In 1979, I started a band while as an undergraduate at Ithaca College called AURORA. The band had trumpet, saxophone, trombone, guitar, bass, piano and drums. It was such and exciting period for jazz as the mixing with rock, Latin and R&B gave jazz musicians the opportunity to play in places that were new for jazz musicians. The band played instrumental jazz with a Tower of Power or Chicago type approach which appealed to the college crowd. We would play in dance clubs and perform the Average White Band tune – “Pick Up the Pieces” for 20 minutes with long solos and a hip groove. Then we would play something from Jeff Lorber, Chick Corea, The Brecker Brothers, The Crusaders and maybe Freddie Hubbard’s “Super Blue” to let the kids cool off. The cats in the band were transcribing tunes off the records at a breakneck pace and we were having a ball playing this music while learning new harmonies and grooves at the same time.
Now, 30 years later, I put together an updated version of the band here in Pittsburgh with my brother Jay (who was in the original band) and Mike Tomaro the fantastic arranger and reed player here in town. All three of us cut our teeth on this music and we have had a tremendous time going down memory lane in the process of picking out the tunes. The other three musicians James Johnson III, Alton Merrel and Jeremy MacDonald were not even born when we were playing this music in 1979! While we have only had one gig so far, the experience of recreating this music and playing it with a new generation of musicians has been very gratifying – hopefully more to come. Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on great tunes from the 1975-85 era. Our next scheduled gig is August 22nd as part of the Reservoir of Jazz Series at Highland Park at 5PM.