The big-band sound that thrilled what Tom Brokaw termed the Greatest Generation is alive and well and coming to the Performing Arts Center at Rio Rancho High School on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m.
Although the big-band leaders from 70 years ago are long gone — and with them, a large percentage of that generation — the music they loved dearly still sounds the same. Groups like the Harry James Orchestra, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Woody Herman Orchestra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra are still touring.
And if you’re “In the Mood,” you’ve got an opportunity to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra right here in the City of Vision.
During the two years Albuquerque native Lee Taylor toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, he remembers only two concert dates in New Mexico.
“There were three guys from New Mexico (in the orchestra) at the same time,” he said. “They called us the New Mexico connection.”
He remembers dates in Las Cruces and Alamogordo.
Next week, the tour has three stops in the Land of Enchantment, one of which is at the PAC, followed by Artesia (Feb. 20) and Alto (11 miles southwest of Capitan; Feb. 23).
Taylor, a member of the Class of 1985 at Manzano High School and graduate of the University of New Mexico, plans to be there.
Music is still his life: he teaches music at Baum’s Music in Albuquerque, is a member of the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra and occasionally fills in for touring groups — he’s played in bands backing the Temptations, Four Tops and O’Jays, to name a few.
“Back in the day,” Taylor said, he thought someday he’d be a professional skateboarder. He liked the music of Johnny Cash and, because a friend’s parents “had tons of big-band records,” listened to him and gained an appreciation of that type of music.
The family moved to Springfield, Mo., when he was in first grade. He started taking violin lessons three years later, and switched to saxophone when he was in fifth grade.
When he was in middle school, the family returned to Albuquerque.
The hectic schedule of a high school marching band precluded making baseball practice, so music it was.
His two-year stint with the Glenn Miller Orchestra came in 1990 after he received an invitation to join the group in New York City. (It’s a convoluted tale; let’s say he was in the right place at the right time when a sax player was leaving.)
Taylor learned to love traveling, for a while, anyway — 50 weeks out of the year, with an annual tour of Japan and even stints on cruise ships.
“All one-nighters,” he said of the itinerary, which saw the band playing in venues ranging from high school gyms and VFW halls to the Hollywood Bowl.
The cruise ship stint is where he battled seasickness; Taylor said the ship was exiting the Panama Canal and encountered what he estimated were 30-foot swells.
“Everybody got sick. I missed the gig — it was the worst I ever felt in my life,” he recalled. “I was sleeping backstage on the floor. By sunrise, it had calmed down, but I felt like I had been beat up.”
As much fun as he had playing in the orchestra — Taylor fondly recalled his sax solo in “String of Pearls” — life on the road got old. He later got married and the couple had a daughter, who’s just 4 but already learning to play the piano.
Six months after he left, he was asked to fill in for a date for the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the UNM SUB Ballroom. He’s since seen the orchestra play New Mexico dates at Popejoy Hall and Del Norte High School, and he’s looking forward to visiting the PAC.
Asked what he can usually be found listening to — be surprised — Taylor replied, “ESPN radio.” But he said he also likes jazz (John Coltrane and Miles Davis are his favorites), “but just as likely, classical.”
Jazz, classical and big-band music can be described as timeless.
“People connect to music when they were teenagers,” Taylor said. “You listen to new stuff, hopefully, but you always listen to stuff when you were young. The Glenn Miller Orchestra is nostalgic, and it’s good to expose today’s kids …
The bottom line: “It’s great music — that music does live on,” Taylor said.
Tickets are going fast and cost $28 for adults, $20 for students and senior citizens. They are available at Joe’s Pasta House, online at rrps.net or by calling 967-6614.
The benefit concert was organized by the RRHS band boosters to support their organization and students in the school’s music programs.chool.