Good Works: Greg Balfany, La Crosse Jazz Orchestra | Local News

The La Crosse Symphony Orchestra is the region’s premier big band working to keep jazz music alive and vibrant through free public concerts and other free performances. In addition to entertaining audiences in various venues, the orchestra also gives musicians and composers experience to maintain and improve their skills. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has noted that the United States has three major contributions to global society: democracy, baseball, and jazz. La Crosse Jazz Orchestra director Greg Balfany proudly notes that they focus on the latter.

What’s your all-time favorite piece of music to play?

In the context of a traditional jazz big band, Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” is a favorite. Canadian bandleader/arranger Rob McConnell wrote one of my favorite modern charts. His version of the classic “Just Friends” is both exciting to listen to and fun to play. Among today’s highly skilled composers, Maria Schneider and her composition “Hang Gliding” continues to inspire and inform. There are so many gifted jazz composers and arrangers that I would have to list 25 or more among my favorites. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the great Latin bands of Machito, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri who have inspired countless contemporary ensembles.

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If you could tour with one famous musical artist, who would it be and why?

I would like to tour with “Tower of Power”. For me, it’s the best funk band of all time! Their jazz/funk mix has inspired more than one for several decades. Plus, you know that anything from Oakland will have an edge! Playing a gig with Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue would be the thrill of a lifetime. On the pop side, touring with the Rolling Stones would be incredible. They are used to using great saxophonists on their tours! Modern singers like Michael Buble use a studio orchestra when touring. It would be a real chance to relive famous Sinatra-style shows in the flesh.

What is your greatest wish for La Crosse Jazz Orchestra?

I hope the LJO enjoys continued success and expands its series to include live indoor winter events. The group can still reach more people and offer an educational service to young musicians. We would like to expand our services to help the jazz component of music education. We have many music teachers among our members, but we would like to have direct contact with them and with other younger student musicians. Another aspect that we could develop is to help the return of a jazz festival to La Crosse. The interest is there, but the structure and funding are still waiting for a leader to lead this project. All of us in the group are grateful for the support the community has given us and hope that others will join our loyal devotees. Join us on Sundays in July this year and look for other group activities throughout the fall and winter. Sign up to receive our news on lacrossejazzorchestra.com.


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Henry R. Wright