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​ Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra salutes ‘Hard-Driving’ swing bands

The Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra will pay tribute to the legendary traveling swing bands in a twilight concert entitled “Hard-Driving Swing” on Tuesday, January 22 at 7 p.m., at the Petroleum Club, 100 N. Broadway. Photo by Wendy Mutz


By Darla Shelden

Contributing Writer


On Tuesday, January 22, the Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra (OKCJO) will present a concert celebrating the big band sound of a by gone era. OKCJO will pay tribute to legendary traveling swing bands in a twilight concert entitled “Hard-Driving Swing” beginning at 7 p.m., from the Chase Building’s penthouse-level Petroleum Club, 100 N. Broadway.


“‘Hard Driving’ might refer to the ridiculous number of daily miles logged on a bus by the bands of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Count Basie and others,” said John Allen, the ensemble’s music director. Allen is also principal trombonist with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and with the Breckenridge Festival Orchestra. “Or it might refer to the spirit of those tireless leaders and their sidemen that was never quashed despite the endless miles and constant pressures of life on the road.”


The 17-member Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra performs big band jazz arrangements featuring the state’s top jazz musicians, which includes members of local bands, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and professors from six universities.


The ensemble includes saxophones Brian Gorrell, Chris Hicks, Heath Jones, Jared Cathey and Gordon Lizama; trumpets Kirk Palmer, Jay Wilkinson, Karl Sievers and Michael Anderson; trombones Eric Leonard, Paul Compton, John Allen and Zac Lee; and a rhythm section of Cory Gavito, piano; Mitch Bell, guitar; Larry Moore, bass; and Justin Walke on drums.


Director of Jazz Studies at the UCO Jazz Lab, a division of the University of Central Oklahoma School of Music, Gorrell is a former pianist for the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. He also manages operation of the Jazz Lab Recording Studio, serves as Graduate Advisor for the Master of Music in Jazz and teaches several classes including Applied Saxophone, Jazz Ensemble I, Jazz Theory & Analysis and Jazz Piano.


“I’ve been playing lead alto with the OKC Jazz Orchestra since its reintroduction in 2009,” said Gorrell. “There was an ‘OKC Jazz Orchestra’ in the 1980’s, and I had the opportunity as a college student to sub and play 2nd alto sax next to the late, great Joe Davis on lead alto several times.  The band basically stopped giving concerts in the early 90’s and wasn’t to be heard from again until we started it up in 2009.”


Gorrell added, “Jazz is America’s only original contribution to the musical arts, and is thriving throughout the world.   In jazz, musicians come together to create something great as an ensemble, but the improvised solos offer the opportunity for each individual to also stand up and tell their own story.”


On a trip with the University of Central Oklahoma’s Jazz Ensemble 1 to perform at the 2010 Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia Italy, Gorrell recalls, “We expected, being a collegiate jazz ensemble from Oklahoma, to be stuck at the end of some alley. Instead, they had us performing on a Friday night in the main town square to a crowd that easily numbered 10,000 plus.  The response from the audience was truly an affirmation on the highest level. They wouldn’t let us stop playing – cheering and demanding multiple encores.”


“There are thousands of incredible jazz artists constantly pushing the music in many new exciting ways today,” said Gorrell. “There is right now a resurgence of the ‘big band’ in New York City and other major jazz hubs in the past 2-3 years. Jazz is a musical representation of the best attributes of American Democracy.”


The 2012-13 OKC Jazz Orchestra concert season will conclude with an April 1 concert at the Petroleum Club.


Michael Anderson, OKCJO General Manager said, “The Petroleum Club is an excellent venue for the Jazz Orchestra. The vibe in the room goes along great with a nighttime jazz concert. It is intimate and we feel the audience when playing there because they are close to us like in a smaller jazz club. From the beginning, we wanted this band to be Oklahoma City’s Jazz Orchestra and felt that downtown is where we should play our concerts. It has worked out well.”


Seating is cabaret-style and tickets are $20 for adults, $5 for students with ID. An optional $20 buffet dinner is available beginning at 6 p.m. For reservations visit or call 405.488.5749.

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