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BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland

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Every Friday night, The Birdland Big Band is on hand to give the people what they want.

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland

In a few hours the Birdland Big Band orchestra will step up onto the stage of the legendary jazz club for the second time in nearly two years. This is where they have been, every week, for over two decades, and their time in quarantine, navigating the show business shut down, being unable to meet for their usual performances and their devoted fans, wasn't just rough on them - it was rough on the fans.

From my second-row seat at Birdland last Friday night, I was given two shows for the price of one. I had the great good fortune to be seated House Right, rather than dead center, for the return of the Birdland Big Band, and though my primary goal of the evening was to watch and to listen to the BBB, I have a confession to make: I never watch only the show on the stage... I love to watch the audience, as well. The people at their tables in the Birdland Big Room all maintained expressions of absolute, almost relieved, bliss for the entirety of the seventy-five minute show. Men, women, younger, older, caucasian or colorful, people of every possible demographic filled that room, and those people could be seen to smile, maybe to close their eyes and float away on the music, possibly swaying in their seats, perhaps mouthing the words of a famous song, and once or twice, at the mention of a particular composer or composition, certain members of the audience could be heard to call out in appreciation. They missed the Birdland Big Band, and badly, and after my hour-fifteen with them, I can see why.

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland Big Band is a particular niche of the jazz genre, one that not everybody might be quite apt to lean into, though this writer can't imagine why not because, for me, big band is nothing but joy, and in the hands of the sixteen musicians (and one very special guest vocalist), joy was the order of the day as they ran the gamut from Charlie Parker to Oliver Nelson to a couple of tunes by Mark Miller, each time to outstanding results. The quality of the music cannot be disputed, and the fact of the matter is that, even though Big Band is so specific a "sound" (or so the general public might think), it isn't so specific that it can't be enjoyed by absolutely anybody who might happen to be passing by on 44th Street and say, "Hey, it's Birdland. Let's go in and see what's playing right now, at this very minute." These fifteen men and one woman (something in that math doesn't quite sit right with me) are not only supremely dedicated to their musical artistry and the sound that they make, they are also dedicated to one another. During each and every solo that took place during the hour-plus set, the musicians who were not actively engaged in the playing of their instruments turned their eyes to their colleague in the spotlight - and if the soloist was behind them and couldn't be seen without rubber necking, they closed their eyes, they listened to the musical dialog that was taking place, sometimes even doing a little head conducting or chair dancing. The band members don't just listen to each other, they listen with intent, and that's one of the reasons they are so doggone good. They are also having fun, which is another element to the success of the band - it is patently clear, the depth of their commitment to the music, to the band, to their craft... this ain't no day job that they have to get to, this is a place of honor and respect that they get to go to, and when they get there, they're there to the deepest place of their being.

One would think that the mere presence of the BBB would be enough to make one of their Friday night shows something to put on the calendar, but for their first night back they invited a guest vocalist - maybe this is something they do every week, but this being my first night out with the band, I wasn't prepared for the excitement I would feel when the bandleader (the wonderful David DeJesus) introduced Nicole Zuraitis into the mix... a great party just got better.

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland Nicole Zuraitis is one of the great jazz vocalists of the moment. She's been around a little while and, the universe willing, she will be around for the long haul because this is one special talent. A singer-songwriter capable of any musical genre, Ms. Zuraitis specializes in jazz and can be found, regularly, playing her piano and singing songs of her own and songs we all know and love - on Friday last, it wasn't just songs we know and love, it was arrangements we know and love, as was immediately evident when the band started her first number and every person in the know thought, "It's the Ella Fitzgerald 'Too Darn Hot' and it's going to wonderful." And it was. It's very important to do new things, to introduce an audience to a new song, a new sound, a new arrangement, it really is important. It is also important to give them something they know, especially in a brand of music that leans into the vintage. Big Band stretches back over many years, decades, eras, and when you are sitting in a club listening to a magnificent orchestra and a world-class vocalist and the realization comes upon you that they are about to sing the Anita O'Day "Avalon" or the Diane Schurr "We'll Be Together Again" you become part of the proceedings, you become a member of the team, on the playground, enjoying the game together. And in the hands of Nicole Zuraitis, the team isn't just going to win the game, the team is going to triumph; this is a voice (and a woman) for the ages - hopefully she sings with the Birdland Big Band on a regular basis... and it's going to be fun showing up on Friday nights to see just who the vocalist will be, sort of like a big band Easter egg.

Whoever the Birdland Big Band has standing at the vocalist mic, there can be no denying that their twenty-one-year residency is one that has been well earned and one that should, at all costs, be maintained for as long as is humanly possible. The only - the one and only - variable in the Birdland/Big Band/Friday nights equation is whether or not YOU, dear reader, will benefit from their artistry. If you are a fan of the genre, chances are you already have; if you are not a fan of Big Band, though, it's time you tested the water, and Friday nights at Birdland is the best place to get wet.

The Birdland Big Band plays Friday nights at Birdland at 5 pm. For information and tickets visit the Birdland website HERE.

Visit the Nicole Zuraitis website HERE.

Birdland Big Band Personnel for 9/10:

Saxophones -

David DeJesus

Nathan Childers

Sam Dillon

Michael Thomas

Frank Basile

Trombones -

Sara Jacovino

James Burton

Robert Edwards

James Borowski

Trumpets -

John Walsh

Raul Agraz

Brandon Lee

Glenn Drewes

Piano - Kenny Ascher

Bass - Ugonna Okegwo

Drums - Chris Smith

Vocals - Nicole Zuraitis

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland
David DeJesus

BWW Review: Big Smiles As Big Band Returns To Birdland Photos by Stephen Mosher


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