Tradition of originality

FRIDAY, JULY 4, 2014

Spokane Jazz Orchestra puts unconventional spin on standards for July 4 show

It’s been the thrust of countless conversations for months now: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Expo ’74 in Spokane.

But it’s also very close to the 40th anniversary of another regional institution, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra, which was founded as a nonprofit arts organization in 1975 and is the oldest community-supported big band in America, said conductor Tom Molter.

“Some of the musicians that have played in the band were actually playing at Expo ’74,” Molter said.

It’s become a Fourth of July tradition: Every year the Spokane Jazz Orchestra performs its version of a pops concert, playing original interpretations of rock, funk and R&B favorites up until the fireworks go off in Riverfront Park.

In keeping with the theme of Expo ’74, most of the songs on this year’s roster will be from the 1970s – hits from bands like Chicago, Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, and Earth, Wind and Fire – although there are some more contemporary songs in the mix, too – Michael Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet,” for example, and Pharrell Williams’ omnipresent “Happy.”

The band will also be accompanied by two guest vocalists: tenor Jon Brownell and Patrice Thompson, the lead singer of local R&B group Soul Proprietor.

But these aren’t just carbon copies of songs you’ve heard countless times on the radio: They’re reworked and jazzed up, designed to showcase the talents of the band.

“We feature the really fine musicians in the band playing improvised solos,” Molter said. “We’ll take a song like ‘Mustang Sally’ or ‘Don’t Change Horses’ by Tower of Power … and we’ll find a place where we can feature somebody playing a solo. In the jazz world, we call that opening up the section.”

If you already have Independence Day plans, not to worry: The Spokane Jazz Orchestra will be performing much of the same material again on Thursday at Audubon Park on the 2900 block of West Northwest Boulevard at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s kind of a treat for the community,” Molter said. “We treat them to songs from the great horn bands or artists that featured a horn section in their music.”

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