Weekender

Sounds of swing set the mood for jazzy, upbeat big-band performance

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A brassy, upbeat celebration of America’s greatest generation comes to Penn State at 7 p.m. Wednesday through the music and dance of the 1940s.

Artbeat Inc. presents “In the Mood,” featuring the String of Pearls Big Band Orchestra and the “In the Mood” singers and dancers, celebrating 21 years on tour.

The brassy, all-singing, all-dancing, all-American 1940s musical revue comes to University Park to delight fans of the American big bands and the Big Band era.

Led by creator, producer and Juilliard-trained pianist and conductor Bud Forrest, the 19-member company performs songs made famous by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Erskine Hawkins, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra and other idols of the Swing era.

The late Vic Schoen, the show’s primary arranger, created the arrangements for the legendary Andrews Sisters.

“In the Mood” has re-created the Swing era with choreography, nostalgic costumes and memorable songs, such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B),” “In the Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” and many more.

Forrest, originally from Long Island, N.Y., started playing piano when he was 8 years old, and basically hasn’t stopped since.

“I had good piano teachers, and I had a faculty member from Juilliard come to my house for five years,” he said.

After attending Ithaca College, Forrest became the pianist for the Singing Sergeants, the official chorus of the U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C., and, while he was in the Air Force, worked on his master’s degree.

“In 1988, I decided to put together a singing group, when I focused on the music of the Andrews Sisters,” he said. “I got three young ladies and we just started performing around town. We had the ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,’ but we didn’t have a trumpet player. So the next thing I know I had a nine-piece band.”

In 1988, Forrest was thinking about forming a vocal group, and he latched on to the music of the Andrews Sisters because he felt they had the most energy and the most style. “I wanted to try and replicate that — but of course nobody can be the Andrews Sisters,” he said. “But I just felt that the whole big band era was very special in the history of American music.”

“In the Mood” evolved over a five-year period and continues to grow. In 1993, the band was asked to perform on the steps of the National Archives as part of their commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II. At that point, Forrest had a 17-piece band and four singers.

“We had 5,000 people show up that night,” he said. “The audience and some of the folks from the headquarters of the USO came to us and said, ‘Let’s do more shows like this and work together.’ So in 1994 I started touring, never thinking that in 2015 I’d still be doing this.”

In Washington, Forrest had access to all the military musicians, some of whom have retired and are still with him.

“I audition the singers in New York every year,” Forrest said. “I travel with the show, conduct the orchestra, and play the piano, which is unusual for the producer of the show to be in the show. But I try to keep everything in order as best as I can.”

The best way to describe “In the Mood” is as a variety show. There is no story to “In the Mood” but the music is what the story becomes. Forrest picks out songs that say something, as the lyrics basically do the talking.

“Each year I change the show about 30 percent based upon the quality of the musicians,” he said. “I feature a trumpet player or a trombone player, and the singers, with a tenor or baritone. I have to do ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,’ ‘Tuxedo Junction,’ and of course ‘In the Mood.’ It’s a show that’s patriotic, nostalgic, romantic, and it’s jazzy and brassy — which is how we advertise it. It’s all happening at the same time.”

The “In the Mood” songs were written by some of the greatest songwriters of our time, such as Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser, Oscar Hammerstein and Harold Arlen. They are classic, timeless melodies blended with lyrics that touch people’s lives.

“When you add the big band to it, you get the energy of the trumpets and the trombones and the saxophones and the rhythm section, and then you have something that’s very unique,” Forrest said. “You can argue that the 1940s was the most significant decade of the 20th century, because of World War II certainly, but just what it meant to Americans. The times were simpler, and the ‘Greatest Generation’ got its name for a reason.”

Older audience members who attend “In the Mood” have not heard these songs in years and it brings back many pleasant memories for them, touching them in many different ways. Almost everyone remembers a person or a place by a song, and this show is certain to trigger memories for a lot of people.

“What’s really nice about it is we get lots of generations coming — we get the grandmother to the baby-boomers and their grandchildren all coming to the show together,” Forrest said. “And then they go home and they talk about it.”

Because they travel all around the country, the band sees a lot of regional differences. Like politicians, they have a great snapshot of America, and see true American spirit everywhere they go.

After every performance, Forrest greets people in the lobby and takes song requests. To be able to experience different people and different cultures and get up on the stage and have fun with the music has been thrill, he said.

“It’s a family show. I always tell everybody it’s for kids 8-98,” he said. “We get people crying, especially the World War II generation. But for even their kids, the baby-boomers, we evoke lots of emotions from this music. I think it’s universally accepted that they just are thrilled to see the quality of this show.”

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