Max Weinberg led his new Big Band in a familiar tune that turned out to be an appropriate theme for their performance Wednesday evening at Jim Thorpe's Mauch Chunk Opera House.
The song was "This Could Be The Start of Something Big", which was penned by Steve Allen and served as a calling card for Weinberg's latest enterprise.
As drummer for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and bandleader for Conan O'Brien during Conan's stints on Late Night and The Tonight Show, as well as his work with other musicians, Weinberg hasn't had the opportunity for many side projects of his own, given his TV schedule and Springsteen tours.
Now, he has assembled a stellar 15-piece ensemble to pursue his passion for big band-era swing music, and he is just getting started.
"This is just our fifth show, and we are going to keep going and keep playing this music," Weinberg announced to the Mauch Chunk Opera House crowd, demonstrating his zest for the music.
Wearing a white dress shirt with no tie, as well as sporting a goatee, the bespectacled Weinberg related that he has roots in northeastern Pennsylvania, noting that his family is from Reading and operated a business in Marshalls Creek. He is also familiar with the area through his days of touring the Pa. college circuit with his E Street cohorts before Springsteen and company hit it big.
Weinberg's dream team included a full 12-piece horn section, as well as piano and stand-up bass, stocked with musicians he said were "the top players on the East Coast". Each of the horn players displayed the reasons for Weinberg's praise as they took turns with high-flying solos, showcasing their skills during each number.
The Mighty Max's propulsive work on the drum kit drove the percussive engine. Accustomed to Springsteen's marathon three hour shows, Weinberg was easily able to scale his talents to the pace of the evening.
He mentioned his love for a number of his drumming heroes, but the one that surfaced the most was Buddy Rich. He performed several Rich-styled selections, displaying his cymbal skills on the Henry Mancini theme to the 1959 cop show Mr. Lucky, then letting loose with a flashy solo during a furious rendition of 1930's favorite "Bugle Call Rag".
Weinberg also related how he had been a fan of TV police shows while growing up, breaking into the Count Basie theme to M Squad. He noted how that show lasted about a year. "I have a lot of experience with TV shows that last a year," he remarked, making a crack about his and O'Brien's short and prematurely-ended run on The Tonight Show after 17 years with Late Night.
The band also did a standout take on Frank Sinatra's "Only the Lonely", featuring a fine alto sax solo from John Gordon as Weinberg showed off his brush technique.
Among the highlights of the evening were the times Weinberg was able to merge his two worlds, adapting rock'n'roll to big band arrangements.
One instance was a medley of Beatles hits "Help", "Do You Want to Know a Secret" and "Kansas City", working with another Basie arrangement to produce a sensual side of the Fab Four.
To close the performance, Weinberg gave a nod to his other Boss, dipping into early Bruce and The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle for a modified version of the jazzy "Kitty's Back".
If this is going to be Weinberg's new gig, his Big Band has the potential to carry the flame for swing music as it grows, stretches out and develops. Fans might actually get a chance to see it at an earlier hour as well.
The show was presented by JTAMS Productions of Jim Thorpe.