Most communities are lucky if they have one regularly performing big band. Tallahassee is fortunate enough to have two. One of these will be giving a special performance this week at Florida State’s Ruby Diamond Concert Hall.
What’s usually considered the Golden Era of the American big band was the period between 1935 and 1945. That’s when the great groups under the batons of legendary leaders like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller toured every corner of the country while every radio station in the nation played their hits nonstop. Even the rock and roll explosion didn’t kill off the big band genre. Large groups of 16 musicians or more featuring horns and rhythm sections are still going strong. In Florida’s Capital City, there are two such ensembles in the community. One of them is the Thursday Night Music Club, so named because of its preferred evening of the week for band practice. Greg Akridge’s musical weapon of choice is the trombone.
"Yeah, the middle of every August we have a showcase concert," Akridge explained. "This is our 12th showcase, so we've been together as a band for 13 years, which is pretty awesome! The Tallahassee Swing Band is another local band and have been here for a long time. It's amazing that we're almost half their age, which is a total surprise to us. Both are great organizations. I've played with Tallahassee Swing in the past as well. I just enjoy playing that style of music."
Akridge said one impact of the rock revolution on bands like his was to greatly diversify its play list to encompass more than the old timey swing standards like “String of Pearls” and “Take the A Train.”
"We're going to play everything from Earth, Wind and Fire to Billy Joel to Doobie Brothers," he said. "This year we're premiering an arrangement by one of our guest conductors - or perhaps I should say guest clinician - who was a grad student at FSU, Tom Singletary who was with the Marching Chiefs. We've commissioned him to write a song for us. We're going to perform that at this show and it'll be the first time it's ever been played."
Akridge said there will be another original selection in this concert’s set list.
"We also have another really great guy in the band, Tom Longfellow, who's arranged a song that we'll be playing as well. Tom's done some arrangements for the band and we enjoy playing his charts as well."
Beyond that, Akridge declined to provide any more spoilers. But all of the tunes played by the Thursday Night Music Club are impeccably arranged and relentlessly rehearsed under the demanding direction of Florida State University Director of Bands, Dr. Patrick Dunnigan. Speaking of FSU, that’s where Akridge says this week’s big annual concert will happen in the school’s magnificent Ruby Diamond Concert Hall.
"It's a great hall, a great venue!" Akridge exclaimed. "I've always enjoyed playing in Ruby Diamond even as a student at FSU and before that in high school I played in Ruby Diamond. Of course since the renovation it's super to play in. We always look forward to this gig. This is our third year in Ruby Diamond. Each year we get more people in the hall. Turnout has been great in Ruby Diamond and we hope to keep that trend going."
And the Thursday Night Music Club’s performance will be - appropriately enough - this Thursday night. "August 15 and the doors open at 7:00 p.m. in Ruby Diamond Auditorium on the FSU campus," Akridge reiterated. "The band members are selling tickets and you can go to the Thursday Night Music Club Facebook page and we have them available for purchase online there. We're really looking forward to this concert!"
Who says the golden age of the big bands is over?