TERRE HAUTE —
Buzz Burgess heard the music when it was fresh, new.
In the wake of World War II, he played tackle for the Clinton High School football team and then hung out at Dreamland Hall after the games on Friday nights.
“I learned to jitterbug to all those tunes there,” he recalled. It was the “big band era” — combos comprised of purring saxophones, crisp trumpets and mellow trombones, mixing jazz and swing, and blending melodies and counter melodies over the rhythms of piano, bass and drums. Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman held household-name fame. Local big bands kept busy, too, in dance halls like Dreamland.
And when they struck the opening notes of “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” the floor filled up.
“You can’t beat that to dance to,” Burgess said.
More than a half-century later, Ersel “Buzz” Burgess — now 75 years of age — helps keep the big-band musical genre alive, alongside younger fellow musicians. He plays trombone in the 17-piece Fabulous ’40s Band, which formed in the mid-1980s in Terre Haute.
The theme for their next gig fits big-band music like tailor-made white tie and tails. They’ll play the Sweetheart Dance at 8 p.m. Saturday — Valentine’s Day weekend — in Krietenstein American Legion Post 104 on Terre Haute’s north side.
The sound is sentimental but not sad, an important distinction, Burgess emphasized.
“It’s a music that’s lively. It’s full of life, full of vitality,” he said. “The music that we play, it’s vibrations. It’s [from] an exciting time.”
Other members of the Fabulous ’40s Band don’t have his firsthand recollections, but share his fondness for the music. Big-band survives decades after its 1930s and ’40s heyday because of its stylish atmosphere, said Jenny Applegate, the band’s 26-year-old baritone sax player. Organizers of wedding and graduation parties often seek a big band for the entertainment, even though those guests of honor are often teenagers or twentysomethings.
“There’s nothing classier than that,” Applegate said.
The appeal endures, while the reach of big-band has diminished with time, said Norman Hanson, the Fabulous ’40s Band’s leader and lead trombonist. People who danced to Miller and Ellington during the Great Depression and World War II are now in their 80s and 90s. Subsequent generations encountered big-band in niche venues in the shadows of rock ’n’ roll, which exploded on the radio airwaves and dominated sales of vinyl records from the 1950s forward.
“We grew up with this music, too,” said Jim Chesterson, the 67-year-old trumpeter, manager and charter member of the Fabulous ’40s who learned the instrument as a grade-schooler in the 1950s and continued playing through college at Indiana State and during an Air Force career.
Since the genre’s inception, big-band has continued to win new fans, even as its legion of original admirers has inevitably dwindled.
“Admittedly, the crowds that are already into this type of music are getting smaller and smaller,” Hanson said.
Nonetheless, big-band will not fade away, he insisted.
“I won’t let it die,” Hanson said with determination, rather than bravado.
The richness of the music itself serves as its best asset for survival, he explained. “Personally, I think it’s a music that transcends generations.”
Hanson was born in 1961. Yet, “this is my music,” the 51-year-old asserts. “I think I was born 50 years too late.”
His connection came naturally. Hanson’s dad was a college music professor and active in the Chicago music scene, and Norman would often go along. Later, Hanson studied at Northwestern University from 1979 to ’83 when disco and punk rock were hot. He stuck to his roots. “I’ve just always been a jazz guy,” Hanson said.
He’s found outlets for that passion ever since. Hanson teaches music and directs the band at North Central High School in Farmersburg, conducts the jazz ensemble at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and plays trombone for Men of Note and Claudia, the Terre Haute Community Band, the Brazil Concert Band, and the Terre Haute Symphony. In 2008, Hanson and Chesterson sat in with the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods jazz ensemble, which included Applegate. At 21, she caught the big-band bug, and soon joined their Fabulous ’40s Band.
“It was just too much fun,” she said.
The fun takes the group, which sometimes features a singer, to performances from Robinson, Ill., to Indianapolis. One particularly memorable show in 2009 toasted the 101st birthday of Terre Haute-born composer, arranger and big-band leader Claude Thornhill. Harmony Hall, a historic theater in Terre Haute’s 12 Points district, served as the venue. The band revisited well-known standards such as “Stardust” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” as well as numbers from Thornhill’s songbook.
The show sold out. Standing room only. The place was hot, literally.
“There were people dancing in the aisles,” Hanson said.
Dancing and Fabulous ’40s Band concerts go hand in hand, pun unavoidable.
“We have a lot of ballads, so people can actually hold onto each other and dance,” Chesterson said. “The music has hummable melodies. We don’t scream at our audience or curse at them. The music is gentle and fun, the kind that dancers like.”
Classics such as “Pennsylvania 6-5000” lure them like a magnet. “When we start to play that,” Burgess said, “I can see the ‘grayhairs’ stick their hands out for their girl.”
Their ages seem to melt away. At a wedding, as the young sit listening, it’s the folks of an older vintage who break the ice by hitting the dance floor.
“They’re just a hoot,” Applegate said. “They get so excited. We love it when the dancers get up.”
Burgess remembers being among those rug-cutters, spinning and swaying with his wife, Dottie. “To put your arm around the girl, and put your left hand out for hers, that’s a good thing,” he said. “When you get a special girl, she follows you. I liked to be a leader, and I liked to have Dottie in my arms.” She passed away four years ago.
Now, from his spot in the Fabulous ’40s trombone section, Burgess does his best to give other dancers those reminiscent sounds. With each song, the opening notes are crucial. They stir the gumption to leave a seat and dance. Hanson always handles that countdown. “That really makes you liven up,” Burgess said.
Finishing strong matters, as well.
“The last part, that’s important,” Burgess said. “That’s what a guy’s going to take his sweetheart home to, and say, ‘We had a good time.’”
Transcending Generations: Fabulous ’40s Band keeps genre alive; Sweetheart Dance to showcase big-band sound
TERRE HAUTE —
Buzz Burgess heard the music when it was fresh, new.
ISU Performing Arts Series presents wide-ranging season
The Indiana State University Performing Arts Series, sponsored by Terre Haute Savings Bank, has always brought a diverse selection of top-quality performances to the Terre Haute community, but its upcoming season might offer the widest variety of entertainment.
Community Band to feature space themes in ‘Star Date 2245’
The Terre Haute Community Band will perform the free concert “Star Date 2245” at 8 p.m. Saturday to bring some of the mystery and fascination of space to Fairbanks Park, First and Oak streets.
Allen Chapel holding fish fry Aug. 9
The Allen Chapel congregation will host a fish fry from noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 9 at the church at Third and Crawford streets.
Community Theatre’s ‘Harvey’ auditions set for Monday, Tuesday
Community Theatre of Terre Haute will stage auditions for “Harvey,” the classic comedy by Mary Chase, on Monday and Tuesday. Auditions begin at 7 p.m. in the theater at 1431 S. 25th St.
Massacre Pageant to cap day at Hutson Memorial Village
Tours of seven authentic log cabins in Hutson Memorial Village will begin at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, and end at dusk with the Hutson Massacre Pageant on Outer South Rose Street, 11⁄2 miles south of Hutsonville, Ill.
Children’s Museum to host police dogs
The Terre Haute Children’s Museum is hosting two programs Friday, Aug. 1, where kids can experiment with musical instruments and learn all about police dogs all for a discounted admission of $5.
Guest conductor for Brazil Concert Band
The Brazil Concert Band will present “The North Dakota Connection” under the direction of Janelle R. Huber, guest conductor, at 8 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine, in Forest Park at Brazil.
Tribute show Aug. 2 at Boot City
Christy Miller and Allen Hilbert will team up to pay tribute to George Jones and Tammy Wynette at 7 p.m. Saturday night, at Boot City Opry, 11800 U.S. 41.
Library to feature college plays
The Rivers Institute at Hanover College will perform three short one-act plays, written and directed by Hanover students, from 12:10 to 1:40 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Vigo County Public Library, Seventh and Poplar streets.
Church plans ice cream social Aug. 2
North Union United Methodist Church plans an ice cream social from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at the church at the Clay/Vigo county line on Indiana 42.
Sisters of Providence to host Sunday Brunch Live
Enter to win brunch tickets and more during a live radio broadcast Sunday, Aug. 3, sponsored by the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods.
Marshall Band to perform concert Aug. 1
The Marshall (Ill.) City Band will perform a free concert at 8 p.m. Friday on the Clark County Courthouse lawn, under the direction of Ralph Stewart.
- Museums/Exhibitions: July 31, 2014
ISU to bring The Color Run to Terre Haute
Indiana State University is planning a colorful kickoff event for the 2014-15 school year.
The university is bringing The Color Run to Terre Haute on Aug. 23. One of the largest event series in the nation, the race douses participants from head to toe in different colors at each kilometer. Billed as the “happiest 5K on the planet,” the event caters to everyone — first-time runners to professional athletes — and has no winners or official times.
Ride With The Governor is set for July 25
On Friday, ABATE of Indiana will present the annual Ride With The Governor.
This event to promote motorcycle awareness is open to all motorcyclists. Donations will benefit the Indiana National Guard Relief Fund.
‘Sound of Music’ this weekend and next at Maple Avenue UMC
Maple Avenue United Methodist Church’s Summer Theatre will present six performances of “The Sound of Music” beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, July 25.
Brazil Concert Band sets ‘German Musikfest’ concert for July 27
The Brazil Concert Band will present “German Musikfest” at 7 p.m. Sunday at Forest Park in Brazil, rain or shine.
Join SPPRAK for photo at Rex game
SPPRAK Night will be 7 p.m. July 25 during the Terre Haute Rex game at Bob Warn Field. Five hundred people, all wearing the same glasses, will get their picture taken.
Adults invited to join New Horizons Band at Community School of Arts
New Horizons Band at the Indiana State University Community School of the Arts welcomes adults, age 25 and older, with little or no musical experience to become a New Horizons Music member.
Gospel soloist to perform July 27 in Brazil
Gospel music soloist Ryan Seaton will be in concert at 6 p.m. on Sunday in First Christian Church at Brazil.
Arrowhead Show July 27 in Sullivan County
An Arrowhead Show featuring Prehistoric First American artifacts is set for Sunday in Sullivan County.
Terre Haute Parks plan National Dance Day event on July 26
The Terre Haute Parks and Recreation Department will be participating in National Dance Day on Saturday.
Gym Bob’s Jamboree July 26 at Boot City Opry
Solos, duets and instrumentals are all part of the great Gym Bob’s Jamboree show set for 7 p.m. Saturday in Boot City Opry at 11800 S. U.S. 41.
Nature Conservancy announces ‘Natural Treasures’ challenge
The Nature Conservancy and Honda of America Mfg. Inc. announce the highly anticipated summer Natural Treasures challenge that gives Hoosiers an opportunity to explore natural sites in Indiana and a chance to win a Honda Civic Hybrid.
Benefit, walk Aug. 2 to support MS Society
The fourth annual Multiple Sclerosis Benefit will take place Aug. 2 at the Rosedale Tavern, 93 W. Middle St., Rosedale.
Arte é Vino for adults planned July 29
Looking for a girls night out or a fun and unique date? Arte é Vino events are fun art-themed events for adults.
Visit musical ‘petting zoo’ at Children’s Museum
The theme for downtown Terre Haute’s First Friday on Aug. 1 will be “Dog Days of Summer.” What better time for children to visit a petting zoo? The Wabash Valley Musicians Hall of Fame is planning a petting zoo of a different kind, though: a musical instrument menagerie.
Celebrate Smokey Bear’s birthday Aug. 2
Visitors to Turkey Run State Park in Parke County can eat cake and ice cream, meet firefighters and see fire engines and other equipment at a birthday party for Smokey Bear on Aug. 2.
Sisters plan annual used book sale
The Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods are preparing for their annual used book sale.
The event is scheduled for Aug. 2-10 in the Providence Spirituality and Conference Center conference room, across the hall from Linden Leaf Gifts.
Ride Tour de Park Aug. 16 through Vigo parks
The Tour de Park, a set of non-competitive bike rides through Vigo County parks, will begin at 8 p.m. on Aug. 16. Routes of 10 or 50 miles are available, with both starting at Hawthorn Park’s Dogwood Shelter.
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- ISU Performing Arts Series presents wide-ranging season