Rob Stoneback: Big Band sound irreplaceable
BY DAVE HOWELL
Special to The Press
There is nothing like the sound of a Big Band. Powerful and melodic, it combines intricate arrangements and dramatic solos in a style you cannot hear in any other type of music.
Trombonist Rob Stoneback’s Big Band has five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, four-piece rhythm section, and guest vocalists Robin Work and Dennis Jeter.
The Rob Stoneback Big Band, 7:30 p.m., May 14, main stage, “Jazz OnStage” series. Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
Symphony Hall jazz series attendees may recall Stoneback’s Big Band concert in 2019 in the Rodale Community Room. He recalls, “Symphony Hall was afraid we would be too loud and blow out the room. But I had an instinct that it would work.
“The crowd went bananas. They were hooting and hollering. We got four or five standing ovations. It was maybe the best reception I have ever gotten in this country.”
Stoneback’s Big Band also appeared with actress and singer Linda Purl for a holiday-themed concert in December 2019.
For the May 14 concert, you can expect to hear the music of Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Tommy Dorsey, and Stoneback’s favorite band, Count Basie. There will also be a few originals. Stoneback hopes to present a world premiere of at least one tune.
The Stoneback band specializes in swing, a form that never goes out of style.
“People think this stuff is old. Wait until you hear it. It’s complex and not easy to play,” says Stoneback.
“Swing is a feeling. You can’t capture it with musical notation. Some classical musicians have a problem playing it. You’ve got to have a feel for it. You learn it by playing it.”
Stoneback has performed with a long list of artists that include Johnny Mathis, the Temptations, Connie Francis, Natalie Cole, Olivia Newton-John, Joel Gray, magician Harry Blackstone Jr., Manhattan Transfer, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Stanley Turrentine, the Four Tops, and Wayne Newton. He remembers performing at Musikfest “at least 20 times.”
Stoneback was born in Allentown, grew up in Old Zionsville, and lives with his wife in Whitehall. Self-taught as a musician, he took lessons for about eight months when he was 13. He graduated from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, with an MA in English.
“I should have been a music major,” he says. Stoneback came to share the first trombone position and was co-leader of the LSU jazz band, despite being the only non-music major.
“My goal was to be a professor. I didn’t go into music because I was afraid of becoming a band director. It seemed one-third of the jobs would be with marching bands, which I hate. But I thought it was only way musicians could make a living.”
Ironically, Stoneback has had at least three high school music directors in his band.
Among Stoneback’s fondest memories are performing with Urbie Green and Bill Watrous, two of the best-known jazz trombonists of the modern era.
Stoneback and Watrous recorded together three times, with the Bill Watrous Quartet; on the Stoneback Big Band album, “Bad to the Bone,” and the stripped down, “Bare Bones,” recorded live at Indulge Nightclub, Allentown.
Stoneback is looking to retire from his job as a technical writer, giving himself more time for writing his own music charts. “I’m addicted to them,” he says. “I just spent $600, and I already have 500 arrangements.
“There is something about a big band you can’t replace. There is nothing like the euphoria you get playing with a Basie chart. Guys will be put their horns down and start smiling. It’s like playing a sport with an all-star team.”
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; www.millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715