Big Band of the Week – The Big Band Theory of Baltimore

Formerly The Royal Knights of Jazz Orchestra, begun in 1994, The Big Band Theory of Baltimore is a non-profit that has been led by 37-year-old Melissa Zimmerman since 2014, when she took over from her father. Her big band experience began early, as a 15-year-old student of Dr. Phill Butts at Arundel High School. Zimmerman sings and plays clarinet, alto sax and oboe. Big Band Theory has played concerts, community events, fairs, fundraisers, bull roasts and senior residences. They try to play at least one concert per month. Their repertoire is among the broadest of any big band in the greater Baltimore area, as it includes works by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Simon & Garfunkel, Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Stevie Wonder and Bruno Mars. “It really depends on what the customer wants,” says managing assistant and trombonist George Payne. Zimmerman says she likes to show people that big band music does not just equal Glenn Miller, adding that the band plays Mars’s “Uptown Funk.” Big Band Theory has the broadest age range of musicians of any big band in this area, from a recent high school graduate on baritone sax to an 81-year-old trombone player. The band also includes two husband/wife pairs, one father/daughter pair and the largest number of female members, six.

Though they perform for a wide variety of audiences, Zimmerman stresses that playing at “senior living facilities where people don’t get out much” is a big part of their mission. “We enjoy being able to see smiles on their faces or tapping their feet and you know you gave them that.” The band rehearses weekly at Genesis Nursing & Rehabilitation in Brooklyn Park. As many as twenty residents come to listen.

Asked about challenges, Zimmerman cites being a young woman director. She frequently gets compared to other big band directors. Some older players who used to make “real money” complain about low pay or no pay. In her first year she had difficulty filling vacancies, but now people ask her about vacancies.

At the band’s web site,, you will find six audio tracks, five videos and a calendar of performances.

This article continues our series on area big bands — if you missed the last one, you can catch it here at Big Band of the Week – Bel Air Community Jazz Ensemble.