One of the busier big bands in Baltimore is The Shades of Blue Orchestra, founded in 1976. The smooth, polished, swinging sounds of this ensemble can be heard via a wide array of audio tracks on its website. There are about two dozen longer clips on the band’s Jukebox webpage, each 90 seconds, and each presenting a flowing montage of snippets from the whole tune. That selection is complemented by a twelve-minute compilation of 24 different song excerpts, each one 30 seconds long.
Many of the clips come from two CDs the band has produced—both available for sale on the site—and the tunes range from Bacharach (“The Look of Love”) to bossa nova (“The Girl from Ipanema”). There are also plenty of Great American Songbook favorites in the mix, such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I Remember You.”
The clips are but a small sampling of the band’s extensive library, which numbers well into the 300s. It ranges from classic ‘30s and ‘40s big band swing to rock from the ‘50s through the ‘80s, along with Motown songs, ballads, waltzes, polkas, and Latin dance tunes, not to mention patriotic selections suitable for Fourth of July events. The group is as musically diverse a big band as you’ll find.
The vocal numbers are a showcase for the talented Liberto family: father Tony, a regular with the band since 1998, and daughters Jena, Cara, and Gia, all of whom joined the group in 2014. To my ears, Tony sounds remarkably like Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. Not surprisingly, in his profile on the site, Tony names Sinatra as one of his favorite artists, along with John Coltrane, Tony Bennett, and, perhaps an unlikely name to show up on a jazz-oriented site—Pavarotti. Talk about eclectic! The Liberto sisters are the Andrews Sisters redux when they perform tunes such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Beer Barrel Polka.”
Along with audio clips, photos, a calendar of events, and member bios, the Shades of Blue website also has an extensive Q & A section about the band in general, and one specifically for those considering hiring the orchestra for a wedding. That Q&A drills down to details such as options for introducing the wedding party, suggestions for “first dance” songs, and tips on what types of music are appropriate for different stages of the reception.
The band’s musical director, Michael Walker, like many musicians in the Baltimore-Washington region, has a military background. A former US Navy corpsman and current Army National Guardsman, he attended the Armed Forces School of Music and played trombone in numerous military jazz combos. Walker is also a church music minister.
Among the band’s recent gigs this summer were a Johns Hopkins Children’s Center fundraiser and Big Band & Fireworks Night at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. Check the calendar on their website (www.shades-of-blue.com) for upcoming appearances, or get on their mailing list.
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.