Big bands plan merger

The Weekly Vista - - Front Page - LYNN ATKINS latkins@nwadg.com

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.

Photo sub­mit­ted

The JM Band and the Bella Vista Big Band plan to merge and in­tro­duce a new name this month.

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