by Jeanine Black
While we enjoy a wealth of musical entertainment in Winona, we don’t see many big bands--at least not in this century. However, music aficionados who packed the Winona Arts Center last Saturday evening were treated to an outstanding performance by the John Paulson Big Band (JPBB). Well before 7:30 p.m., all available chairs were filled, and latecomers stood in the back of the room--although a few younger people sat on the floor in front of the first row of chairs.
John Paulson is not a new face in Winona. He was the music industry program director and director of jazz studies at St. Mary’s University for 30 years prior to his retirement this past April. While he has been doing big band arrangements for student groups for over 20 years, Paulson’s new endeavor is multi-faceted. He wants to focus more on his own compositions and perform these works with the best players in the area. A $5,000 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council and funding from the McKnight Foundation was used for the November 17th concert, which was recorded and will be featured on an upcoming CD. Proceeds from that CD will support the Music Access for All program, founded by Paulson in 2002, which is dedicated to helping disadvantaged children in the Winona area gain access to music, instruments and lessons.
Paulson did, indeed, perform with some of the best players in the area at the Winona Arts Center, namely saxophonists Brian Koser (Austin), Richard Rohrbaugh (Rochester), Dave Townsend (Rochester) and Ray Dretsky (Winona); trumpeters Warren Bandel (Rochester), Adam Meckler (Twin Cities), Jerry Paulson (Winona) and John Mundy (Wabasha); trombonists Scott Agster (Twin Cities), John Sievers (Rochester), Eric Heukeshoven (Winona) and Tom Nalli (Winona); pianist Larry Price; drummer Rich MacDonald (Winona); guitarist Mike James (Onalaska, Wis.); and bassist Eric Graham (Red Wing).
Although the band performed the 1940 jazz standard “I Hear a Rhapsody” (arranged by Paulson), the rest of the numbers were written by Paulson between 1974 and 2004 and later arranged for big band. Paulson provided insights on the inspiration for many of the selections, including “Four PM Blues” (end of the school day), “Song for a Yellow Bird” (the untimely demise of the family’s cockatoo), and “Drop Off Blues” (that sad feeling parents get when they drop their child off at day care).
It was obvious that the musicians were enjoying the performance as much as the audience members, encouraging each other with a heartfelt “oh, yeah” or closing their eyes and letting the music transport them. Those of us in attendance were swaying, nodding, tapping feet, snapping fingers, and emitting shouts and whistles; it was impossible to sit quietly during the high-energy performance of these very talented musicians.
Paulson and others in the JPBB play in other groups around the region, but you’ll not hear another band with quite this sound. “ I was impressed at how quickly a big band in jazz develops its own personality,” explained Paulson after the performance.
If you missed this premiere performance, don’t despair. JPBB will be featured with the Twin Cities-based Hornheads as part of the Page Series on February 14, 2013. For more information: www.paulsonjazz.com and www.pagetheatre.org/hornheads_detail.html.