Big Band of the Week – Dr. Phill’s Big Band

Dr. Phill is drummer, band leader and music educator Phill Butts. He explains that his motivation for starting this band in 2011 was to fill the void left by his retirement, after directing big bands at Arundel High School for 40 years. “I wanted to continue my passion,” Butts says, “plus I had accumulated all these charts.”

With the help of band parent Richard Bass, Butts began recruiting musicians who shared his passion for big band music. The band began rehearsing bi-weekly at Baltimore’s venerable Arch Social Club, where Butts is a member. In June, 2013 Dr. Phill’s Big Band played its first gig at Caton Castle (see John Tegler’s July 2013 BJA Newsletter review at Other venues have included Blob’s Park, the Annapolis Fringe Festival, LaPlata Town Center, St. James Church in Ellicott City and a Komen fundraising event.

Early on, Butts played drums and led the band, but found the dual role difficult. He has since turned drum duties over to Russ Hayward, but still plays one tune per set—powerhouse numbers like “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Bill Holman’s “The Git.”

Butts likes to organize performances around themes. The band’s first concert was a mostly instrumental history of big band jazz. With vocalist Denyse Pearson, who has since passed, the band then performed tribute concerts to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

In November, 2017, vocalist Larzine Talley was featured in the band’s Jazz Meets Motown concert, which filled Caton Castle to capacity. She was back on New Year’s Day, 2018, along with “Flynnatra,” vocalist Steve Flynn, who performed several of Frank Sinatra’s best-known hits. The band’s next big project will feature Talley in a “Diamonds in Jazz” show, highlighting songs made popular by Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson. Butts would also like to develop a tribute concert to drummer and big band leader Chick Webb. Bethesda Blues & Jazz and Blues Alley are in Butts’s sights as potential venues.

At, you will find ten video clips and links to seven audio tracks on ReverbNation.

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.