John Munger Memorial Jazz Band gets toes tapping to big-band sounds
When the John Munger Memorial Jazz Band plays at the Milwaukie Center at noon every Friday, it is "a great opportunity for people to come out, have lunch at Pete's Cafe [inside the center] and dance to the tunes played by big bands in the 1940s," said Tina Johnson, the recreation coordinator.
The multipurpose community center, operated by the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District, is hoping to attract more dancers.
Longtime Milwaukie resident John Munger formed the band and brought it to the Milwaukie Center in 1990. When Munger, a pianist, died in August 2005, band members decided to rename the band in his honor, Johnson said.
"When I first came here, there were lots of people dancing. But now it's frustrating to see so few people [taking part]. Some of the band members drive really far and they all volunteer their time," she said.
To encourage more participation, Johnson has scheduled a free foxtrot workshop at 11 a.m. Friday, April 7. Dancers will then be primed and ready to try out their new steps when the band begins to play at noon.
Instructor Patti Drewry will teach the class, helping dancers learn to move smoothly to the music of big band standards; no preregistration is required.
Drewry also will teach a foxtrot and East Coast swing class from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. on Tuesdays, starting April 18 and continuing through June 13, for a $34 fee for seniors.
Johnson hopes the two classes will make people realize that these dances "are coming back in style."
She noted that the environment is a comfortable one, the dance floor is not crowded, and just listening to the music is fun.
"Even if you're not dancing, this is the happiest music," said Milwaukie Center volunteer Linda Palandech.
The music also draws people together, Johnson said, noting a small group of friends connects with one another on Fridays by listening to the music.
"We're providing a public service. John had that in mind" when he brought the John Munger Band to the Milwaukie Center, said Jay Burchak, who is the leader of the current iteration of the band.
Burchak joined the band in 1992, playing the trumpet. He earned a bachelor's and master's degree in music from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York and was a band director at several high schools, as well as leading his own group, Jay Burchak's Black Magic Band.
"Dancing keeps you alive longer, and it is the best activity you can have in your 70s and 80s," Burchak said. "We want more dancers; we love playing for people."
Burchak grew up with jazz and swing music from the 1940s, and his favorite tune to play is "I Can't Get Started," with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Vernon Duke.
Burchak plays a trumpet solo in the song and noted it was the theme song of Bunny Berigan, a trumpeter who played with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.
What trombonist Ken Rideout likes best about playing at the Milwaukie Center is "the chance to play various types of music for people who enjoy music and dancing."
Rideout, who was a practicing physician in Milwaukie for more than three decades, has played with the John Munger Memorial Jazz Band for many years. He said the group never rehearses together — they have a big repertoire of tunes they play from sheet music or memory, and they also do a lot of improvising.
People of all ages should come to the center on Fridays, Rideout said, "because we are a good band that enjoys playing together. It's a rare opportunity to come and dance to live music."
Although they do play a variety of tunes, the band always plays the nostalgic "Till We Meet Again" as their very last piece.
All the band members volunteer their time, but they have a unique way for people to show their appreciation for the music.
Rideout noted, "We have a little ceramic cow that sits on stage, and if you open its head and put in some money, the cow moos. That is how we get paid — we're paid by the cow."
Dance to the beat
What: The John Munger Memorial Jazz Band
When: Noon to 2 p.m. Fridays
Where: The Milwaukie Center, 5440 S.E. Kellogg Creek Drive
Dance classes: Instructor Patti Drewry will teach a free foxtrot workshop at 11 a.m. Friday, April 7. No preregistration is required. She will also teach a foxtrot and East Coast swing class from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. Tuesdays, from April 18 to June 13, for a $34 fee for seniors.
Contact: For more information, call 503-653-8100 or visit ncprd.com/milwaukie-center.
Members: The members of the band include Jay Burchak, trumpet; Peter Delay, sax; Katie Nordone, bass; Ken Ochner, bass; Doragay Pelley, piano; Gary Smith, drums; and Ken Rideout, trombone. Pianist John Bennett sometimes joins the group.