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Repertory Ensemble expands on familiar AMR image
Trout takes over Bill Kisinger's popular big band
American Music Review will be getting a facelift this fall. Dr. M. T. “Mo” Trout, the director of the department's jazz bands, takes over the big band conceived by Bill Kisinger in 1968 and shaped by his personality until Kisinger's retirement in spring 2006.
Trout plans to honor the group's heritage while making slight changes in the focus and the name of the group to better suit his own musical strengths and his goals for the overall structure of jazz department.
Now known as American Music Repertory Ensemble, the group will continue to be a full jazz ensemble of saxes, trumpets, trombones and rhythm section with multiple vocalists. It will explore the repertoire of noted big bands and vocalists of the 20th Century focusing on particular artists for each concert such as Glenn Miller (the focus of the first concert on Oct. 27), Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and the Four Freshmen.
Concerts will be presented as big band shows in the style of the artists represented. The singers will perform with the band as soloists and in ensemble according to the demands and style of the music for each concert.
American Music Review and its predecessors have had a long history with Purdue Bands. Although there have been a number of student jazz bands associated with Purdue and the West Lafayette area (such as the Salty Dogs and The Chet Bauch Big Band), the first department-sanctioned jazz band at Purdue was a dance band organized in the 1950s. Eventually, it came to be known as Variety Band and made dozens of USO tours to Europe, Iceland , Greenland and beyond.
When the Purdue Jazz Band was created in the early 1980s, Kisinger took over Variety Band and reshaped its image. In 1982, the ensemble shed its land moniker of Variety Band. “I wanted the word American in there,” Kisinger says and since the group would be playing stage shows, the word “review” seemed perfect. So the ensemble officially became known as American Music Review or AMR. In the early 1980s the show choir era was in full bloom and Kisinger's pop-oriented band was part of it. Highly popular, it was called upon to provide entertainment in many different venues and was featured as nightly entertainment on four Caribbean cruises.
“It wasn't really a show choir and we never considered it vocal jazz. We were a complete anomaly,” recalls Kisinger found it increasingly difficult, with his many duties at Purdue Bands, to find adequate time to arrange for the group. In the early 1990s, AMR it became a full-size big band giving Kisinger a endless sea of arrangements to choose from.
That's when the repertoire of the band switched from “pop” oriented tunes to classic tunes from the “Great American Songbook.” AMR's signature musical mix centered around big band standards from the likes of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, songs from Broadway musicals by Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein and others along with Kisinger's favorites -- George Gershwin and Cole Porter.
When Kisinger retired last spring, the dilemma for Trout was how to integrate this popular performing group into overall goals of the jazz department. “I always knew that I wanted to keep the basic format of the group together. The vocal tradition with the big band is a very important and one I wanted to explore further,” Trout says.
His concept of a repertory ensemble takes Kisinger's ideas one step further. “With the fairly recent development of the repertory big bands, most notably the Jazz at Lincoln Center groups -- and its sponsorship of the ‘Essentially Ellington' big band competitions popular with many high school jazz bands -- it occurred to me that this could be a way to better focus the energy and direction of the group,” Trout says.
“Just as most of the major jazz solo artists have unique styles and a sound that an experienced listener can easily identify, so do most of the big bands have their own unique sounds and musical trademarks,” Trout adds.
“By focusing an entire concert on the music of a single band or artist, the singers and instrumentalists can take time to study and listen to the music much more critically and really present some fine concerts.”
NOTE: The picture with this story was taken on the final Caribbean Cruise Bill Kisinger made with AMR in May 2006 just before his retirement. A generous gift by Bob Kowalski made it possible.
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