A! Magazine for the Arts

Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra

Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra

Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra swings with Big Band stylings

July 25, 2022

The Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra is a 17-piece group that plays music from the 1930s Big Band stylings through present day Bruno Mars.

Eddie Dalton, leader and drummer, says, “This group began in the early 2000s as a class titled the Milligan College Jazz Ensemble incorporating both Milligan University students as well as members of the community. Rick Simerly began and led this group until his retirement. At which time the program was cancelled through Milligan. I’m a percussion instructor for Milligan and longtime member of the group, took over the band breaking free of Milligan and forming the Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra. Under this name, the group has performed at many regional events including jazz festivals, community events and private parties.

“Most of this group learned the craft through band class in their schools growing up. I began in fourth grade playing percussion for my elementary school, Elk Knob Elementary in Pennington Gap, Virginia. Music became such a huge part of my life that I continued to participate through middle school, high school and throughout college. I began college as a PreMed Major but after three years decided that music was my true passion. I changed my major to music education and the rest is history. I have been a middle school band director for 24 years and performed all over the country. I couldn’t have asked for a better career.”

Other members of the group are saxophones Gary Robertz, Carol Jensen Robertz, Andrew Oliver, Logan Childress and Thomas Miller; trombones Dr. Michael McDonough, Mike Boggs, Dr. Steve Butler, John Hyatt and Spencer Weese; trumpets: Kelsey Dalton, Jacob Pitts, Steve Cooper, Sloan Hill and Shane Ladd; rhythm section: Colton Fenner, piano; and Howard Bloom, bass.

“Jazz has such freedom of expression where other genres of music are more constricting. I have performed nearly every genre imaginable, but jazz keeps pulling me back. Jazz/big band is my true life calling. Growing up my parents gave me every musical opportunity imaginable. They inspired me to practice and do my best at whatever I chose in life; however, beginning around 1995, I started subbing for the Charles Goodwin Orchestra. Soon after I was given the opportunity to be his full-time drummer. Over the next 18 years of my life, until Charlie’s death, he was my greatest influence and inspiration. Charlie arranged the music for the group and developed this incredible selection of tunes for every occasion. He gave me the inspiration to do this for my band as well. I can’t thank him enough for the direction and inspiration he gave me over those 18 years,” Dalton says.

This group has performed for festivals such as the Chautauqua Festival in Wytheville Virginia, the Bare Bones Festival in Dandridge Tennessee and headlined the Johnson City Jazz Festival since its conception. They love to perform in the older theaters in the region, such as the Bonnie Kate in Elizabethton, Tennessee, the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia, the Lee Theater in Pennington Gap, Virginia, the Gate City Theater in Gate City, Virginia, and the Capitol Theatre in Greeneville, Tennessee. “There’s something special about performing in these older venues that just makes our music even more special,” Dalton says. They also play corporate and private parties.

The group develops a set list (the songs you’ll play and the order in which you’ll play them) for each event. “When developing a set list, you must consider the audience. If you are giving a concert, too many ballads will put the audience to sleep. However, too many jitterbugs will wear out a group of dancers. You must keep alert and read the crowd — sometimes changing music around in the list to fit the actions of the audience. A good reactive audience is the best.

“We have a few smaller groups that branch off the Tri-Cites Jazz Orchestra. One being the TJOSeven. This is a seven-piece group that performs the same style music as the 17-piece band. It consists of alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass and drums. I have arranged nearly 100 tunes for this size group. The players in this small band are pulled from the 17-piece group,” Dalton says.

The easiest way to find out where and when the group is performing is to find them on Facebook, facebook.com/TJOrchestraor emailtri-citiesjazzorchestra@comcast.net.