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The John Bennett Dance Band remains a fixture in Wilsonville

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - John Bennett plays the piano during a recent performance at Wilsonville's Al Kader Shrine Center.Pianist John Bennett says that he isn’t sure why the band he plays with in Wilsonville on the fourth Sunday of every month — the John Bennett Dance Band — is named after him.

“I don’t know why Jack (Dawes) calls it my band, but he did, so it’s kind of been that,” Bennett says. “He put together the band for it.”

But Dawes, a drummer, says that the reason for the name is simple: “It’s because we love John Bennett. Naming it was the easy part,” he laughs.

Dawes, Bennett and the band’s five other regular members have been performing big band jazz monthly at the Al Kader Shrine Center for seven years. Every show is a fundraiser for the Shriners. Shows often take in $1,000 or more, with dozens turning out to dance and listen to standards performed by musicians widely respected in the Portland area.

The Dance Band was originally intended as a group to perform for a single charity gig for the Shriners. A friend of Dawes’ is a Shriner, and asked Dawes to help him fundraise.

“When we put this dance together, we just called people that we knew. And that’s how we formed the band,” Dawes says.

Dawes, 79, has been drumming since he was required to take a music class in intermediate school. He’s been involved with the Portland Dixieland Jazz society for years, and plays with jazz bands of all sorts around the region. He’d played with Bennett for years, and was a fan of Bennett’s Black Swan Classic Jazz Band.

Bennett, now 82, is a retired professor of Russian, and a longtime musician as well, having played piano since he was 10 years old.

“I was going into fifth grade, and my grandmother said, ‘It’s time to start piano.’ She would sit with me an hour every day,” he recalls.

Originally, Bennett played classical music. But his older brother played the trumpet, and Bennett gradually learned to accompany him on piano. A jazz musician was born.

Dawes also recruited bassist Dave Duthie, trombonist Wayne Travillion, guitarist Dave Johnson and tenor saxophonist Jim Buchmann. “We all knew each other and had crossed paths somewhere,” says Dawes.

The structure of the first show was unusual: John Bennett came out first and played a piano tune. The next song saw Duthie join in on bass, and the third added a guitarist to the mix, until all seven musicians had taken to the stage. The show was such a success that the Shriners asked the band to perform on a monthly basis.

With no fixed singer, the band recruits vocalists on a month by month basis. They’ve performed in Wilsonville with such well-known artists as Rebecca Kilgore, Marilyn Keller and Marianna Thielen of the Bylines.

Every so often, the band does special fundraising shows. One was designed to honor John Bennett. Dawes invited some 40 musicians to come and perform with the band, including former bandmates of Bennett’s who date back 25 years.

“My wife said, ‘They won’t donate their time,’” Dawes says. “But everyone I called said, “No problem, because it’s John Bennett.’”

The band continues to be a fundraising force. They also donate their time; once a month, a trio or quartet of Dance Band members take a performance into the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Portland. Bennett says that you’d never expect that there is a generation gap based on the children’s reactions.

“The kids don’t dance, but it entertains them,” he says. “We play more lively music, because some of the dance music can be slower.”

But the Dance Band’s Wilsonville show continues to be marked by its engagement with the audience, some of who return every month to foxtrot, jitterbug and waltz. And neither Bennett nor Dawes foresee the shows stopping any time soon.

“You work together with people that you like, and you know each other. We have a good time up there,” he says. “If we have a good time, the dancers have a good time.”

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Music coordinator Wayne Travillion plays both trombone and cornet for the John Bennett Dance Band.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Dave Duthie plays the bass.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jack Dawes plays the drums.

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