[NoHo Arts District, CA] – The Big Band Alumni transports us back to the 1940s with their monthly Sunday Sessions – a 17-piece orchestra with two vocalists considered the premier big band in Southern California!
Jack Redmond served as lead Trombonist for the Les Brown band for 30 years and did six tours of Vietnam as part of the legendary Bob Hope USO shows. Lead Trumpet player John Thomas spent time with the Count Basie and Woody Herman Bands, and worked with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams. Baritone Sax player Larry Dougherty worked with Glenn Miller, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Alvino Rey, and several other groups. Other members have worked with such artists as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Elvis Presley, and Lady Gaga.
This historic band has inaugurated a new monthly Sunday afternoon performance series in a very historic place – Hollywood American Legion Post 43, just south of the Hollywood Bowl on Highland.
Once a month from 2pm to 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, fans are transported to the classic Los Angeles nightclubs of yesteryear where they can dance, or just sit and enjoy the sounds that defined the 1940s and ’50s. In addition to classic Swing and Jazz instrumentals, vocalists Bill A Jones and Nancy Osborne perform the standards made famous by Sinatra, Dean, Darin, Ella, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and more – all in the room where stars like Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan, and Gene Autry rubbed elbows.
“Getting to hear a Full 17-piece big band with the original arrangements that Sinatra used – well, there’s nothing like it,” emcee and male vocalist Bill A. Jones said.
The goal in time is to create an L.A. equivalent of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall that tourists and locals will flock to – but instead of saluting Dixieland, spotlighting mid-century big band Jazz, swing, and traditional vocal pop standards – always with danceable tempos.
The Alumni was formed in 1999 by musicians who spent time with the original ‘name’ bands, such as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Count Basie, and The Les Brown Band of Renown. In years past, the band has played at the Academy Award Governor’s Ball, The Reagan Library, and opened for Tony Bennett at the Beverly Hilton. Even the vocalists have worked with famous bands: Jones with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and Grammy Award-nominated Nancy Osborne with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Ray Anthony, and The Tex Beneke Band.
A list of distinguished past Alumni reads like a musical Who’s Who.
Dave Pell was a noted Tenor Sax sideman with Les Brown before he became the ‘architect’ of West Coast Jazz in the 1950s with his Dave Pell Octet, and later became a record producer with several million sellers to his credit. Jack Feierman played Trumpet with The Count Basie Band, and worked as a Conductor for many great artists, including Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams, and was Musical Director for Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme for 27 years. Percussionist Frankie Capp worked with the Stan Kenton, Billy May, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Barnet bands, and backed such singers as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, and Chet Baker. Randy Van Horne, whose vocal group sang the unforgettable Flintstones and Jetsons theme songs, was an early leader of the Band before he became ill and was replaced by drummer Johnny Vana.
Vana played drums and tap danced with the Horace Heidt Orchestra as a featured child performer, before becoming the full-time drummer for the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra at the age of 13. He would later go on to acclaim with many other big bands, and played on numerous record dates – including the iconic ‘Night Train.’
After taking on the leadership of the band, Johnny established a Tuesday morning rehearsal that was open to the public. Those rehearsals at a Mexican restaurant in Northridge would become legendary, with celebrity drop-ins and crowds gathering to listen and dance.
Newspaper and magazine articles, a documentary, and a Marconi Award-winning news segment from CBS’s Sylvia Lopez all profiled the Band over the years. Following the pandemic closure of Las Hadas Cantina, the band relocated its public rehearsals to the Canoga Park Elks Lodge most Tuesdays from 11am to 1pm.
After Vana’s passing in October 2019, new leadership from within the ranks of the band stepped forth to continue the Alumni legacy – a legacy that is alive and well. “This is a working band,” said Jones. “We just played two huge weddings in Montecito and Orange County, and a lady’s 100th birthday celebration.”
But those are private events, and most people are working Tuesday mornings.
So the band decided to partner with Hollywood Post 43 for a new Sunday afternoon series that allows long-time fans, as well as newcomers, a chance to experience the Alumni magic.
Just up the street from the tourist center of Hollywood and Highland with the distinctive cannon out front, Hollywood Post 43 is a Historic 1929 Egyptian Revival architectural treasure that is often used for film shoots. The bar in The Cabaret Room where the band plays is the bar from the movie “The Shining.” In addition to bar service, there are plans to later add food service – like The Cocoanut Grove, The Mocambo, Ciro’s and other classic nightclubs of yesteryear.
The next ‘Select Sunday’ shows are 2pm to 4pm on Sundays July 9th, August 13th, and September 10th, with subsequent shows every month.
Historic Hollywood American Legion Post 43 is at 2035 North Highland Avenue, just South of The Hollywood Bowl. Free overflow Parking is available across the street in the Hollywood Heritage Museum Lot. The Post is handicap accessible with an elevator, and Bar Service is Available.
Entrance fee is $20 Cash at the door, but free to Post 43 Members.
To confirm performance dates and times of the Sunday series, the Tuesday morning public rehearsals, booking information, and for more on the band, go to www.BigBandAlumni.com.