Stage Door Canteen Celebrates 20th Birthday in Shytown
By: James Thomas, April 17, 2012
Courtesy Stage Door Canteen - The 12-piece Stage Door Canteen gets the crowd jumping with its swinging big band sound.
James Thomas is a musician, educator and writer who lives in his native Sandwich. He currently performs on trombone, trumpet, and vocals with popular Cape Cod acts including Stage Door Canteen, Pocketful of Soul, JABU and the Tribesman, Connors & Company, and his own James Thomas Jazz Group. Between shows and afterparties, he is writing updates from Stage Door Canteen’s railroad tour of the Midwest this week.
Saturday, April 15: Falmouth to Albany
Having thoroughly exhausted a rather large store of “Why it’s Christmas Day, Mr. Scrooge!” jokes at the expense of an uncannily Dickensian bus driver, Stage Door Canteen arrived at South Station to embark upon our Lake Shore Limited 20th anniversary rail tour.
The band’s founder, Roger Gamache, is fond of saying that whenever we go somewhere, someone always has to poke a hole in the boat. At least this time we didn’t bring it on ourselves. We were almost in Braintree when Amtrak called. Our sleeper car had failed: we’d have to ride coach to Albany. But we were assured our rooms from Albany to Chicago.
The Lake Shore Limited leaves from both Boston and the Big Apple; the cars are joined in Albany for the long trek astride Lake Erie.
“Not to worry,” they said, “New York has been told to attach a spare sleeper.” They did—only no one told the ticket agents not to the sell the rooms.
So, some of our rooms were sold out from under us, but as usual, we made our own luck and it worked out in the end. I was one of a lucky few upgraded into suites. I slept in the J.P. Morgan Drawing Room, although I doubt a man who floated the U.S. Treasury a few billion ever passed a night on the top bunk.
Monday, April 16: Chicago’s blues clubs
I think it’s the Wisdom of Solomon that includes a beautiful passage about the dead. “As gold in a furnace hath He tried them…”
Last night, Stage Door Canteen played Fitzgerald’s, Chicago's premier big band venue. A sprawling complex spanning a half block, the Sunday night big bands at Fitzgerald’s are an institution, boasting an impressive following of regular comers and old hands.
That’s what this trip is all about. We’re twenty years in. One becomes a hometown hero. One settles in. At a point, it can be dialed in. But now we’re far from home. Now we’re in the yard with the big dogs. Can we stand the trial?
Yes. Absolutely, yes. Stage Door Canteen came out swinging last night, and our power to move the crowd was affirmed by a seasoned audience and a few Chicago pros who filled out the bandstand.
We opened with the Maynard Ferguson standard Blue Birdland. Our tenor sax man Billy Thompson took the first solo, letting the people- and the band- know right away that he was here on business, baby. The centerpiece of the first set was Mr. Thompson’s new showcase, a monstrous contemporary arrangement of Begin the Beguine.
Jessica Curran’s six vocal features sparkled, too, and Glen Carliss turned in quality solo work all night on trumpet and flugel.
The rhythm section brought on the A-game with a ton of energy from bassist Jim Petersen and drummer Jeff Dodge, and it was particularly pleasing to hear our leader Roger Gamache blow his signature feature Skylark, which he played beautifully as ever.
Our first night in the furnace has come and gone. We had a few stumbles from sheer exhaustion, but the verdict is in: still swingin’, after all these years.
Tonight, we hit Chicago’s great State Street to play at Reggie’s Music Joint, known for being one of the most eclectic music venues in the Midway.
Stay tuned for more updates from Stage Door Canteen’s midwestern tour this week on InsideOUT!