“Jazz seems to be cool again in Ventura County,” observed a recent article in the Ventura County Reporter. Local venues, including restaurants, service clubs, neighborhood bars, and area jazz clubs, were places to hear jazz played again. But jazz and big band music are nothing new for the Seniors of Note Big Band. The band, formed in Camarillo, California, 27 years ago has played under the leadership of Emily Vaniman since 1999. It’s thought to be the longest continuously playing band in the area. The band traveled about 90 minutes south to Canoga Park to entertain at the seasonal holiday highlight program of the Valley Jazz Club on December 2.
Originally founded as an all-senior musician big band over time that policy had to be relaxed to keep the band instrumentally balanced and move forward with top-notch players. Their renditions of well known, popular tunes were played with enthusiasm and power, strong on-beat punch and traditional big band sound that quickly perked-up my ears.
These guys and gals demonstrated their skills on tune after tune, honed to perfection through the mandatory full-on weekly practice sessions that leader Emily Vaniman insists upon. The instrumental ensemble harmonies were precise and beautiful for dancers to follow and listeners to enjoy. A number of solos served as enhancements and demonstrated individual playing skills. The very exacting, tight playing acted almost like another dimension that made for remarkable listening. Clearly, Emily’s rehearsal regimen produces results.
I particularly appreciate the Seniors of Note policy of announcing each tune just prior to playing it. This eliminates the distraction of trying to identify a very familiar tune that you really know, when your gray matter just isn’t cooperating. This helpful task was handled by band member Scott Yawger, standing at his chair in the trumpet section, who also provided other brief interesting information about each tune.
Other members of the trumpet section were: Doug Hardie, Ray Linaweaver, and Irv Weiss. Saxophone section: Emily Vaniman, director and alto; Claire Curry, alto; Steve Danchik, tenor; Russ Nestro, tenor; and Derek Povani, baritone. Trombone section: Dave Hickok, Dave Marx, Bob Merkle, and Jim Baldree. Rhythm section: Jerry Millstein, piano; Joe Costello, bass; Dick Hinson, guitar; and Larry Perpoli, drums. These fine musicians deserve mention for their excellent level of ensemble play. Thanks, Emily, for making it happen!
With the sounds of Santa and his reindeer anticipated to be tip-toeing on my roof in only three weeks, some Holiday Season tunes were expected and plentiful, mixed in with big band favorites in the two set extensive program.
Included were: “Winter Wonderland,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “The Color Blue,” and “It’s So Nice.” Vocals were all sung by Scott Yawger, again from the trumpet section, including “”White Christmas,” “Start Singin’ The Blues,” and “Christmas Day In The City,” Some of my favorites came at the end of the program, and included: “A Beautiful Friendship” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” a personal favorite.
The Seniors of Note accomplished their mission in impressive fashion, with a remarkable performance that brought enjoyment and entertainment to the audience, as well as themselves, judging by the post-concert reactions. This is what I consider an “honest love of music band,” originally formed for senior musicians just for the joy of playing and love of creating music and sharing it, not as a commercial enterprise. Director Emily Vaniman explained, “We started as a senior only group, but as members became ill or unable to drive, we have acquired some younger players.” Make no mistake about their level of playing and presentation, this was a skilled and enjoyable big band concert, with admirable playing and coordination —and with just a pinch of sugar added!