This orchestra kicks brass

Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents music of Chicago

By Pat Suarez

Photo: DPO Associate Conductor Patrick Reynolds

Creativity always has a parent. No matter how unique an artist might be, he or she always had an influence, some trigger that inspired the artist to find his own voice and style that evolved from its muse into a new form. Jim Morrison and Ray Manzerak combined societal poetry and hard-edged blues to craft arguably the most influential and stunning debut album of the mid-1960s. John Lennon and Paul McCartney worshipped African American rock ‘n’ rollers such as Little Richard, but their artistic DNA also had subtle elements of the British glitzy music hall environment producer George Martin developed into heretofore uncharted musical sophistication for a four-member, guitar-based rock band.

So it was, in 1954, that nine-year-old Walter Parazaider turned on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and was immediately entranced by the legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman. Parazaider asked his father, himself a musician, for clarinet lessons. He dedicated himself to the instrument and became so expert at it that, in 1961, he drew the attention of Jerome Stowell, the E-flat clarinetist with the mighty Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Six years later, Parazaider recruited six other musicians and formed the band Chicago Transit Authority, which they shortened to Chicago after the railroad, in a fit of pettiness, threatened legal action over the use of its name. Over a career that is in its fifth decade, the band has sold more than 100 million copies of its LPs and albums. On Saturday, Oct. 4, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Associate Conductor Patrick Reynolds will join forces with Chicago tribute band Brass Transit to present Chicago’s most famous hits at the Schuster Center.

Walter Parazaider was not your typical rock ‘n’ roll band front man; he was a legitimate renaissance man. He learned the saxophone. He played in octets with and for members of the Chicago Symphony. He played in dance halls and ballrooms. He earned a master’s degree in English literature. And he formulated the idea of a “rock band with horns” to add weight to a rock band’s thin line (even at high volumes).

His band added two keyboard players (Robert Lamm and Bill Champlin), a trumpeter (Lee Loughnane) and trombonist (James Pankow). Their collective goal was to honor the musical history and diversity of their hometown as no band had ever done.

Chicago was prolific: of their first seven albums, five were two-record sets (a friend of mine once quipped in 1976 that a Chicago greatest hits set would be 45 LPs). Some entire sides of their albums were comprised of separate tracks that formed a whole, similar to a classical symphony.

Like Blood, Sweat & Tears, a brass-based rock ‘n’ roll band launched at roughly the same time as CTA, Chicago had a huge brassy sound, with producer James William Guercio employing extreme separation of left-and-right speaker spread, with the trumpet and trombone enveloping the rest of the instruments which he placed mostly in the center of the sonic spectrum. Guercio knew the Vietnam War had an unintended impact of a steady flow of high quality receivers, amps, preamps and loudspeakers making their way home with the soldiers who had paid pennies on the dollar for stereo equipment that could reproduce the hurricane of sound that Guercio pulled out of just seven players. We’ll never know how much stereo equipment was sold so that aficionados could get their full dose of “25 or 6 to 4.”

What makes this DPO concert especially enticing is the addition of symphonic strings and the orchestra’s armada of brass, woodwinds and percussion: We get the answer to the musical question, “What happens when you mix the power of a potent, brass-oriented rock band with the megatonnage of a symphony orchestra?”

Few people thought guitar bands and symphony orchestras could find common ground until a relatively obscure British band that had one moderate hit single in 1965 was approached by conductor Peter Knight to do a rock version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The band’s mellotron player, Mike Pinder, suggested instead the band work with a symphony orchestra to tell the story of an average day. With the orchestra providing segues between tracks, the Moody Blues’ beautiful and melancholy Days of Future Passed became a global sensation, successfully fusing two disparate musical worlds and opening the door to that peanut butter-and-chocolate mixture. Rock bands didn’t waste time exploiting the blend: Australian teens the Bee Gees worked musical magic in their 1967 debut album (listen to the track “Turn of the Century” for a primer on how to evoke meltingly gorgeous music from a rock band and a symphony orchestra). The Bee Gees would use orchestras in future albums and even toured with a 45-piece orchestra. Over the succeeding decades, especially in the disco era, the trend would continue.

Saturday, the DPO will welcome Brass Transit to continue that legacy. I spoke with conductor Patrick Reynolds about the upcoming Music of Chicago concert.

What drew you to the music of Chicago?

My instrument through school and for quite a bit of my professional life was the trumpet, so I was naturally drawn to the sounds of groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The truth is, I listened to very little pop music when I was growing up, but I really liked the tight harmonies and sharp rhythms of Chicago. And to have the brass in a starring role was huge for me. – Patrick Reynolds

How will the DPO style the group’s music in a “classical” music setting?

There’s such a natural connection here between the music of Chicago and the sounds of a full orchestra. Chicago’s gift for “orchestration” – the way they wrote for instruments other than guitar and the usual rock band sounds – makes this connection incredibly appealing. – PR

Is this concert a reach-out to younger audiences or a memory lane trip for the ’60s/’70s generation?

Both! Absolutely both. That’s the beauty of our DPO Rock series – it has a wonderful wide appeal for pop fans of all generations. Who cares how old or young you are?! The music’s cool! – PR

How will you integrate the DPO into their music? Did someone write arrangements for full orchestra?

Yes, they sent their own arrangements combining the music of Chicago with a full symphony orchestra. – PR

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present The Music of Chicago with rock ensemble Brass Transit on Saturday, Oct. 4 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. The show begins at 8 p.m. For more information, please call 937.224.3521 or visit daytonperformingarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Pat Suarez at PatSuarez @DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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Pat Suarez
Pat Suarez has been involved with a wide variety of music for nearly five decades. He has hosted music programming on FM radio and produced and hosted the radio broadcasts of two symphony orchestras. His articles about music have been published extensively in print and online. Reach him at PatSuarez@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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