Three Questions: the Orbi Playa Big Band

Ahead of the band’s appearance playing at Whitefriars on Saturday 11 May, I put Three Questions to director of the band, Mike Hamnett.

Tell us about your ensemble

MH: The band was formed in September last year from former members of the Canterbury Christ Church University Big Band. A core group were graduating together and wanted to carry on playing big band music. I had recently left the university to become the percussion supervisor on the UK Touring production of Disney’s The Lion King, and agreed to help the band in any way that I could which has turned out to be in a playing/directing role along with saxophonist Danny Glavin. Whilst at the university. I attempted to broaden the students’ big band experience – too many people think “big band” and hear “Glenn Miller”. I introduced music from the 1920s through to contemporary charts written by Maria Schneider, Andy Shepperd and Andy Scott. We regularly appeared at the National Concert Band Festival where we achieved three Gold Awards and appeared at the NCBF National Event in 2012 at the Royal Academy of Music where our programme was described by the adjudicators as “adventurous and committed”.

As the newly-formed Orbi Playa Big Band (so named after the apartments that housed us on our 2012 tour to Spain) we achieved an unprecedented double, being awarded the covetted Platinum award not only at the regional event in Southampton but also at the National event held this year in the Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham.

Mike Hamnett (l) and the OrbiPLAYA Band

Mike Hamnett (l) and the Orbi Playa Big Band

Our brief is to carry on spreading the big band gospel in its many forms. In December this year we’re teaming up with the Canterbury Orchestra to present a double Nutcracker Suite, where the groups will alternate, the orchestra playing a movement from the original suite then the big band playing the corresponding movement from the version recorded by the Duke Ellington Big Band in 1960. Another project is to team up with a dance troupe to present a programme called “Big Band At The Ballet” where pieces such as Slaughter On Tenth Avenue, Rhapsody In Blue and The Nutcracker Suite will be choreographed and performed with a live big band…exciting times!

What excites you about contemporary music ?

MH: One of the most exciting moves in contemporary music has been the erosion of musical and cultural boundaries with the advent of the world wide web, the Internet. The exposure and subsequent incorporation of new musical languages is refreshing all genres and broadening audiences.

What can we look forward to at your appearance in Whitefriars on May 11 ?

MH: We will be reprising our NCBF performance, including Vince Mendoza’s stunning chart for Some Skunk Funk which he originally made for the Brecker Brothers and the WDR Big Band. As the band is returning to Spain later this year, we’ll bookend the programme with the Stan Kenton favourite Malagueña and my own chart for Chick Corea’s seminal work Spain. If you want to know what else we are playing, you’ll just have to come down to Whitefriars!

Catch the band on Saturday 11 May at the Whitefriars shopping centre as part of Sounds New. Find out more about the Orbi Playa Big Band on Facebook.

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