Pasadena Roof Orchestra
Date: Saturday, February 24 at 7pm
Location: Baum Walker Hall at Walton Arts Center
Swing is in. Top-name DJs are stocking up on old vinyl copies of the great big bands. Trendsetting clubs are vying to outdo each other with their swing and electro-swing nights – quite often involving the appropriate dress code. Superstar Robbie Williams has even recorded an album devoted to the genre.
The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, whose musicians have been employed by big stars such as Robbie Williams and even Bryan Ferry, is the band responsible for starting the revival. The dance orchestra, with its authentic 1920’s 1930’s feeling, technically brilliant delivery, rousing atmosphere, and utterly unique light-hearted musical style, makes it the ideal band to experience live in a theatre, or to dance the night away at a trendy party.
The ensemble has been in existence for going on 45 years, which is three times as long as the dance band era itself actually lasted. The band was formed in 1969, at a time when people were still hoping that the moon landing would succeed and were using the call-box on the street-corner to make their phone calls. It was in his attic that John Arthy, dance band enthusiast, and future founder of the PRO, discovered the over 1,000 arrangements from the 1920s and 1930s that were to become the ensemble’s musical treasure trove.
Over the following decades, the PRO earned itself a reputation for transporting this music forward into the present times in a fashion both fascinating and authentic: you could say they saved the music from its certain demise. If anyone may be allowed to claim that they not only play swing but actually live and breathe it, then it must be this eleven-piece band, whose current bandleader is the velvet-throated master crooner Duncan Galloway.
With their new album, Ladies and Gentlemen, the orchestra has come full circle. The new album was recorded at GAGA Studios in Hamburg, in exactly the same location as their aptly titled album The Show Must Go On, the great record they captured on tape there in 1977. We’re not talking about some nostalgia trip. This is a performance that is both thrilling and timeless and not just in terms of the repertoire, which happens to include such Cinemascope sound evergreens as Irving Berlin’s Puttin‘ on the Ritz, Cole Porter’s Let’s do it and Ray Noble’s Cherokee.
It is the quality of the music itself that stands out as timeless: as Duncan Galloway explains, “The great thing about 1920s and 1930s music is that it can be really complex, and still sound effortless. Listen, for example, to the arrangement on ‘White Jazz’. All of the musicians need to be equal masters of two different disciplines; they must be classically trained to give them an in-depth understanding of the sheet music as well as be excellent jazz musicians because there will always be 16 or 32-bar passages intentionally left open for improvisation. These disciplines are not easily combined, and it takes time to find musicians who are capable of performing to this level of expertise.”
With its inimitable and powerful - yet-delicate stage and recorded presence, the PRO is much more than just a mere orchestra. The PRO stands as a unique statement against the increasing trivialization of entertainment. It represents the high culture of lightness, a culture which it is not easy to ignore. “This is why we don’t worry about new blood”, concludes bandleader Duncan Galloway calmly, “We see it happening again and again at our concerts, young people come along with their parents and leave with a new favourite music genre. The next time we see them they are back in the audience with their friends, the light of pride shining in their eyes because they’re the ones who discovered us.”
If someday in the future, you decide to take your kids along to a spectacularly thrilling live concert with music from the 1920’s and 1930’s, there is one thing you can rely on: the Pasadena Roof Orchestra will always be there.
Official website: Pasadena Roof Orchestra