Thompson D'earth Band
The Charlottesville-based Thompson D'earth Band's sound pivots on the bright precision of John D'earth's trumpet and the elliptical poetics of his wife Dawn Thompson's lyrics. "We try to play each song differently every time," D'earth says. "The openness of Dawn's lyrics makes that possible."
The band has been evolving since forming in the New York loft scene of the late 1970's. The lineup can compress into a post-bop sextet or expand into a big band, if enough brass is available. The balance of creativity and coherence is essential. "Free [unplanned, improvised] music should sound composed," D'earth says. "And composed music should sound free."
Swiss Swank Account
Another summer replacement, Swiss Swank Account, is essentially the Devil's Workshop reconfigured as a swing band. The group was originally assembled to provide retro entertainment for a wild VCU concept party, reforming occasionally when a customer wanted to hear classic big band charts.
Onetime DWBB trombonist and fulltime Henrico High School geometry teacher Pete Anderson is making the band a going concern for frankly mercenary reasons. "It's fun to play, but the guys in the band want to make money, and the only place that you can do that with this large a group is wedding work."
The Bogart's gig is promotion an investment in reputation-building that will result in more lucrative gigs. The typically Richmond recombinant lineup includes Devil's keyboardist Daniel Clarke and saxophonist J.C., Kuhl, who are also regular members of the Thompson D'earth band.
"We've got enough songs together to do a three-set show," Anderson says. "Finding arrangements for a band this size isn't easy. I've gone back to the 1930's Count Basie stuff and early Duke on the original Decca recordings. I find something great and start transcribing."
Upper East Side Big Band
Later music in the same tradition, notably the highly evolved arrangements of "New Testament" Basie, are the model for the Upper East Side Big Band. Drawn from the current generation of VCU players, in part inspired by their still-youthful Devil's Workshop elders, the young musicians render the half-century old charts with undiluted energy.
The band is named for its home base, the Upper East Side Jazz Lounge and Sports Bar, a funky North Side venue with mirrors and glitzy lighting left over its earlier incarnation as a strip club. Alto sax player Samson Trinh, whose family owns the club, is the prime mover behind both the band and the venue. "It's a fantasy come true," he says. "And it's all because of this place."
Trinh's hero and model is VCU music professor Doug Richards. The Devil's Workshop and Swiss Swank Account are direct spin-offs of his VCU jazz ensemble. And D'earth has a long association with Richards' Great American Musical Ensemble. "We're all from the school of Doug," Trinh says.
Trinh models his leadership on Richards, taking the trombone section repeatedly through key passages until the timing and textures are polished. It's meticulous work, but in concert the lines will spin out with effortless assurance. "Rehearsing is the magic," Trinh says. "Sometimes the actual performance is secondary." S
Big band performances coming up: Thompson D'earth Band plays Bogart's July 5, 26 and Aug. 2. The Swiss Swank Account plays Bogart's July 12. The Upper East Side Big Band plays the Upper East Side Jazz Lounge and Sports Bar July 19. The Devil's Workshop returns in mid-August.
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