What if I told you that you could hear top-rated big band sounds for free on Monday nights? Would you go?
At Highland Place, sit in on an open rehearsal from some of the Country's top musicians.
Here, the fourth wall is removed and you get to be on the front row of consummate professionals playing the best of the big band sound, brassy, big, but never off key or a moment late. Clean attacks. Totally together. No oops moments. This is it.
Mark your calendars. It’s every other Monday at Highland Place, and the next one will be January 21, 2013. Be there. Or Be Square.
We found this quite by accident.
Last Monday we went to dinner at Highland Place, an old and venerable watering hole known more for its bar than its bread. But the food is good, bistro style grub- especially since Steve Crane has taken over the kitchen and perfect for an early dinner before a movie. (Editor's note: Crane's and Highland Place merged last year; Crane manages the restaurant during the day and Chris Farrow manages it at night.)
Here’s what we were aiming for. Couple Manhattans, a Steak Frites and a Philly Cheese Steak and then we planned to scoot around the corner to the neighborhood movie house.
Waltzing in, we noticed a small billboard – hastily made - noting their “Every Other Monday Big Band Night”. Soon we noted band members straggling in, carrying battered music cases.
These were mostly old, well-padded men with only a few young guys but hmmm, what was this? At least sixteen of them setting up behind the curtain.
Turns out they call it the Glenn Franke Big Band and by the time we’d heard them tune up we decided the movie could wait. We called a couple friends who came right down – the advantage of living in a small town – ordered dessert and settled back for the concert.
Glenn Franke began playing, he says, when he was four years old, and ultimately toured with Buddy Rich four years.
The guys lined up just like a big band, three rows with music stands, 4-5 musicians to the row, front row were the barries, the tenors and the alto saxes plus a guy who doubled on the flute.
Next row were the trombones and the top row were the deep throated trumpets. Off to the side were a grand piano, a bass player, and full drum kit.
We asked the waiter if we could move up. The house was nearly empty. Yes, he said, “but they get pretty loud”. We don’t mind, we said and up we went to the second row of tables.
And then they began, clean attacks, totally together, big band sounds blowing out that room. We were hooked.
The originator of this group is Maplewood’s own Glenn Franke, who, along with Ben Williams, a trombone player from the Hilton section, Tom Timko on bari sax, Leo Huppert on bass, Vinny Borcelli on trumpet, Maplewood sax player Dave Riekenberg, Dave Rogers on trumpet and the other Dave Richards on alto sax . All sixteen of these guys joined up a couple months ago to play venues large and small.
Some in the group are playing just for fun from their night off as regulars in pit orchestras on Broadway. These musicians play on their night off because playing music is what they do. And they get tired of playing the same old thing, even if it’s Broadway fare.
They like to stretch out and challenge themselves. This band lets ‘em do it.
Last week they played a broad range of big band pieces including Maynard Ferguson’s arrangement of Almost Like Being In Love, and Swinging for the Fences.
Eventually a girl singer, Maplewood’s Holli Ross, joined. Wow. Is she good.
This is music for music’s sake. These guys aren’t being paid to play in this little neighborhood joint. They could be taking their ease, or hunting for a bigger venue, but for the past two months, they have elected to devote their every other Monday night to doing what they do best: playing the big band sound and we can all sit back and enjoy it.
The set’s informal. When they thought they might do a song better, they did it over. They bantered back and forth with each other. They gave every single member a solo somewhere during the set.
It blew me away. The very idea that this level of musicianship could come together in this little town for pure enjoyment was truly amazing. And no cover charge. Just a couple drinks is all it costs you but the food’s great too.
By: Linda West Eckhardt, Editor/founder http://www.everybodyeatsnews.com.
Go to: Highland Place Bar and Grill,
Maplewood, New Jersey. Be there before 8:15 to get a good seat. It is astonishing. 5 Highland Place Maplewood, NJ 07040
(973) 763-3083 http://www.hpcranes.com/
If we’d had two more for dinner we
could have gone for the Monday Meal Deal.
That’s dinner for four for thirty bucks. Served family style and mighty scrumptious.
To book a band for your event call band leader Glenn
Franke 201 843 4128, firstname.lastname@example.org.