“American Pie” composer Don McLean wrote that the music died in February 1959, when Buddy Holly’s plane crashed into an Iowa cornfield. But if you ask Tony Perrone, founder of Milford’s Smooth Sound Dance Band, it happened 15 years earlier when Glenn Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel during World War II. Miller is considered one of the founders of the Big Band sound, and Perrone has spent the past 24 years working to keep Miller’s music alive.
“Glenn Miller was a very patriotic man. He wanted to fight in World War II but since he was too old for that, the Army asked him to form an orchestra to perform for the troops. They figured it would help boost morale. Unfortunately, his plane disappeared coming back from a concert,” said Perrone.
According to Perrone, the Big Band sound had its heyday from the 1930s through the '40s. After that, television and movies took over until the Big Band sound saw a resurgence in the '60s. That’s when it was discovered by Perrone, and he has been performing it ever since.
Big Band combos typically contain 18-20 musicians grouped into three different sections: a rhythm section - piano, upright bass, drums and a guitar; brass section - four trumpets and four trombones; and woodwind section - two tenor saxophones, two alto saxophones and a baritone sax. Miller added a clarinet to the mix to create his unique sound.
Perrone credits his dad with exposing him to music at an early age. “We were a first-generation, very Italian family,” said Perrone. “My father was an accomplished musician and loved opera, so there was always music in the house.” But Perrone was drawn to classical and Big Band. “I always said that it was great to listen to music but more fun to play. I remember getting a trumpet from either a Sears Roebucks or Montgomery Ward catalog when I was young and starting playing.”
Perrone played in bands in junior and senior high school. He attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore where he majored in trumpet. “But I soon realized that in order to make a living at music, you had to be near the top of your class. I wasn’t there, so I knew I wouldn’t make a living at music. But I also knew that I would play music for the rest of my life.”
Perrone had long career as a postal carrier while he pursued his musical hobby. He retired in 2011 and now dedicates most of his time to his wife, Mary Louise, and his music.
Joining one band, starting another
Perrone answered an ad in the newspaper in 1990 for a new band forming in Milford and became one of the original members of the Milford Community Band. He is still a section leader in the MCB. Shortly after, he formed the Smooth Sound Dance Band with other members from the MCB and started performing throughout Kent and Sussex counties.They play about 10 shows a year.
“Music helps you express how you feel," said Perrone. “A musician never plays the same piece of music the same way twice. It comes out in how you feel. If the player is happy or sad, it comes out in the music. Music is also good for the brain. I encourage people to pick up an instrument and learn how to play.”
His biggest fear getting older is not being able to play. “During all those snowstorms last winter, we had to cancel practice, and I was lost. My wife suggested that I practice at home, but it wasn’t the same. The thing about playing is you meet such great people. If I couldn’t play my music with my friends, I’d be lost.”
“Tony has great knowledge of the music, players and composers of Big Band music,” said Dr. Gerald Thompson, a member of the band and its rehearsal director.
Perrone claims that music is a therapeutic force, and he sees it every time the SSDB entertains at a nursing home or hospital. “You see people who are bedridden and they wheel them into the show. When the music starts you see them moving their feet, nodding their heads and clapping their hands. After the show we usually go into the audience, and those people are so happy and grateful. They tell us one of the songs reminded them of a first date or special event in their life. And to take them back to a time when they were young and healthy is a greater payment than money."
Big Band is not only for the aged. “Whenever the younger crowd gets to hear Big Band, they become fans. We play at ballroom dancing events where we play fox trots, sambas and rhumbas. We also feature a vocalist, Jackie McCabe, who sings jazz for the younger crowd. We did a show at Washington College in Chestertown and a thousand kids showed up. It was awesome seeing young kids dancing to the Big Band sound.”
To book the Smooth Sound Dance Band, contact Tony Perrone at 302-398-8467 or email@example.com.