Blues and jazz gave birth to swing music, and Colorado played a role in that development. The music was nurtured in the state by Glenn Miller, who began his musical exploration in Fort Morgan, as well as when Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington performed at Elitch Gardens and the Rainbow Music Hall from the 1930s until the 1960s.
Swing music never really disappeared from the state, but as the years continued, it became less and less popular. For some though, the love only got stronger: In 2014, a group of Colorado musicians formed The Flatirons Jazz Orchestra to keep music lovers swinging.
Orvel Ray Wilson, who goes by the nickname “Sticks,” is the drummer who founded the band with singer Deborah Stafford. Wilson said it all began during an open mic night he co-hosted with a guitar player and a bass player at a little nightclub in Longmont.
Over the 60 weeks they hosted the events, they gathered contact information from each musician that played.
“We realized, ‘Wow, we've got a couple hundred names here,’” Wilson said. “We sent out an email, said ‘We're starting this new project, and our first rehearsal will be on January 11 at this little music school in the back of a retail strip mall in Longmont.’ And 11 people showed up. And that was the start.”
Deborah Stafford was in the Boulder Big Band with Wilson when they branched out to start the Flatirons Jazz Orchestra. She says while the Flatirons Jazz Orchestra keeps her busy, it’s still enjoyable.
“It's really fun. Having that many instruments in back of you is just really powerful,” Stafford said. “You have to have a strong voice to be able to do that. But, yeah, I've been doing it for 23 years now, so yeah. I've figured out how to sing with the big band.”
Patty Shaw, the only other female member of the band, plays lead alto saxophone. For nearly 40 years, she was a radiology tech. But now that she has retired, she plays music full-time.
“So I'm finally doing what I really love and enjoy,” Shaw said. “It's lively. It makes me always in a good mood and our band is like a family. We all really love one another and care about each other and we have fun making music together.”
Recruited to join the band in 2016, Doug Rasmussen now also serves as the musical director.
“My own personal history is I've kind of lived a big band life. I fell in love with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman in sixth grade. I got a degree in saxophone performance, and I moved to Seattle and I got into the Fred Radke Band,” Rasmussen said. “Fred Radke was an alum of the Harry James band. So I got to play with some of the swinger of folks before they passed in the early ‘80s. And I've always loved big bands and I've been playing in big bands since junior high.”
A major point of pride for the band is authenticity. Wilson says they do deep research to keep their music sounding just as it was meant to when swing was king.
“These charts are all tightly arranged, five saxes, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, guitar, drums, and a singer. And we strive to recreate the original sound of the original artist.” Wilson said.
“We try to track down the original charts that match the original recordings made by those artists and cover those as closely as we can,” Wilson said.
The band also uses arrangements done by one of the founders of the band, tenor sax player Stan Persk, and a few new charts by Rasmussen himself.
”I did an arrangement of the Jackson 5's “I'll Be There.” So we'll see how that goes.” Rasmussen said with a laugh. “We do focus on kind of the 40s thing, but try to keep that style. The whole goal is to keep people dancing. And that's the one of the real strengths of this band is that we go right from song to song to song. People don't have a chance to leave the dance floor and then they all leave happy.”
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