In Centre County, jazz music is not particularly common, with rock, blues, bluegrass and singer-songwriter music perpetually in the forefront at popular music venues like the Elk Creek Café, Zeno’s, Otto’s, Happy Valley Brewery and the Phyrst.
So, when Rick Hirsch announced his Big Ol’ Band has a new album, “Pocono Get Down,” and a June 16 album release gig at The State Theater, it’s something to which local music lovers should pay attention.
It’s not esoteric jazz, Hirsch said.
“Every tune has either a great beat that makes you wanna move, a catchy musical hook, or just a compelling vibe,” he said. “And the players in the band are out-of-sight.”
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The name of the band is no mistake — the band that plays on the new album is big, consisting of 13 members and a rhythm section, with Hirsch at the helm. That’s a lot of members, but numbers and concepts of size don’t create a vision for music, the heart of a leader like Hirsch does.
“The Big Ol’ Band is a modern big band,” Hirsch said. “Big Band refers to the instrumentation we use — five saxophones, eight brass and rhythm section — a standard configuration since the 1930s. Modern refers to the fact that the music we perform is brand new. You might say the body of the car is vintage, but the interior and the way it handles are totally up-to-date.”
Hirsch has been a musician for most of his life, and he started playing professionally when he was a teen. The new album is, therefore, not the beginning of his musical career, it’s simply the next step in the evolution of his multi-faceted approach to jazz and sound.
“I’ve been a professional saxophonist since I was 16,” Hirsch said. “I’m inspired by many of the great musicians I’ve performed with over the past 30 years: Tito Puente, Max Roach, Clark Terry, the Four Tops, the Temptations, as well as the hundreds of great regional musicians who have not pursued high-profile careers, but are artists of the highest level — like the members of the Big Ol’ Band.”
He cites some of his biggest influences as Miles Davis, the Beatles, Charles Mingus, Led Zeppelin and Tito Puente.
“I’m also into Spike Jones, Jewish music and other ethnic folk musics,” Hirsch said. “I always aim to write and perform instrumental improvised music that is fun to listen to.”
I started at the end of the album with “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and it’s just like Hirsch says — the music is upbeat, complex and, simply, lots of fun. The same goes for the opening track, “Giddy-Up,” which calls for a busy, clean night out with fancy clothes, big dreams and nothing — not even the chains of the Bob Dylan’s proverbial skyway — to hold back the festive groove. The rest of the album follows suit.
Aside from his new album’s inherent awesomeness, Hirsch also offers a musicianship that gets inside the music and looks out at the world. He lives in the space of sounds, and the vibes jingle-jangle in his heart and mind in a swirling and whirling montage, and it all makes him want to dance.
“At a basic level, I like music that makes my body want to move,” Hirsch said. “It’s an involuntary thing. Like the intro to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition.’ You can’t help but start wiggling a little bit when it comes on the radio.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.
IF YOU GO
- What: Rick Hirsch’s Big Ol’ Band
- When: 7:30 p.m. June 16
- Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
- Info: www.thestatetheatre.org