Swingmania the ‘busiest and best big band in the region’Written by Matt Liasse | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff McDonald takes pride in calling Swingmania the “busiest and best big band in the region.”
“That’s pretty much fact,” McDonald said. “We’ve been doing it so long … we can back it up with figures.”
On top of the 100 gigs they did last year, Swingmania recently won, judged based on the applause each set received, “best band” at “The Battle of the Bands X Swing Dance” contest in Detroit. They are going back in March to defend their title.
“I do have a trophy sitting here to prove that one,” McDonald said. “It was close. There was some really good bands … we had the edge, I guess.”
McDonald has been performing for most of his life, but Swingmania was started in 2000. Since the beginning, McDonald said he had aspirations of being the best. He and partner Mike Overholt wanted to form the best band in the region.
“I envisioned a group of professionals playing authentic arrangements and having some fun,” Overholt said in an email. “I knew my good friend Jeff McDonald had an extensive library of arrangements, probably around 2,000 … he was very receptive about teaming up.”
Over the years, Swingmania has been able to call some local venues their homes. Since forming, the group has had regular shows at South Briar Restaurant and BGump’s 101 Restaurant & Lounge, both in Sylvania, and Dégagé Jazz Café in Maumee. The band also specializes in corporate parties and plays wedding receptions as well, per requests.
Nowadays, every Tuesday, the group does a rehearsal set at Trotters Tavern, 5131 Heatherdowns Blvd. McDonald said, even though it is more of an informal set, the place feels like home.
“That’s where I audition new arrangements and I audition new musicians there too,” McDonald said. “It’s rather informal at Trotters. It’s much more relaxed. We get to try out things, new tunes and new arrangements.”
McDonald said one challenge is, with a roster of 34 members, balancing schedules.
“I could probably have three bands going at the same time with all the guys I have,” McDonald said. “It is a challenge to get that many people together on a given night, to arrive on time, that’s a big challenge.”
But the busy schedules do not seem to come into effect, McDonald said, because it’s a rewarding time.
“The music itself, that means a lot. That defines the band,” McDonald said. “I have access to some of the finest arrangers in the area [as well as] L.A., Chicago, New York, and I’ve collected these things … when you play this music, it’s the passion. You have to really love it. A lot of our guys do just that.”
McDonald added that most of the arrangements Swingmania performs are original manuscript copies, which sometimes puts them in a harder key to perform in. McDonald said he enjoys playing those arrangements more. Others are “bland,” he said.
“Working with original manuscripts can be challenging but also highly rewarding to our musicians. Many in the audience may not recognize the difficulty or the intricacies of what we do and would be satisfied with more basic arrangements, but we wouldn’t be satisfying either the knowledgeable listener or the caliber of musicians we hire by playing the easy stuff,” Overholt said. “Are we the best? All I can say is we consistently receive outstanding compliments from our customers.”
During his busy schedule, McDonald is also involved in a project that matters a lot to him – restoring a lost catalog. McDonald is involved in rebuilding the original Gene Krupa library, which was destroyed in a Yonkers house fire in 1973.
“This man was one of the true jazz legends of all time,” McDonald said.
McDonald met Krupa in Chicago in 1962, who gave him an informal drum lesson.
“He really became an influence on my playing,” McDonald said.
Because there aren’t any original pieces by Krupa anywhere, McDonald is spending time and money to get them rewritten. Presently, 40 pieces have been rewritten and represented to the public. McDonald said the project is important to him because of the history he has to them. He’s been at it since the early ‘90s.
McDonald said he will continue the project until they no longer can.
“As soon as I run out of money, I guess,” he said.
Swingmania has some big events planned: they will perform a Valentine’s Day dance party at Gesu: Sullivan Center, 2049 Parkside Blvd, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 14, they will defend their title at Detroit’s “The Battle of the Bands X Swing Dance” on March 1 and will perform at the Stranahan Great Hall on May 2.
Tags: BGump’s 101 Restaurant & Lounge, Chicago, Dégagé Jazz Café, Detroit, Gene Krupa, Gesu: Sullivan Center, Jeff McDonald, L.A., Maumee, Mike Overholt, New York, South Briar Restaurant, Stranahan Great Hall, Swingmania, The Battle of the Bands X Swing Dance, Trotters Tavern, Valentine’s Day dance party