Live Jazz: The Mike Barone Big Band at Vitello’s

By Tony Gieske

The eminent Mike Barone sat in the trombone section during a big band career with fellow trombonist Sy Zentner, leader of a Tommy  Dorsey ghost band, and in Louis Bellson’s orchestra.

After gigging for Gerald Wilson, he formed his own big band, playing on the rickety stage of Donte’s during its 1960s heyday.  And it was there, at the humble North Hollywood intersection of Whipple Street and Lankershim Boulevard, that Doc Severinsen heard him and invited him to send some charts to New York for the “Tonight Show” band.

Mike Barone
Bob Summers

Monday night at Vitello’s, not all that far away on Tujunga Avenue, echoes of his 23 years and 300 charts for those guys — Snooky Young, Conte Candoli, Tommy Newsom, Ross Tompkins, Johnny Audino, to name a few — were satisfyingly to be heard, including Barone’s “Peachy,” the out cue for the NBC perennial.  Plus “Melancholy Baby!”  And “When You’re Smiling,” “I’m Confessin’ ” and “Avalon,” made famous by King Arthur! (And later, in its song form, by Al Jolson.)

Don’t get the idea that I felt the charts were, like the “Tonight Show,” a bit antique. True, it was pretty much section against section, recalling the interplay of trumpet, trombone and clarinet in a New Orleans combo.

Jon Armstrong and Ben Burget

But from time to time Barone would write an electrifying passage for the woodwinds, or muted brass, that updated the output to a comfortably contemporary level. And I loved his jolly little chart on “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Bob Summers, who led the crack four-man trumpet section, was one of the more memorable soloists, and I thought I heard Charlie Loper carry on a little with his trombone. Jon Armstrong and Ben Burget dueled in the time-honored way on tenor saxophones.

Adam Alesi

Young Adam Alesi was at the drums, sticking it to his bandmates joyfully, all night long. Bassist David Tranchina never left his side, and pianist Andy Langham found plenty of agreeable harmonies and also rhythms to burn.

Which everybody did.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE.


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