The Pasadena Roof Orchestra swept down on Pawling before their Boston gig. Bringing their English weather to drought-stricken Dutchess County at the Gardiner auditorium at Trinity-Pawling School, they unpacked their instruments, sounding as if they were twenty musicians instead of ten. With a program of stomp and croon they sailed through great big-band landmarks from the twenties to the forties. They gave the big blast to Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and went tender with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Duncan Galloway (who joined in 1988) remains an accomplished crooner with nuance, both smoothly romantic and, at times, spontaneously sardonic.
This versatile outfit has been around since 1969 as personnel has waned and morphed. They can really swing. With nearly 30 recordings and a repertoire of over 2,000 numbers to juggle, this well-honed-and-horned band plays tight. Some of their arrangements ring more up tempo than is traditional, giving the music that snappy Brit charm and cheer so characteristic of the English. But why are 11 Brits rambling through America (not for the first time)? There’s a weird irony at work here. They can play hot and mellow, while Galloway has a mesmerizing stage presence; he effortlessly hits notes with panache, and can even tap dance or whistle his way through a number. For the first set, the band wore black long-tailed tux with spats and white carnation; for the second set, white tux with red carnations.
While Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” was too crisply clean on the Steinway—washed of its gentle humor and spontaneous edge in favor snappy wit—the horns nailed Louis Armstrong’s version of “Mahogany Stomp.” While much of the music was foot-stomping, Americans no longer recall how to dance to those numbers. I was amused that the band employed sheet music, even the drummer, who was flat-out fabulous. I’ve never seen Americans using sheet music while playing these numbers. Yet American classical musicians nearly always use sheet music when they perform, while Europeans play from memory. As a band, the Pasadena Roof Orchestra is a reminder of when America had earthy music with delightful humor. Where is the trumpet in today’s pop music scene? Where is romance? Where sophisticated arrangements? Traveling back to great renditions of the classics is a romp. It is something of a shock to realize that we have reduced this jewled heritage to the closet of merely antique recordings.
The Pasadena Roof Orchestra may (to some) appear as a curiosity venue, yet they convey the pluck and heart of what once made this country a musical marvel. Encore! Bring them back again!