Formed in 1946 at the University of North Texas, the One O’Clock Lab Band, named for its daily rehearsal time, has earned six Grammy nominations, played with Duke Ellington, performed at the White House and, now, has appeared at Fort Worth’s Concerts in the Garden. Its 19 members are UNT students selected via highly competitive auditions each semester.
The music: Big-band jazz, but not the timeworn hits some might have been expecting. Sunday night’s program was lots of newer pieces and winning arrangements of a couple of standards from UNT personnel. It’s a very tight band, and a real pleasure to hear such a large ensemble who have the skills, every one, of your favorite soloists.
The mood: Relaxed and grown-up, with an attentive crowd lulled into close listening by the good-vibrations emceeing of director Steve Wiest. He called the Fort Worth Botanic Garden “the best jazz club in the world” and tossed off lines like “It’s in the same key as these katydids” before turning around to conduct the numbers.
Memorable moments: Many, but the traditionalist opening number really showed what this band can do. The pushed-beyond-recognition version of Cole Porter’s I Love You had an uptempo Latin beat and knockout solos from trumpeter Daniel Matthews, trombonist Joakim Toftgard and Nolan Byrd on drums. A bit later, former member Chris McQueen’s smokin’ composition Foe Destroyer was the best advertisement for what modern big band can be.