Easy Valley Eight swings

Easy Valley Eight brings the big band sound of the 1940s swing era to the 21st century.

The band's original members were still youngsters when big band leaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, Glenn Miller and Woody Herman had the stage, but their influence was nevertheless enduring.

Popular more than a half century ago, big bands were large ensembles of 15 to 25 musicians playing a variety of rhythm instruments, saxophones, trumpets and trombones.

Easy Valley Eight is a few musicians short of a big band, but its sound is not lacking.

"We're a small group with a big band sound," said Richard Cottle, 83.

The band's starting lineup in 1996 included Cottle on trumpet, the late Dave Wight on tenor and alto saxophone and piano, the late Leo Stan on baritone saxophone, Lyle Ames on guitar and drums, the late Bob Sharp on trombone, the late Sidney Goldberg on piano, Clem Novak on bass and Warren Moore on tenor saxophone

"All of us in the band got together to have a rehearsal band," Cottle said. "Our goal was to make a tape and have that. But pretty soon we were better than we thought we were, and we were having a hell of a lot more fun."

Over the years, with the passing of several members, new, younger musicians were added plus one.

The current lineup comprises Cottle, Ames, Moore, Randy Hugdahl on trombone, Garrett Edmonds on drums, Chris Matthews on piano, Joe Diamond on bass and vocals, Frank Hunnicutt on various reeds, as well as Daryl Fjeldheim and Phil Michaels, who trade off playing reeds.

Easy Valley Eight plays two or three gigs a month at local venues as well as at Standing Stone Brewery in Ashland on the first Saturday of every month and at the Ashland YMCA on the second Saturday.

In 1941, as a freshman in high school, Cottle started playing in a big band with a 12- to 15-piece group in Topeka, Kan., 15 miles from Perry, Kan., where he lived.

"Everyone wanted to be a big band player in those days," he said.

After World War II, big bands that had been used for dance events, especially jitter-bugging, were too expensive to hire, so smaller groups of quartets and quintets took over, Cottle explained.

"There wasn't much dancing after World War II," he said. "There was more just listening groups."

And rock and roll.

While the emphasis of rock and roll is the rhythm, with three or four chords and three or four words, the emphasis of big bands is on the harmony, he said.

"In the big band music, you have an arrangement with the melody that would be played in harmony — all five saxes would be playing the melody while the trombones or bass would be playing the background," he explained. "And instead of having triads or sevenths, they would end up with ninths or twelfths or thirteenth; that way, if you get all of those together, you get a hell of a big sound; and harmonically, it sounds good."

The majority of the Easy Valley Eight repertoire consists of new arrangements of well-known big band and swing tunes — "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller, "Stardust" by Artie Shaw and "Sentimental Journey" by Tommy Dorsey — as well as about a dozen originals Lyle Ames wrote.

Cottle said he paid a man from the Bay Area $2 to $3 a song to boil down 15-piece arrangements to eight- or nine-piece arrangements. Dave Richardson, a trumpet player and pianist, also arranged songs for the band specifically for its instrumentation.

"He knew where our strengths and weaknesses were," Cottle said.

Of the band's 300-song library, Richardson contributed about 100 of the arrangements.

The group has produced two albums, an instrumental one, "One More Time," released in 1998 and " 'Bout Time" released in 2006. " 'Bout Time" includes five original tunes that Ames composed and arranged as well as Richardson's arrangements.

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