Someone in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ Big Band has a sense of humor. Both their business card and the banner they hang next to the bandstand on their gigs read “The Big Band Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
The band was started in 2000 by Jim Coffman, with a core of Kenwood High School alumni, two of whom – sax players Jack Sweely and Maurice Lebrun, both in their 80s – still play in the band. The members’ age range is 55 to early 80s, plus a twenty-six-year-old baritone sax player. Everyone but retired music teacher Bob Johnson (bass) is a non-professional musician. In terms of instrumentation, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a bit unusual, as the group includes bongos and euphonium.
Alto saxophonist George Stelmach’s entry to the band occurred a few years ago after he took his car to guitarist Harris Blackwell’s body shop in Essex. They had played together many years ago in the combo Shelly’s Emeralds. Not long after joining Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stelmach was drafted to direct the band, which he does in addition to playing alto sax and emceeing. If you check the Ain’t Misbehavin’ web site (see below) you will see that he keeps the band very busy with performances. “I try to do it once or twice a month,” explains Stelmach, citing recent gigs at a retirement community’s party for volunteers and Kennedy Krieger Institute’s festival of trees. Such gigs bring in “little donations” which pay for charts, equipment and an annual Christmas party. Stelmach adds, “Now and then we even get a job where we can make some money.”
At a recent concert for residents of Charlestown Retirement Community, in Catonsville, the band drew about a hundred listeners, including former Ain’t Misbehavin’ director Gar Forman. The band of eighteen, including vocalist Brenda Blackwell, was tight. Their repertoire included Swing Era classics like “I Can’t Get Started,” “I Got It Bad,” “Star Dust,” “What’s New?,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “In The Mood,” “Begin the Beguine,” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” They took listeners to the ‘60s with “Mr. Lucky,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “The Look of Love,” and “Fever.” In a departure from the norm of Baltimore-area big bands, Ain’t Misbehavin’s included patriotic tunes—“God Bless America,” “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and a medley of songs from all branches of the military.
At the band’s web site, www.aintmisbehavinbigband.com, you will find six audio tracks and one video of the band in concert.
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 – Bayside Big Band.