Reviewed by George Basler
Jazz drummer Sherrie Maricle came back to her hometown last weekend and rocked the Anderson Center at Binghamton University as leader of the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra.
The orchestra got its start 20 years ago in a traditionally male-dominated field and, since then, has proven it can swing with the best of them. That was certainly true Saturday (July 20). Maricle, a Union-Endicott High School and Binghamton University graduate, led the band from her perch as drummer in a precise and powerful two-hour performance.
I’m not a jazz aficionado. I grew up in the rock era, and that music is more my style. The discordant elements of some modern jazz leaves me cold. But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate big band swing and classic performers, including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn and the queen of them all, Ella Fitzgerald.
So I was delighted that the Diva Jazz Orchestra focused its performance on mainstream big band jazz — including tributes to Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman — and not that New Age jazz.
But the concert was no nostalgia trip. The arrangements were contemporary and modern in style and crackled with intensity. Maricle has said legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich first turned her on to big band music and, to my admittedly untrained ear, the Diva Jazz Orchestra sounded a lot like Rich’s orchestra in its later years.
In other words, it sounded tight and swinging.
The orchestra’s 15 members were supremely talented and versatile, and Maricle gave virtually everyone a chance to step into the spotlight for a solo. One surprising thing was the age range of the musicians. Many were young and part of a demographic not associated with swing music, but they all seemed to love it.
Performing with the orchestra was Sue Giles, who has sung in numerous New York clubs and serves as school director for the Trenton Community Music School in Trenton, N.J. She was first-rate as well, notably in the Ella Fitzgerald salute. Her scat singing duet with Maricle was one of the evening’s highlights.
During the concert, Maricle and the orchestra paid tribute to the late Stanley Kay, the founder of the Diva Jazz Orchestra and one-time relief drummer and manager for Buddy Rich, by playing some of his compositions. The orchestra will release a tribute CD to Kay next year with money benefiting the Stanley Kay Scholarship Fund.
The band is also planning to release another CD in the fall, a live album recorded at New York City’s Lincoln Center with vocalist Marlena Shaw, which will include bonus tracks with jazz singer Nancy Wilson.
On another personal note, Saturday’s concert featured an arrangement by local jazz legend Al Hamme. Founder of the jazz program at Binghamton University, he has been one of Maricle’s mentors.
All in all, it was a swinging night at the Anderson Center. The concert reinforced the fact that the region is fortunate to have a venue that can book acts of the quality of the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
And, for Maricle, all I can say, with a nod to her high school mascot, is “Go Tigers!”