The jam kicks off with the heavy thump of the drums, before the smooth lilting notes of the clarinet take over.
Trombone, upright bass and the few plinking notes of guitar all come together in a musical stew. In an instant, the Golden Age of jazz — and one of its brightest stars, Benny Goodman — come alive again.
“We just try to swing. That’s the most important thing when you’re trying to do homage to the King of Swing,” said band leader Paul Cosentino.
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Benny Goodman’s timeless sound live on in the swingin’ sounds of the Boilermaker Jazz Band, appearing today at the Historic Artcraft Theatre. The six-piece group performs Goodman’s small band mainstays and big band melodies, as well as some of the great tunes made famous by Benny’s Girls, the female vocalists who toured with the group.
The band’s authentic ‘30s and ‘40s approach has earned them slots performing at venues such as the Lincoln Center and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Chicago Summer Dance. Last year, it was featured on an episode of the reality show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Making Goodman’s music swing again for people is a big responsibility for the band. That’s why they take their rollicking style seriously, Cosentino said.
“This music still resonates because it’s really good music. I always tell people, there’s a reason why when you program Beethoven at the symphony, it sells tickets. It will never not be really good music, and this is the same way,” Cosentino said.
Goodman was the Chicago-born clarinetist who grew up watching legends of jazz perform, and by the time he was 14 he was playing in renowned bands himself. He was the first jazz artist to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall, and was a crowning figure in the jazz movement.
“Back in the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, when jazz was the popular music of the day, there was this amazing combination of great composers, people like (George) Gershwin and Irving Berlin, combined with incredible instrumentalists like Benny Goodman,” Cosentino said. “They came together at the same time to create this incredible catalog of music that I don’t think will ever be dated. It will always be significant.”
Cosentino formed the Boilermaker Jazz Band in 1988, while he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He started playing Dixieland jazz in high school, gravitating towards the music from the first half of the 20th century.
When he reached Carnegie Mellon, he created this band as a student project.
“With a few different stops along the way, I’ve never quit playing this music,” he said.
Though the band has developed a show specifically focused on Goodman’s music, the Boilermaker Jazz Band touches on all the sounds of the swing era.
“We’re not doing it in a recreation kind of fashion, but doing it with our own sensibility and creativity,” Cosentino said.
Since Cosentino plays the clarinet — an antique Albert system instrument favored by Dixieland performers — Goodman’s tunes have always been part of the band’s shows. When they were asked to put together those songs into a single tribute show, it was easy to have it ready.
“I already know so much of his music. It’s not like I had to put in a whole lot of time to think about it, because it’s been music I’ve been playing for a long time already,” Cosentino said.
Because the Boilermaker Jazz Band is comprised of six musicians, the show will focus on the pieces written for a smaller group than Goodman’s famed big bands. But they will also weave in some big-band themes to the concert.
In addition, vocalist Jenny McNulty will channel singers such as Peggy Lee, Martha Tilton and Ella Fitzgerald, all of whom worked with Goodman over the years.
“We’ll touch on all three of those aspects, and hopefully play some melodies that people recognize,” Cosentino said.
“When Swing was King”
The Boilermaker Jazz Band plays the sounds of Benny Goodman.
When: 7:30 p.m. today; doors open at 6:30.
Where: The Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin
Cost: Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children 12 and under.
Information and to purchase tickets: historicartcrafttheatre.org or 317-736-6823.