Big band celebrates 40 years

Head to Yoshi's for cool night of jazz

When Dave Eshelman was 6 years old, he couldn't wait to get his hands on a trombone.

"I grew up in Illinois and had an older brother and sister in the band," Eshelman, 70, recalled. "I had to wait until the third grade to get in."

The good news was that the town was so small that the young kids joined the high school musicians to comprise the band for football games, parades and concerts.

From there, Eshelman's life has followed a rhythm built around music, to California and beyond and back again to keep the beat at colleges and to found Dave Eshelman's Jazz Garden Big Band in 1978. A Pleasanton resident for 11 years, the trombonist/composer/teacher invites everyone to a gala concert at Yoshi's in Oakland on Monday to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary.

"People who love big band and want to hear some of the top freelance players in the Bay Area should come by," Eshelman said.

When he was 10 years old, his family moved to Palo Alto where, he noted, music was a priority.

"I picked up some other instruments, too," he said. "Drums, bass piano, baritone horn."

He went to college at the University of Miami and began to compose.

"I was really lucky to get some of my early pieces published in the '60s," he said. "There was a market for school bands."

He emphasized that he always wrote music for his bands, and if it were picked up commercially that was fine, too. Now his compositions are played throughout the world, by professionals as well as at schools.

"Someone sent me a tape once of a Japanese elementary school group playing one of my tunes on their classroom instruments," Eshelman said. "It was classic."

He also played freelance gigs. Performers like Bob Hope and George Burns used to hire musicians locally to back them up.

"I was able to play these types of gigs in Miami, then in Los Angeles, wherever I lived," Eshelman said.

During his college summers, he would return to California and put together a band to do concerts in the park. His bands were also good vehicles for his compositions.

Then he returned full time, first to teach at Los Angeles City College. He moved back to the Bay Area to teach at San Jose City College then ran the jazz program at Cal State Hayward for 22 years, retiring in 2007.

"Playing the baritone horn got me into the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, with Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. They put together freelance musicians into a military concert band. At the time it was a 30-piece band," he said, recalling the 1984 event.

He also played in the 49ers Jazz Band at the games.

"We had a four-hour call, we played an hour before the game," he remembered. "I did it through the '80s -- the best time to be there."

He assembled the Jazz Garden Big Band mostly with South Bay musicians. As he thought about names, he noted that his San Jose City College band had performed in the city's Rose Garden and thought the word "garden" was the perfect analogy for people with a lot of talents and skills. Plus the name sounded inviting to jazz newcomers.

Then it was time to perform.

"I found this little upscale restaurant and approached them," Eshelman recalled.

The Jazz Garden Big Band premiered at Eulipa on First Street in San Jose.

"I remember that night so vividly because we were so jam-packed in there," Eshelman said. "It was really a great night, partly because of the intimacy."

The band has recorded five CDs and performed at dozens of Bay Area venues during the past four decades. Members come and go but the instrumentation, with 17 players, has been consistent.

"We've been playing on and off," Eshelman said, adding with a laugh, "We've been through periods of regularity."

Monday's 40th anniversary concert at Yoshi's begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $19.

"Yoshi's is one of the premier jazz clubs in the world," Eshelman said. "They sell tickets online in advance and have quite a lineup of people every night."

Eshelman describes his band's music as "progressive mainstream jazz, that is interesting to jazz lovers and accessible to newcomers."

"Audiences love our music. We've had a great reaction," he said.

The Yoshi's website quotes Dave Nathan from All Music Guide: "Conductor, trombonist, arranger, and composer Dave Eshelman has become one of the foremost champions of creative and modern music in the United States. The Jazz Garden Big Band must be considered a leader in the formation and presentation of big band music in the modern creative vein."

The evening also will celebrate the band's former members.

"There is always a turnover in personnel in bands," Eshelman said, "and seven of our members have passed on."

"It's the musicians who bring my music to life -- and this current edition is the strongest band ever," he added.

Dave Eshelman's Jazz Garden Big Band will also perform at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on Dec. 3 with the Jazzschool Studio Band.

In the meantime, Eshelman recommended the Bay Area's jazz radio station, "Cool 91 FM."

"KCSM is a national treasure," he said.

And the beat goes on.

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Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Go Dave!!! You da Man!!!

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