By Jason Victor Serinus
Prepare for a blast. The eighteen-piece Junius Courtney Big Band, with guest vocalist Denise Perrier, promises to raise the roof at La Peña and get people up and dancing. Now led by drummer Nat Courtney, the band’s 8 p.m. performance continues a tradition that extends back forty years.
According to Pat Mullan, who has played trombone in the band for twelve years, New Orleans native Courtney founded the band by pulling together several of his smaller, color-barrier-shattering Bay Area combos. Decades later, the band’s repertoire extends far beyond such 1940s classics as “In the Mood.” Performances offer a unique mix of Count Basie, Thad Jones, Duke Ellington, Latin jazz, original compositions, and special arrangements created by either Junius or the band’s late trumpet player, Jerry Counoyer. “Jerry’s arrangements, which he wrote by ear without access to a piano, are completely outrageous,” Mullan says. “They’re very intricate and sophisticated, and are characterized by a thick, bassy sound, extreme dynamics, and a lot of swing. They help us create a giant wall of sound, like a huge engine, that stops people in their tracks.”
A few years back, singer Denise Perrier heard the band and asked to come on board. Usually either touring in Russia, Japan, or Australia, or undertaking occasional theatrical roles or cabaret dates in the Big Apple, Perrier has collaborated with such legends as Louis Armstrong, Ruth Brown, and Etta James. The woman has the pipes and the spirit to set the house on fire. Most of Courtney’s original cohorts have since retired or passed. In their place has come a slew of music teacher-instrumentalists who rehearse with the band between teaching gigs. These folks are not only adept at traditional swing, they’re sufficiently accomplished in Latin jazz to have recently played as featured guests with Pete Escovedo. They also excel in original tunes by band members Frank Fisher and Alan Close, as well as the intricate post-Blue-Note sound of Thad Jones’ rhythmically complex arrangements. Info:LaPena.org
Date/Time: Sat., Aug. 19, 8 p.m. Price: $12, $14
La Peña Cultural Center 3105 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 510-849-2568 http://LaPena.org