Aaf Brandt Corstius Folia, September 1999

A very big Music-machine
Crea Big Band in concert with music celebrities.

The conductor of the Crea Big Band has a name that fits his profession perfectly: Armando Cairo. He also dresses for the part: green trousers, a cheerful red jacket, decorated with a button of Lisa from the Simpsons – like Cairo an enthusiastic saxophonist - and his saxophone-case is also bright red.

Conducting a big band is totally different from, for example, conducting a classical orchestra. Cairo doesn’t really use his hands, let alone a rostrum; he uses his arms. Two arms above his head pointing one way means: stop. At least, that’s what it looks like, but for laymen his directions are completely incomprehensible. Most of the time Cairo doesn’t use his arms, but lets the musicians blow freely, drum and pluck (on bass); he is very keen on improvisation. When everything runs smoothly, he just taps his feet a little.

Moreover, the ensemble doesn’t resemble a traditional orchestra. During tuning, they smoke a cigarette, the conductor moves around or writes down things. “We’ll start with number one” he announces, and then leaves the room for a few minutes.

The musicians also appear to be relaxed. When the others play, you can easily have a talk amongst one another. They play so loud, they don’t even notice. So loud, that an innocent visitor blinks her eyes when hearing the first rumbling roar. One of the band members quickly leaves the room to answer his cell-phone. “Our second trumpeter is about to become a father”, Cairo explains. A few minutes later the trumpeter returns: “No problem, keep playing”.

“There is nothing as boring as a band that only plays steady arrangements with short solo’s”, according to Cairo. “I always want to ‘open up’ the arrangements for the solo’s. This means that when a soloist is on the roll, I’ll give the others the cue to continue later”.

And the soloists do roll away. A trumpeter in the back, that gets a lot of solo’s from Cairo, is blowing away like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes even a bit too long. “Oops, sorry, I accidentally played one too many”, he says at the end. Cairo: “I like to give every every musician a solo. Some bands use guests soloists, who solo on everything. It’s a lot more fun when there is an interaction”.

So even the shy girl on saxophone gets her solo, and plays bravely. Especially brave, considering the fact that in front of her is Hans Dulfer, next to his daughter Candy, the most famous Dutch saxophonist.

Dulfer is very easy going. “Could you start with The A Train?”, Cairo asks. “I would love to start with a break”, Dulfer answers.

Dulfer was asked to perform with the big band on their first concert this year. The saxophonist is blowing away happily, characteristically pinches his eyes and moves his head up and down. His saxophone is tarnished by excessive use, the instruments of the girls on the first row are still bright and shiny.

Dulfer plays beautifully, but it doesn’t intimidate the band members. When he asks the pianist which chord he plays, the simple answer is: “just b-flat”.

There are professional musicians in 'vital places' in the big band. According to Cairo this is pure necessity. "There's nothing worse than a big band with a bad rhythm-section. That's the reason we have a professional bassplayer and drummer. The first trumpeter is also professional”, the conductor tells us.

Especially this year that was necessary, because the big band started their performances rigth away in September. “Usually we can rehearse the first three months, but this year we immediately start performing. Reason is, that Meander has big band nights on Monday, and we were asked for those nights”. The first concert is with Hans Dulfer, trumpeter Saskia Laroo joins them for the second, and pianist and composer Piet Kuiters for the last concert of the month. “We play Kuiters’ own work, which we have rehearsed especially for the concert. I’ve just written it down”, Cairo explains.

The band members aren’t really intimidated by all those celebrities. They almost ignore Dulfer, as he walks in on the rehearsal. They check their music, or the humidity of their reeds. “They enjoy playing with well known musicians. It motivates them to try harder". Of course there is a price-tag attached – “We won’t discuss money “, but according to Cairo, it’s worth it. Moreover, they charge an entrance-fee.

The soloists don’t think they’re too good for an amateur-band. Cairo: “The people in the band are enthusiastic, and that reflects on the guest-soloist”. The big band has a repertoire of around seventy pieces, from which the guest-soloists can pick their favorites. “There are a lot of band-members that stay for a few years, and this way we can create stability. In earlier years I was glad when we could find somebody”. But that has changed in the thirteen years he’s been conductor of the band. “Now we have people that stay for seven or eight years”. The majority of the band also appears to be a little older. And – exceptionally for a Crea-course – the men/women-ratio is almost even; not a surplus of ladies.

According to Cairo, the popularity of the big band is not a hype or temporary fashion. “In my opinion that is a lot of rubbish. OK, Herman Brood has just recorded a record with a big band, but there have always been big bands”.

Can he explain the fun of a big band? Cairo: “It’s one big music-machine, that can leave a huge impression. Because of the enthusiasm of the players it doesn’t have to sound cumbrous, it can be as flexible as a small ensemble”.

And indeed, the band-members act on the directions from Cairo. Every once in a while he picks up his own saxophone and joins them, with visible pleasure.
But is it dance music?. Considering they are performing in Meander, not really the place to solemnly still listen to the music. “Up to the 70s, people danced to jazz in the United States”, Cairo claims. He states that the New Cool Collective Big Band is an example of present-day, modern music. “When they perform, everyone is swinging. We also play a few numbers that are fit to dance to. And if it’s possible, I love it when the audience dances”.