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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

LEGENDS OF SWING (article first published : 2002-02-13)

An image came to mind as I was watching the latest show at the Barnyard Theatre at Gateway. It was from a cartoon movie, can’t remember which but probably a Walt Disney, of an ant reclining on a leaf as if in a deck chair floating gently down a river. The same feeling of effortless luxury came from being enveloped in the beautiful sound of an expertly played clarinet in the number we came to know as the theme to the television series Mike Hammer.

This was pretty much the order of the evening for Legends of Swing, the first appearance in Durban of the Cape Town-based Jonny Cooper Orchestra, a big band with a full-on brass sound.

If you doubt its boast of being the premier big band in South Africa, it has just been appointed - in principle with contracts still to be signed - by Glen Miller Productions in the USA to take up the reins as the Glen Miller Orchestra SA under the direction of Jonny Cooper. That it has been so appointed by the trustees of the legendary bandsman’s estate – along with only two other officially recognised Glen Miller Orchestras (USA and UK) - should put paid to any arguments!

Even without this “by Royal appointment” seal, as it were, the Jonny Cooper Orchestra stays strictly true to the Glen Miller sound, particularly in favourites such as Tuxedo Junction. It changes styles just as successfully for tributes to Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Bennie Goodman. And Jonny Cooper himself plays a mean trumpet!

In a well-designed programme which includes numbers made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, experienced vocalists Donald Tshomela and Judy (welcome back to Durbs!) Page placed their own stamp on songs such as Judy’s My Funny Valentine and You Made Me Love You and Don’s Witchcraft and Wonderful World. Together they produced a stirring version of Unforgettable.

This is a show not to be missed by lovers of the big band sound. Just sit back, close your eyes and allow yourself to be drifted back to the 1940’s musical scene. I have to admit that on opening night I was tempted to do this more than once but the reason was more because I was extremely frustrated with the poor lighting. The follow spot was late on cues and one side of the stage was inexplicably dark, forcing Donald Tshomela to restrict his natural exuberant movement to centre stage. Hopefully, this problem will be corrected in the next couple of days.

Legends of Swing runs until March 3 with Melanie Roberts taking over from Judy Page from February 26. Tickets R65 for shows Wednesday to Saturday. The promotion "Buy One Get One Free" continues on Tuesday night and Sunday lunchtime shows. Bookings and enquiries on 031 566-3045/6 or e-mail barngate@mweb.co.za If you can’t get to see the show, the next best thing is to buy their new CD!

You can take your own picnic dinner to Barnyard but no beverages are allowed as there is a cash bar. Why not save yourself the hassle of preparing a picnic and carting home empty dishes and cutlery and order ahead from Picnic Fanatics? This is a stylishly-presented basket with an innovative wire crafted server offering three courses along with a hessian bag carrying homemade bread and snack biscuits and cheese. Price ranges from R60 to R70 pp. Contact tel/fax 031 701-0036 or 083 777-4636 or e-mail picnicfanatics@iafrica.com




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