Jazz-rock horn bands-typified by powerhouses such as Chicago, Blood, Sweet and Tears, Chase, Tower of Power, Don Ellis Orchestra, Buddy Rich and His Big Band, among others-reached their chartbusting zenith during the early 1970s. While they faded in popularity, they always maintained a fan base.
Perhaps for certain babyboomers like me, there was that exciting fusion of cool and brash jazz, hard rock and blues with cool roots going back to the early swing bands of the 1920s. That same excitement, I believe, is being rediscovered by a younger generation weaned on hip-hop nihilism, repetitive rock, and the lack of pop in 21st century America. You can hear the music again.
After decades of languishing in the shadows, the big sound of the classic jazz-rock horn band appears to be making a slow recovery.
Enter Satin and Steel-Vermont's contribution to the brassy revival. This band has paid its dues and deserves a high five for sticking to core principles-it was founded back in 1971 when BS&T, Chicago and others were taking jazz-rock fusion to new levels.
This writer agrees 100 percent with Dick Nordmeyer, Castleton Summer Concert on the Green's tireless volunteer promoter; he claims that Satin and Steel is synonymous with "wow". Amen! This local nine-piece band has to be heard to be believed. If you've never stood in front of a swingin'-ok, mea culpa, rockin'-horn band, you don't know what you've been missing. Having personally seen international wonders like BS&T and Chicago perform live back in the '70s, I am sincere when I say these guys really have the chops but with feet planted firmly in 2010.
On "Moon Day", Tuesday, July 20, at 7 p.m., you can experience Satin and Steel for yourself-live and free; the band promises to be one of the highpoints of the 2010 Castleton concert series.
Any warm summer Tuesday evening through Aug. 17 is worth a visit to Castleton Green to enjoy a variety of musical performers for the whole family-from folk and rock to jazz and standard vocals, all kinds of bands are showcased during this annual series that offers the best of urban and rural sounds.
Satin and Steel keyboardist Brad Morgan told the Outlook that the horn band has a long history dating back to 1971. He joined S&S shortly after, in 1973.
The band originated with three men and two women and several of the original band members fondly remember early gigs at the Cortina Inn in Mendon. But time marched on.
"People drifted away and new members joined," Morgan said. "The band drifted apart but then regrouped 15 years ago."
Satin and Steel first emerged with Billy Comstock; its name was evocative of the male and female members at its founding, but the name still stands for the band's silky blend of swing, jazz, blues, and rock. Most band members are jazz enthusiasts although rock and roll has always been a solid part of the band's heritage.
Curiously, there is newed interest in horn bands, according to Morgan, but big bands are expensive to organize and tour which seems to hold back the genre's fullblown eruption. While electronic keyboards can recreate (more like approximate) horns in a studio today, they remain but a pale imitation to hardcore fans.
"There isn't enough work for horn bands in these parts," Morgan said. "That's why several of our musicians are music teachers; they play their passions on weekends and at private parties. Many also play in other bands."
Morgan said S&S has had few substitute players over the years.
"A couple of guys may fill in from time to time, but if we are missing two individuals, we won't take the job," he said
Satin and Steel's unique horn section is integral to the band's sophisticated arrangements. In short, there's no other band like it in Vermont.
"We practice several times every month, more so in the summer," according to Morgan. The core group of band members practice together and have remained friends through thick and thin.
"People ask us about producing a CD. Well, we just haven't planned to get into a studio. There's no timetable," Morgan added.
While the band has a sampler CD with snippets of several original songs-such as "Make Your Move" which was scored for the David Giancola action-adventure film "Diamond Run" shot in Rutland County-there's just isn't much of an audio trail left for fans (and posterity) by the band, which is a shame.
A significant band milestone happend this year with the passing of veteran member Jack Phipps. Phipps died unexpectedly in February. It left the band reeling. Morgan joined the band when it regrouped 15 years ago. The band eventually moved on and is as strong and vibrant as ever. But it hasn't forgotten Phipps' creative spirit.
The list of next week's Castleton concert sponsors is far too long to publish here, but their underwriting is to be lauded.
Nordmeyer said, "Satin and Steel members have been long-term residents at Castleton which explains why they are back by popular demand. They're energetic, outstanding, and present an exciting show and their fantastic sound has to be heard. If you're good, prove it... they do." Satin and Steel know how to keep the customer satisfied.
As it is performs now, the Vermont band includes five horns-two trumpets, two saxophones, and a trombone while the band's equally talented four-piece rhythm section serves up the underlying signature.
Here's the lineup for July 20: Rob Henrichon (guitar), Brad Morgan (keyboard), and Bill Comstock (saxophone), Tom Boise (drums), Brian Hobbs (bass), Peter Giancola (saxophone), Bear Irwin (trombone), and Dave McKenzie (trumpet).
Again, the concert is free and open to the public rain or shine. If it rains, head for the tent on the green or the Casella Theater located in the Fine Arts Center on the campus of Castleton State College.
Check It Out: Rutland-based Satin and Steel performs July 20, 7 p.m., at the Castleton Summer Concert on the Green. On July 29, the band plays on the waterfront in Colchester, then on to Granville, N.Y., Aug. 5. The boys return to Rutland City Park, Aug. 18, for their final public performance. For the remainder of the summer, the band will play several private parties. For more details, contact Brad Morgan at 802-345-5511.