Big Bands Swing Back Into Style
by Don Freeman
Dan Terry grew up in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Kingston, which is not far from Wilkes-Barre, in an area that once spawned any number of celebrated big-band leaders. Here’s a few that come to mind: Les Brown, Russ Morgan, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey. As a kid, Dan, a student of the trumpet, was crazy about the bands.
“I was in my early teens, small and skinny,” Dan says, “and one night I went over to the ballroom at Fernbrook Park where Bunny Berigan’s band was playing a one-nighter. I’d carry in instruments to get in free. Well, I was hauling in some drums, struggling along, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It’s Bunny Berigan himself. He says, ‘Drop it, kid. It’s too heavy. Carry my horn instead.’
I carried his horn and spent the night admiring Bunny’s sound, which was like honey dripping from his trumpet. He became my hero. He’s gone now but he still is my hero.”
Jazz buffs – along with Dan – also remember Bunny Berigan for the way he sang (and played) the Vernon Duke-Ira Gershwin evergreen “I Can’t Get Started,” one of the most recorded of all ballads.
And now we have Dan Terry and his powerhouse 20-piece swing band, known as the Horns of San Diego, playing for the next 12 Sundays (from 6 to 10 p.m.) in the Hotel del Coronado’s Crown Room. The band opened its engagement last Sunday night to a packed house of dancers and listeners.
I thought it was terrific. First, there’s the band itself with its swinging musicality and its great jazz feeling, and also the unusual mix of Count Basie tunes and Glenn Miller tunes (and even Stan Kenton tunes), all with a fresh approach from younger musicians – and a desire to please the dancers as well as the listeners.
What’s more, here was a successful return to a practice once common in hotels and ballrooms across the country, namely the remote broadcast.
With Rod Page as host-announcer, setting the scene with a tremendous affection for the music and the milieu, the broadcast was aired live on KSDS (88.7 FM), the San Diego City College station hailed by its boosters as the only true jazz station in town.
The KSDS signal has now acquired added muscle for those who subscribe to Cox Cable, which supplies a gadget for such purposes. Thus we have cable radio on the broadcasts scheduled Sunday nights from 8 to 9.
I’m hoping there will be a repeat of Bill Yaeger’s memorable trombone solo on “Over the Rainbow” and more vocals by Laurie Johnson, a very musical singer formerly with Les Brown.
Now a word about Dan Terry: The man’s been around the block. A graduate of the University of the Pacific (where Dave Brubeck was a classmate), Dan has performed in concert with Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday.
Just touching some highlights here, Dan led the house band at Birdland and played in the Carnegie Hall tribute to Charlie Parker. He composed and arranged the music for a sequence in the movie “The Manchurian Candidate.” He has orchestrated for Sinatra. He worked on 12 albums for Jackie Gleason.
Speaking of Gleason: “Remember the party scene in ‘The Hustler’? That was my band, my compositions, my arrangements.”
If you recall, “The Hustler” was a character study on the subject of shooting pool and, in addition to Gleason, it starred Paul Newman and George C. Scott.
“Did you shoot pool with them?” I asked.
“Sure,’ Dan says. “We played a little 8-ball – Gleason, Newman, Willie Mosconi, the great champion – and me. We’re all pretty fair with a cue. Gleason was beautiful, the way he moved around the table with such grace for a large man.”
Dan smiled in remembrance. “It was a thrill shooting pool with those people. Just as it was a thrill so long ago, as a kid carrying Bunny Berigan’s horn and then listening to his sound of honey.”