night. It's chilly and it's raining. Meanwhile, the Roger
Robach Community Center is abuzz and warm, its dance floor
flooded with dancing couples. They swing, sway, and spin
together with a seasoned elegance that sadly isn't seen
folks dig this scene; it's of their generation. And let's
face it: They're the ones who really know how to do it.
They glide effortlessly across the dance floor.
But it's gotten
to the point where big band music has outlived the generation
that gave it life. It's truly timeless. You have to wonder
if any other 20th-century music made will weather the years
For the past 25
years or so at this Charlotte Beach locale, big bands have
played for hundreds of folks who come out each week to
dance... and dance.
On this blustery
night it's Jack Allen's Big Band driving the whole affair
with a velvety, brassy charm. Though at this particular
dance the group only sports 10 pieces, the sound is lush
and creamy with leader and trumpeter Jack Allen's bright
and beautiful horn on top.
Allen shuns the
standard-issue podium, opting to sit in the trench with
the other players, often playing his horn with one hand
so as to conduct with the other. His instructions are rapid-fire,
followed by a quick count-off with the stomp of his foot.
When his lips aren't kissing his horn, they're smiling.
The man's an expert operating with confidence and ease.
It's a cinch. Allen's been playing for most of his 80 years.
when I was about 8 years old," Allen says. "My
father was a trumpet player, I had two sisters that played
the piano, and a brother who played the trumpet."
Allen's dad gave
him lessons and by age 12 he was playing out in various
four and five-piece groups at church functions, dances,
parties, and weddings.
"I'd even go
on the street corner," he says. "People knew
I played the trumpet. 'C'mon Jack, get your trumpet. Let's
serenade these people.' And they loved it. On the
corner of Portland and Council streets, there was this
grocery store, and I'd play my trumpet --- just me alone
or with a bunch of guys. You know, another guy would bring
his clarinet and we'd play at 10, 11 o'clock at night in
Amped up by the
big band sounds of the day, Allen was drawn to musicians
like Harry James, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington,
Woody Herman, Boyd Rayburn, Claude Thornhill, and Glen
He was particularly
fond of Tommy Dorsey trumpeter Ziggy Elman, and it showed
in his playing. It earned him the nickname with which he
led The Ziggy Allen Big Band while attending Franklin High
By the time Allen
was 17 he was a card-carrying union member gigging regularly
in Rochester hotspots like The Swing Club on Buffalo Road,
The Riviera Club on Mt. Read Boulevard, The Bartlett Club
on Bartlett Street, and The Chateau on Monroe Avenue -
Town of Brighton.
And there were the
bigger downtown theaters like The Temple, The Loews Rochester,
and The Palace, all of which brought in national touring
acts for one-week stints. Local union musicians were always
on standby in case a touring musician couldn't play. One
such substitution back in 1943 got Allen on the road with
The Tommy Reynolds Big Band. They toured the East Coast
and Midwest with memorable one-week stands at The St. Charles
Theatre and The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.
"We did shows
seven days a week there," he says. "One in the
morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night."
landed him a gig from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean War
where he played in the Army Concert Band and their 20-piece
dance band at Camp Kilmer in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
In basic training,
however, Allen's horn got him drafted into playing reveille
at 5 a.m. every morning. There, he was not a hit.
to throw shoes at me," he says.
Upon his discharge
Allen worked during the day as an accountant. He was also
the accountant for the Rochester Musicians Union Local
66 for 35 years. But he never stopped playing.
In the late '70s
he joined The Chick Edmond Big Band. Fifteen years later
he would take over the group with Edmond's blessing.
"At one of
the concerts, just before he went into the hospital he
said 'Jack, I'd like you to take care of the band,'" Allen
says. "Well, he never made it. So the band loved what
I was doing and they wanted me to continue and I loved
Allen proudly led
the band under its late leader's name for eight years before
renaming it in 2001.
Today, Allen plays
in assorted line-ups from three to 18 pieces. And though
he doesn't write, he's got some swell charts.
"I was never
interested in writing," he says simply. "I was
interested in playing the trumpet."
You can catch Jack
Allen's Big Band at community functions and outdoor events
in the warmer weather besides his gigs at the Robach Center
and The Stardust Ballroom.
As long as folks
want to hear tunes like "Swanee" or "Stardust" or "In
The Mood," Jack Allen will have a gig.
If not, I'm sure
the neighbors near the corner of Portland and Council wouldn't
mind a little moonlight serenade again after all these
You can catch the
Jack Allen Quartet Tuesday, November 8, at The Stardust
Ballroom @ The Edgerton Community Center, 41 Backus Street,
428-6769, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tix: $2. All ages.
taken by Frank De Blase
Jack Allen front & center
Jack Allen second
from the left
Jack Allen far