Big Band of the Week – The Don Arnold Big Band

Band leader Don Arnold possesses a wry sense of humor. When I mentioned the large number of big bands in the Baltimore area—thirty-three—he commented, “No wonder there’s no work.” Arnold, 91, remembers when big band work was plentiful around Baltimore, at the Surf Club on Route 40 and The Dutch Mill on Harford Road. About today’s scene Arnold says, “Nobody wants to pay enough to make it worthwhile. I’d feel too guilty paying $20 each.” Therefore, he doesn’t pursue gigs. His large ensemble is strictly a rehearsal band in which members play for their own enjoyment and skill development.

Like many of the Baltimore area’s big band leaders, Arnold, a Peabody Conservatory graduate, taught music, in his case for thirty years at Kenwood High School in eastern Baltimore County. He proudly states that Bernie Robier, who plays bass trombone in several local big bands, was one of his students. In the 1950s Arnold played trumpet in the Ches Kellam Band, mainly for dancers at recreation centers. Kellam later disbanded the group but restarted it more than ten years ago. Arnold eventually took over the leadership.

The Don Arnold Big Band released its eighth CD, Chasin’ the Blues Away, on November 5, 2017, to an audience of 300 in Rosedale. The band was super tight. I was particularly impressed with their performance of Jerome Richardon’s “Groove Merchant,” an arrangement with a notoriously difficult saxophone soli, which they pulled off masterfully. This is one of sixteen tracks on the latest CD, which range from Swing Era classics to Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba.” The band includes vocalists Dolores Vally and Tony Liberto, who has clearly immersed himself in the style of Frank Sinatra. Trombonist Ralph Ingalls provided five of the album’s arrangements, including “Tren de la Noche,” a Latin reworking of Jimmy Forrest’s “Night Train.” Both live and on CD this band’s musicians are uniformly excellent ensemble players and soloists.

Will there be a ninth CD? “If I’m still here,” says Arnold.

While the Don Arnold Big Band does not have a website, you may view three videos of their performances (“All or Nothing at All,” “Strike Up the Band,” and “Cherokee”) at youtube.com.

This article continues our series on area big bands — if you missed any of them, you can catch them here at Big Band of the Week.