Big bands plan merger
Music in Bella Vista is about to change again. On Oct. 14, a new big band will debut at Simple Pleasures, the latest incarnation of a band that started in 1989.
The Bella Vista Big Band once played free concerts at Riordan Hall on a regular basis. They played at two presidential inaugural balls for the Clintons. In 1992, bandleader Jack Mitchell took over the Bella Vista Band.
He was a talented drummer, said Ron Thurston, now leader of the JM band — a recent incarnation of the same big band. In 1998, Mitchell proposed a new direction for the band. At first, the band’s board approved of his plan but, for some reason, it changed its mind and Mitchell left the Bella Vista Big Band to form the Jack Mitchell Band.
The Bella Vista Big Band rebuilt and the Jack Mitchell Band was very successful, Thurston said.
When Mitchell moved away in 2008, he asked Thurston to take over the band, which is organized as a nonprofit. He agreed. Mitchell died in 2011, but Thurston chose not to change the band’s name. He shortened it to the JM Band instead.
Now it’s time, he said. Both the Bella Vista Big Band and the Jack Mitchell Band will dissolve and a new entity will emerge to replace them. At their debut event, the new name will be announced.
The two bands have always shared musicians, Thurston said. Some musicians also play in the Bella Vista Concert Band. The Bella Vista Concert Band plays concerts in Blowing Springs Park each summer and is not involved in the big band merger. The Concert Band plays a different kind of music. While the Big Bands play music that can be danced to, the Concert Band plays just for listening, Thurston said.
Wikipedia defines a big band as “a type of musical ensemble that usually consists of 10 or more musicians with four sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section.”
The JM Band has four trombones, five saxophones, four trumpets, and a rhythm section that includes a guitar, a base, a keyboard and drums. There’s also a singer.
Thurston also manages the JM Combo, when a smaller band is more appropriate. Up to eight musicians play together as the Combo.
The JM Band plays a lot of “swing,” Thurston said. He doesn’t like to use the term “jazz” because people don’t understand exactly what that means, but big bands do play jazz, as well as “jump, jive and swing.”
“You have to give the customers what they want,” he said. But, while they try to embrace changes in musical taste, they probably won’t ever play country — except for one Texas two-step song.
While the group is nonprofit, the musicians are paid enough to cover their expenses, Thurston said. They practice once a week on his property in a structure they call the “Jazz Barn.” All of his musicians can read music, he said, that’s a requirement. Although he knows lots of great musicians who learned without reading music.
The band is always looking for substitutes. They will welcome a musician of any age and have had high school students play in the past, he said. Contact the band through its web page, www. jmbandnwa.com.
The JM Band and the Bella Vista Big Band plan to merge and introduce a new name this month.