Big band makes a comeback
By: Elise Hugus, August 4, 2011
Courtesy Stage Door Canteen - The 12-piece Stage Door Canteen gets the crowd jumping with its swinging big band sound.
Just over 19 years ago, Roger Gamache and a couple fellow musicians put together a 14-person big band called Stage Door Canteen.
It sure beat his day job sorting mail at the Woods Hole Post Office, and allowed the saxophonist to pursue a musical career that began at Berklee College of Music and continued for 20 years playing with US Army and Navy bands.
Unlike many veterans of the music scene, Gamache has been able to keep Stage Door Canteen’s sound fresh with a revolving cast of musicians-each bringing their influences, from jazz, to swing, to soul and rock n’ roll.
Riding a wave of interest in swing music in the mid-1990’s, the band attracted a devoted swing dance crowd that spanned the generations. Even now, guys and gals continue to show up to Stage Door Canteen shows dressed to the nine's in polka-dot dresses, suspenders, and spats.
“We play a little bit of everything. But we see ourselves as a dance band,” Gamache said over a pint at Liam Maguire's Irish Pub & Restaurant, where Stage Door Canteen heats up the dance floor every month.
The opportunity to open up for the Irish soul band The Commitments at the Copley Hotel in Boston one New Year’s Eve ushered in a new era for the band, which started incorporating soul hits like "Mustang Sally" into its repertoire.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Gamache also spent two years learning to play the bagpipes, later founding the Brian Boru Pipe Band with his wife, Peg.
Woods Hole residents fondly remember him playing the pipes in the morning before opening up the post office, at times dressed in full Highlander regalia with a kilt and beret.
The bagpipes merely whet Gamache’s appetite for authentic Irish music. Combining forces in 2006 with flutist/baritone saxophonist Sue Lindsay, a native of Ireland, Stage Door Canteen took off on a tour of Ireland the following year, recording a live album along the way.
Incorporating rising high school stars into the band has brought new life to the big band’s lineup. Several members began playing with Stage Door Canteen as teenagers, including trombonist James Thomas, now a Sandwich High School music teacher. Falmouth High School graduate Geoff Vidal drops in when he isn’t headlining at a New York City jazz club.
”The secret to our success is that we continually mix in young people, encouraging young musicians. Where else in high school can you play with a professional group? We're a real working Big Band," Gamache said.
With Stage Door Canteen's 20th anniversary on the horizon, Gamache plans to take the band on a Midwestern "nostalgia tour" by train through Buffalo, Cleveland, and Chicago next spring.
"Chicago was big for jazz in the 20's and 30's. They love the big band sound there," he said.
Whether in Chicago or on Cape Cod, audiences particularly love the band's take on familiar rock tunes. Stage Door Canteen covers anything from Earth, Wind, and Fire to U2, Stevie Wonder, and AC/DC's "It's A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)."
"It's in your face music. Yes, it's loud. It's really in your face," Gamache said with a chuckle.