Big Band Jazz at the Liberty: The Atlanta Seventeen

  I had barely come down from the high provided by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s inspired Beethoven concert Saturday night at the Bill Heard Theater, when I was lifted right back up there by the Atlanta Seventeen Sunday night at the Liberty. The locale was appropriate, since the Liberty, back when it was a “colored” theater in old Jim Crow days, featured the great big bands of the 1930’s and 40’s like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The Atlanta Seventeen played some of the Basie arrangements during the concert.

  It was a totally different type of music from what we heard Saturday at the Bill Herd Theater, but that swinging big band had something important in common with the CSO: it was also inspired. 

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Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

  What’s more, it was exciting.  As the program states, “To experience this dynamic, well rehearsed ensemble in action is a delight for big band enthusiasts of all ages who identify with the kind of exceitemnt generated only by precision playing.” 

  I wish I could describe the way the music affected me, and judging by the thundering applause, everyone attending the Columbus Jazz Society sponsored concert, but it’s something that words just can’t convey. As the saying goes, “You had to be there.” And you really did, because there is no replacing the emotional impact of live music. As good as sound systems are, they still cannot match “being there.”

  While the band is made up mainly of Atlanta area professional and business types – one of its saxophonists is a dentist –  it has a large percentage of former high school and college band directors. Bob Greenhaw, who played with my late nephew Jack Gibson in the Columbus High Band, the teenage rock group “Abstracts,” and the Auburn Knights big band more than 40 years ago , is the leader.

  Greenhaw became a high school band director, teaching at Richards Middle School and than at Hardway High School in Columbus. He finished out his career as director of the music program at Valdosta State University.

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Bob Greenhaw, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

  When I spotted Paul VanderGheynst sitting on the second row, playing trombone, I thought the retired Columbus State University director of the school’s jazz music program had been brought in to fill in for a trombone player who couldn’t make the trip. Wrong. Though he still lives in Columbus, he is a regular member of the Atlanta Seventeen.  “If I want to play regularly I have to go to Atlanta, Dick. There is nothing here.”  Well, we do have the Cavaliers big band, but they don’t perform a lot.

  The current director of the CSU jazz program, which features an outstanding jazz big band, was sitting in for the Atlanta Seventeen’s pianist, who couldn’t make the trip.  Shirantha Beddage plays incredible jazz piano. He also specializes in saxophone.  He also brought some student musicians with him. They played jazz combo music during the jam session which featured local musicians during the Atlanta Seventeen’s break. He is also president of the Columbus Jazz Society, sponsor of this memorable concert at the LIberty Theater.

  The emcee and president of the Seventeen, Fritz Siler, also taught at Spencer High in Columbus.

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Fritz Siler, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

   Cecil Wilder taught at Rothchild Middle School and Kendrick High School.

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Cecil Wilder, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

 

   So, you can see that Columbus is well represented in this truly impressive big band.

  Having been a drummer for a couple of big bands many years ago, I always pay close attention to the drummer.  Tony McCuthcen, the Seventeen’s drummer, was truly impressive, especially when he played the late, great drummer Buddy Rich solos in the concert’s finale “Mexicali Nose.”  I figured he was probably another Atlanta businessman, but Stiler cleared that up for me. McCutchen is the director of percussion for the University of Georgia’s music program, which includes the more than 300-piece Red Coat Marching Band.    

  If you like jazz, I strongly recommend that you join the Columbus Jazz Society. It’s annual membership fees are reasonable, only $35 for an individual, $60 for a family, and $20 for seniors and students. For that you get to attend the monthly jazz sessions at the Liberty.  Believe me, if you like live jazz, you’ll enjoy these sessions. Also, it’s a friendly crowd. After all, they have something in common; they love music, especially when it is jazz.

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3 Responses to “Big Band Jazz at the Liberty: The Atlanta Seventeen”

  1. Ed White Says:

    Check out this website to see how the Georgia Bulldogs are going to win a National Championship in 2009. http://www.dontgodawgs.com

  2. randy Says:

    i am a drummer from texas and have played with eveything from a jazz trio to big band and all types of jazz and blues.want to get back into giging have played drums since 1956 and attended couple of stan kenton schools and worked out a little with shelly manne.anyone needing a drummer call me 6787766273…randy robins formerly a dj all over the us and sixteen years with capitol records.

  3. John Powell Says:

    Randy,

    Ever hear of punctuation? The drummers I know around
    Atlanta. have…

    Good luck.

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