Big Band Grandstand returns Group keeps its music alive in wake of the pandemic

By Alex Gallagher

Now that the Big Band Grandstand has renewed its rehearsals, director Bob Waterworth is expanding his group’s reach to younger musicians.

He plans to create tutoring sessions for them.

“We’re making this group to help introduce younger people into an appreciation of the big band sound,” Waterworth says.

Waterworth says he hopes to project his enthusiasm about the music to the next generation of players.

“I’ve always had a passion for big band music,” Waterworth says. “My dad even played for Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey when they passed through Chicago.”

The tutoring program is scheduled to begin this fall for musicians 16 and older and has a few requirements.

“One of our main requirements is they must be able to sight-read,” Waterworth says. “They don’t have to be 100% proficient at it as long as they can get the majority of the notes. They should also have a couple of years of experience of playing in other bands under their belt.”

He requires this because there are two styles of music his band plays.

“Our big band does both big band jazz sound and the big band swing sound,” Waterworth says. “The main difference between the two is that the jazz is mainly for listening to, whereas swing music is for dancing.”

In the meantime, Waterworth has been getting his band back together after the pandemic sidelined it for several months.

“The pandemic virtually shut us down completely,” Waterworth says.

Because the Big Band Grandstand holds its practices at the Foothills Public Library, once libraries statewide closed their doors to the general public and stopped hosting events, Waterworth and his band had to find a new place to practice.

From there, Waterworth searched for new places to practice and found a few that worked until, eventually, cases of COVID-19 began to rise.

Waterworth then made the tough decision to suspend practices until further notice.

“A lot of our members are older, and we did not want to take the risk of spreading this around to anybody else,” Waterworth says.

Around Christmas 2020, Waterworth’s lead trumpet player, Joey Leyva, caught the virus and spent around 50 days in the hospital and three weeks with rehabilitation.

“It makes us glad that we shut down so that we did not pass this around to anybody else,” Waterworth says.

Waterworth is also proud to say all of his players have been vaccinated since the spring.

As for performances, Waterworth is still a little hesitant.

“If things turn back to the positive, we’re back at it,” Waterworth says. “We plan on having a concert by late September. So, that way, we can get some of our out-of-town musicians back.”

Since the band has returned to practicing, it has been eager to perform the songs it loves. When asked what his favorite songs are to perform, Waterworth lists several.

“One of my personal favorites is ‘El Cumbanchero’ by Xavier Cugat. He did a fantastic version of that song,” he says.

He enjoys tunes by Bette Midler.

“She did a great job with the songs ‘Hey There’ and ‘Mambo Italiano,’ and I also really liked her series when she made the movie ‘For the Boys’ with James Caan.”

Despite the love of those songs, Waterworth performs out of his love for big band and keeping it alive.

“We do this for our own enjoyment and also for the exposure of the big band music to the rest of the world,” Waterworth says.

He also wants to ensure that the skill of sight-reading never gets lost.

“There’s a couple generations who have not been exposed to this music and wouldn’t know how to read this music,” Waterworth says.

That is why he is anxious to launch the tutoring program.

“We’re creating our tutor program to take in these young ones and show them the ropes,” Waterworth says. “We’ve got a world of knowledge to be passed down.”

Learning to read music is not the only skill he hopes students master.

“We want them to learn how to play music and how to instruct others how to play this type of music,” Waterworth says.

Waterworth also hopes to receive nonprofit status for the Big Band Grandstand by then as well and has one message for those interested in joining his band.

“We’re always looking for people to join us,” Waterworth says.