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Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra hitting the road  

The Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra

The Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra

New Hampshire’s biggest big band is hitting the road. After three years in residence at the Capitol Center for the Arts, the Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra is leaping into the national spotlight. Sunday afternoon, after a kick-off concert at the Capitol Center, the entire band will board a coach bus and embark on a three-week tour, traveling as far south as Florida. The orchestra will perform its re-creation of Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert in theaters and arts centers in 16 cities.

Taking the band on a tour was the brainchild of music director Clayton Poole. Since the group’s first show at the Capitol Center in 2010, the band has developed into a tight-knit unit of professional musicians. In the 1940s, there were hundreds of similar big bands that toured the country and played swing music. Now there are only a handful left.

“Swing is happy music. It is spontaneous American music,” Poole said. “Unfortunately, it is difficult to hear it on radio, television or even at live music venues. The challenge today is exposing this wonderful music to larger, more diverse audiences.”

With this in mind, Poole decided to take the show on the road.

The band’s re-creation of Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, which featured virtuoso Ken Peplowski on clarinet, was a huge hit. The 2010 Capitol Center performance attracted a crowd crowd during a Sunday Patriots playoff game. That first performance led Poole and his son CJ to recognize the marketability of the Goodman production. Together, they set their sights on taking the show on the road for an extended run. To test the market further, the Pooles revived the show for a second show in Massachusetts. It also did well. To coincide with the Carnegie Hall concert’s 75th anniversary, father and son began planning a 2013 tour.

It’s taken nearly two years to get the tour up and running. CJ, who took care of the business end, had his work cut out for him. He alone booked all the venues for the band.

“I basically started cold-calling theaters and venues along the East Coast, telling them about the band and the Goodman show,” he said. “I got a lot of hang-ups.”

CJ estimates he called between 200-300 venues pitching the band and the show. Theater owners were at first hesitant, but CJ was persistent and followed up his calls by mailing out the band’s promo materials and recordings. Eventually, his phone began to ring. After a few weeks he got a call back from a theater in West Virginia that wanted to book the band for four concerts.

With those dates booked, CJ found other bookings in close proximity where the band could play. The outward leg will take the band to North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida. On the way home, it will make stops in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. At the Long Island performance on Oct. 13, legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli will join the band onstage.

With the dates booked, the Pooles had a million other details to work out. Transportation had to be arranged. Lodging had to be booked. Musicians had to be hired. Equipment had to be rented. Sound and recording technicians had to come along, as did a vocalist and an equipment technician. Over the summer, one of the band’s managers even drove the entire tour route to make sure it was possible to make the transits between shows in time. Meanwhile, Poole worked closely with the Benny Goodman Estate to get accurate and original music from the archives and legal permission to run the show. Poole is happy to announce that the estate had given the tour its blessing.

“My father and I decided if we were going to do this, it was going to be first class all the way,” CJ said.

Clarinetist Ken Peplowski, who wowed the Capitol Center audience in 2010 will join the CCJO tour, playing the role of Benny Goodman. A world-class jazz musician Peplowski has been impressed with the CCJO’s musical endeavors so far.

“Everything I’ve done with the group has been top-notch,” Peplowski said. “To book a big band on a three week tour is just astounding in this day and age. The effort, and attention to detail in the planning has been incredible.”

A key component of the Jazz Orchestra’s mission has been public awareness and education, and director Poole is especially committed to making the band’s concerts accessible to young people.

“There is definitely a market of young people who enjoy this music. There is just a lack of availability. I have great satisfaction seeing younger folks experiencing this music for the first time and watching their excited reaction.”

Tickets for students will be reduced to $20 for the Sunday afternoon concert, and clarinetist Peplowski will host a pre-concert lecture at 3 p.m., to talk about his years on the road as a Benny Goodman band member.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has also prepared a special proclamation, which will be presented to the orchestra before the concert to thank the group for representing New Hampshire and wish it luck.

Tickets for Sunday’s kick-off concert are still available.

(The Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra’s “Tribute to Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert” is Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Capitol Center for the Arts. For tickets, call 225-1111 or go to ccanh.com.)

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