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As a rule of thumb, a good music journalist should list the names of each band member he or she is writing about and what instrument each one plays. Unfortunately, that would take up too much space for the 18-piece Marcia Ford and the Hollywood Canteen Swing Band. The group—led by vocalist Marcia Ford with help from lead trumpet Rick Berry—features five saxophonists, four trombonists, four trumpet players, a drummer, a keyboardist, a bassist and a guitarist romping through traditional swing and big-band jazz from the 1930s and 1940s, as well as tunes from the Great American Songbook.
OC Weekly: Do you listen to classic versions of your material, or would you rather not know how a famous singer/band interpreted the tune?
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Marcia Ford: I think about the different versions of a particular song, and I might bring enough of a nuance of what someone else did. I’ll think of singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughn, and they’ll help me own that song my way. In the end, whatever I do, I’ll own it.
Rick Berry: It’s the same for instrumentalists, too. When I listen to Miles or Freddie Hubbard, they’re all so different, so when I play, I think about them. It’s hard not to pay some homage, but out of necessity or respect, I branch out and do it my way.
With so many members, what are the relationships like between band mates? Is it difficult to maintain harmony with such a large group?
Ford: I want people whom I like to play with who enjoy playing together. There are no prima donnas. No one comes in with a political agenda, and we’re not having in-fighting where people are forming factions. They have to play at a certain level, be able to take direction, be willing to grow and love the music. And not be a jerk. They have to be referred by somebody, and when I get a chance to talk to them, I want to know if they have a really supportive wife, so I ask, “How does your wife feel about you doing this?” I make a point of thanking their wives because I want to let them to know I appreciate that they let their husbands come to rehearsals and gigs because it’s a lot of time. I feel like crying because they have been so gracious and supportive.
What’s it like leading such a large band?
Ford: I try really hard to be inclusive. I approach things differently because I’m a woman. Women are about forming relationships, and I want to know and care about how people feel, which helps me head things off.
Berry: A lot of the arrangements don’t have conductor scores, so she’s smart for relying on her lead players for comments.
What does your average audience look like?
Ford: We’ve had grandparents, parents and children all at the same gig, all dancing to the same music. The grandkids are discovering it; the parents are re-discovering it, and the grandparents always loved it. There’s a gap in generations, and swing music definitely bridges that gap. It’s wonderful to see an all-generations event because I feel strongly about that sort of thing. We need places and events where all generations can come together to enjoy and learn from one another.
Have you run into any issues because you are a couple?
Ford: We have strong personalities, and if anything, we have to be careful about fighting amongst ourselves.
Berry: I don’t want the other players to feel like there’s some special side relationship there, even though there is. But I don’t want them to feel like that.Marcia Ford and the Hollywood Canteen Swing Band perform at the Buena Park Elks Lodge, 7212 Melrose St., Buena Park, (714) 522-2853. Every Thurs., 7:30 p.m. Free. 21+. And at diPiazza Restaurant & Lounge, 5205 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-2461; www.dipiazzas.com. Dec. 18, 6:45 p.m. $8. All ages.
Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos and impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail your link to: email@example.com.
This column appeared in print as "The Swing’s the Thing."