfield!
The concert, held at the Valley Jazz Club in Canoga Park, California, opened with a high spirited "Opus 1" to start with a "bang!" Following was a continuous salvo of significant delicious tunes that were well known big band favorites, though not often heard much locally as live music for some time. The audience-pleasing playlist continued with band leader Betty Stachowiak's vocal and alto saxophone featured on "Dance With Me," followed by the Tommy Dorsey Band trademark tune, "Sentimental Over You," mellowly played by trombonist Chris Hoover. When Hoover is not starting a fire with his "hot" trombone playing, he is putting fires out as a Kern County Fire Department Captain! The Bakersfield Little Big Band included two vocalists, which was another nice surprise, as Paula Einstein and Carolyn Di Molfetto sounded like 2/3 of the Andrews Sisters as they launched a duo into the light-hearted "Boggie Woggie Bugle Boy Of Company B," a major Andrews Sisters World War II tune.
A rather large, mechanically gorgeous baritone saxophone added muscular, deep tones that brought pleasing, vintage big band high-lights that I like, as well-played by Aaron Sorenson. I never understood why this wonderful reed instrument lost favor over time in jazz and swing. Nostalgia was at a high level as the band continued these bullet-proof tunes, playing hard and and remaining in the mode, with "Route 66," "Under Paris Skies," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," and the memorable "Hernando's Hideaway."
The band plays with a confident gusto and evident self-enjoyment of their art, quite impressive for a 10 piece band only starting to form a year ago. Their power and remarkable precision are already well developed, and their arrangements are just terrific, as though they've played together for ages. It all started when Bettye Stachowiak became impressed with the music and clinics presented by musical director Terry Cano, and they got their heads together to form a band. With her leadership and drive, and his talents for writing arrangements and directing and piano skills, The Bakersfield Little Big Band was formed. Band members not yet mentioned are: Mickey Murray, trumpet; Brett Clausen, tenor sax; Jeff Adray, guitar; Alejandro Arvisu, trumpet; Danny Lopez, drums; and Josh Faria, bass.
The last surprise came in their final tune, "In The Mood," when all musicians from earlier sets and other bands were invited to the stage with their instruments to play in full-out participation, and join in on the last tune--The Bakersfield Little Big Band was on a roll, and everyone was welcome to join in!