The Marvel of Jazz

September 24, 1997


Staff Writer

The 17-piece Gary Marvel Jazz Orchestra will close Pen Mar Park's summer season with a concert Sunday, Sept. 28, from 2 to 5 p.m. The audience will be listening and dancing to music from a repertoire of more than 700 tunes from the '40s through today. The orchestra is commited to keeping the jazz tradition alive - the tradition Gary Marvel calls one of the only truly American art forms.

Although some of the musicians come from as far away as Detroit, Baltimore and Arlington and Manassas, Va., the Pen Mar gig is relatively close to home. Last summer, the orchestra spent 12 days touring in Europe, highlighted by an invitation to play at a Fourth of July celebration at the American ambassor's residence in Vienna, Austria.

U.S. ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt welcomed the orchestra, and with its accompaniment, she sang "America the Beautiful" for her more than 850 guests.


The orchestra played five scheduled concerts in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, Munich and Heidelberg, Germany, and near Lucerne, Switzerland, with the Alps as a backdrop. An impromptu performance took place one night at an Austrian hotel, when the manager asked in accented English, "A band?"

A flyer for the orchestra's concert near Lucerne included the following description of the program:

"Traditionelle Jazzmusik mit Werken von Glenn Miller und Count Basie."

The language on the flyer is German, but the language of the music is universal. Marvel decribes their European audiences as very knowledgeable about American music. Their Viennese listeners were reserved, but they were smiling, and Marvel noticed some discreetly tapping toes while the band played.

The Gary Marvel Jazz Orchestra first came together about seven years ago for a benefit concert and dinner dance at Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va. The big band salute and fund-raiser were successful and fun.

"This is OK," Marvel decided.

He and the musicians he gathered for the event enjoyed the evening and decided to continue playing together. They keep their performance schedule to a couple of dates a month. Taking a month off in the summer has been part of a successful formula for the group. They play different kinds of engagements - mostly private parties - and are booked through New Year's Eve 1998.

Like most of the other orchestra members, Marvel has a day job. He's been director of bands at Hedgesville High School in Hedgesville, W.Va., for the past 12 years, teaching about 100 students. He leads the 88-member marching band, the concert band and wind ensemble.

The wind ensemble was named Honor Band for the state in 1997.

"I've got wonderful kids," Marvel bragged.

President of West Virginia Music Educators Association, Marvel believes in the value of teaching music in the schools beyond having the students learn music. Concentrating, learning and carrying through to a performance can help to build a young person's confidence, he said.

Marvel plays an odd-looking trumpet that is modified - in the fashion of Dizzy Gillespie's - to be less restricted than a traditional horn. He didn't learn to play the instrument until the summer before his senior year of high school in Rehoboth, Del.

He first learned to play drums, taking lessons from a former big band drummer who had retired to nearby Milton, Del. The drummer invited the 13-year-old Marvel to "sit in" when his group played local gigs. Marvel had his "first official job" at 14, playing drums at a local firehall. When he was handed $30 at the end of the evening, he decided that getting paid for doing something you enjoyed was a pretty good deal.

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