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Music lovers will have a rare opportunity to hear jazz music with a unique sound when the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra performs at the Lenz Auditorium in Pardeeville on Saturday.
The group, based in Madison, is a 25-piece jazz band that includes saxophones, trombones, trumpets, mellophones and a rhythm section. It was co-founded in 2010 by Joel Kaye and Rand Moore. Both are still with the band today, Kaye as bandleader and Moore as one of the drummers.
Kaye, who has performed with numerous orchestras during his musical career, including a long stint with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, has also spent time with the NBC Studio Orchestra, The Jonathan Winters Show and The Tonight Show with Doc Severinsen. Kaye says the mellophones are what give the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra its unique sound.
“Reminds me of a band I played in the early 60s. The Stan Kenton Orchestra was a band I played in and toured the country with. It stands out from other big bands for its section of instruments called mellophones, which are brass halfway between trumpets and trombones,” Kaye said. “They kind of replace French horns, which don’t work in large orchestras, because their bells are turned backwards. So they invented the mellophone, where the bells are facing forward, and you can hear it. That’s kind of the reason why the band sounds different.
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When Kaye was touring the country with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, the band was playing many songs from an album he had recorded for the film version of “West Side Story”, released in 1961. The Stan Kenton Orchestra has won a Grammy Award for Large Jazz Ensemble for the album “West Side Story” in 1962, and many of those same songs will be played by the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra in Pardeeville on Saturday.
Kaye had the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra ready to play a concert full of songs from “West Side Story,” but like many things, those plans changed in the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The pandemic has forced rehearsals and concerts to be suspended.
“Each piece requires a considerable amount of rehearsal,” Kaye said. “We’re still hoping to pull it all off eventually, but it’s still going to take a little while for this COVID stuff to stop bothering us. When you do a concert, you need at least two rehearsals to do an ordinary concert. To do the complete “West Side Story” requires at least four rehearsals…it’s a big challenge, because it’s very difficult, very demanding music.
Kaye has had many jazz influences over his long career in music, including Johnny Richards, who arranged much of the music for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Richards also wrote the song “Young at Heart”, a well-known song performed by Frank Sinatra, among others.
Kaye was fortunate enough to work with Richards before his death in 1968.
“Johnny Richards was the one who wrote the arrangements for the Grammy Award-winning ‘West Side Story’ album. I studied with him for about a year and a half before he passed away,” Kaye said. “He was there for a very long time. He had his band in 1940. All the time he had his own band, he was kind of ahead of what the bands were playing.
Kaye also learned a few things about jazz music from Quincy Jones.
“I also worked with him in the ’60s. It was a time when he was busy doing commercials,” Kaye said. “It was something quite unusual to see in the commercials business. He was the first black man to break into this business. Everything he did was always very successful. He was a pretty impressive guy.”
The Neophonic Jazz Orchestra was launched in 2010 after Moore, then a member of the Madison Jazz Orchestra, saw Kaye and the Stan Kenton Orchestra perform. Moore enjoyed the different style of jazz he heard on the show, which featured the mellophones, and wanted to introduce it to Madison.
“He finally called me and said, ‘I’d like to play the music you were playing,'” Kaye said of his first meeting with Moore. “I said, ‘If you have four mellophones and a bass saxophone, give me a call and we can work out a deal for me to come to Madison to rehearse a band and play some gigs. He booked a few shows, called me back and we left.”
“He is still our drummer. We are still alive and vibrant.
The Neophonic Jazz Orchestra will play at the Lenz Auditorium in Pardeeville on Saturday, starting at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more information about the show and to order tickets online, go to pasdwi.org/community/events.cfm.