PORT HARDY — Patrons at Saturday’s North Island Concert Society dinner show were treated to a ride to Birdland on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, where there was nothing but Blue Skies above as they arrived just in time for Jive at 5.
For all this, they had only to journey from their dinner table to the dance floor.
The Georgia Strait Big Band headlined the annual NICS dinner show at the Civic Centre, treating the audience to a well-received evening of big-band standards, jazz, swing and latin numbers after a meal catered by Malone’s Oceanside Bistro.
The Comox Valley-based community band, directed by Vancouver Island University jazz professor Greg Bush, was fronted by Juno Award-winning vocalist Sue Medley on several songs in each set as well as the group’s encore of Every Day I Got the Blues.
Medley’s high-octane vocal over the band’s bombastic arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore was a show-stealer, and she and the group also shone on an up-tempo version of the Irving Berlin standard Blue Skies.
Bush drew good-natured groans with a series of cheesy jokes, and at one point threatened to keep up the joking if the audience failed to get up and take to the dance floor.
“We surrender!” one wag in the crowd yelled out to laughter from the stage and the floor.
In the end, a sizable number of the audience took Bush up on the offer and twirled away to lively renditions of Take the A Train, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Jersey Bounce.
The big band, an 18-piece group of brass and saxophones augmented by a full rhythm section, slowed the pace with smooth presentations of Georgia on My Mind and Canadian Sunset, as well as a take of My Romance featuring a lilting flugelhorn solo by Chuck Mallett.
With the players three rows deep on the stage and lacking risers, a few of the solos failed to rise above the volume of the full band. But tenor saxophonist Mike Schwartz had no such trouble from his spot in the middle of the front row, and he delivered a series of both written and improvisational interludes that drew applause from the audience.
In all, it was an impressive effort for a group of primarily amateur musicians who rose to the occasion on their visit to the North Island.
The fourth show in the 2010-11 NICS concert season will feature the blues-roots-rock of the Theo Massop Trio on Mar. 5 at the Civic Centre. More information is available at www.niconcert.ca.