Featured LEISURE

Big Band music is alive and swinging

The Moonlight Serenade Orchestra performs in the summer Twilight In The Park concert series at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. (courtesy of Moonlight Serenade Orchestra)

Big Band music is alive and swinging

By Terry L. Wilson

The era of big bands provided the soundtrack for “The Greatest Generation.” Bandleaders like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Chick Webb transformed popular music in the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Proving that some things are timeless, the beat of the Big Band era lives on thanks to a few Scripps Ranch musicians and their friends of the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra. 

“We are first and foremost a big band in the style of the 1930s and 1940s,” said Scripps Ranch resident Bob Tutelman, musical director for the orchestra. “There is a new generation showing an appreciation for Big Band music. Big Band arrangements in the ’30s and ’40s had a unique style, and I am seeing a renaissance with the younger generation wanting to hear big band music.”

“Our namesake was a famous Big Band arrangement by Glenn Miller. ‘Moonlight Serenade’ was a sentimental number. It is a very famous and timeless piece of music,” said Andrew Hilliard, business manager/secretary of the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra. “The orchestra started about 25 years ago as a community band activity in Chula Vista … over time it has grown into the big band that it is today, consisting of saxophones, trumpets, trombones a rhythm section; and a very important part of the band are the vocalists.” 

The musicians come from various parts of San Diego including four from Scripps Ranch. Most of the band members are retired business professionals, with a few in their 40s.

“Our specialty, of course, is Big Band music, as is our commitment to perform that music true to the original style in a live performance,” Hilliard said. “You can listen to music on the world’s best stereo, and I can tell you, there is no comparison to hearing music from a live orchestra. The visceral experience of standing in front of a live performance is night and day above a piece of recorded music. The sound of a live orchestra can go from a whisper to a roar.”

“Big Band music is happy music. People love to dance to our songs,” Tutelman said. “Our music has many different sounds. We can have everyone playing at once, putting out a big sound that gives everyone a rush of energy; or we can have part of the group playing softly behind a soloist. Everyone in the band wants to give our audience an unforgettable experience as only a big band can do.” 

The Serenade Orchestra Foundation has a 501(c)(3) status that reaches out to students in the community by giving them an opportunity to learn about Big Band music by playing along with a member of the orchestra. They have done this before in Tierrasanta and Claremont Mesa with excellent results.

“We are starting this program with Scripps Ranch High School because four of our 30 regular musicians live in Scripps Ranch. So, it seemed like a good place to expand,” Tutelman said. 

Mary Murphy’s Champion Ballroom, 4255 Ruffin Road, presents the Moonlight Serenade Big Band Orchestra on the First Friday of each month. 

The Moonlight Serenade Orchestra also performs at Balboa Parks’ Twilight In The Park Concert series at Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

For additional information about the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra, email msosandiego@gmail.com or visit www.themso.com.