Big Band X-Press offers scholarships to benefit high school students

Big Band X-Press offers scholarships to benefit high school studentsBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

As a non-profit organization and all-volunteer band, Big Band X-Press donates all profits to scholarships to help cover the costs for jazz band camp and one or two scholarships for high school graduates who are going into a music program. Greg Velicer, The Guitar Guy with Big Band X-Press, states, “In the 80’s and 90’s there were a lot more kids coming out of college that played instruments, horns and stuff.

And now there are still some but nowhere near the number of people. You can see it in high schools, too; the bands have shrunk. When I was in high school at Burroughs there were two bands, a beginner band and a concert band. Each band had more than a hundred kids in it -- 250 kids all playing instruments.”

New players are welcome. “I would encourage anybody to join who plays horn and are interested,” invites Velicer. “We have had all levels of players, from beginner to pro-level. We are a community band. The big band takes the same approach to adding members as other community bands, we chat with you first to see if you have experience and then you sit in with us at rehearsal and see if it is a fit.”

“Our last gig was Valentine’s in 2020. The week that the pandemic started, a year ago, we had a gig that following Saturday. We had to cancel it. The USO Building shut down.” For the past few years, the band played primarily at the Historic USO Building every four to six weeks.

“Back in the late 80’s and the early 90’s we played more frequently. We used to rent out the Kerr McGee Center and there would be between 200 and 300 people. Everybody was into big band music and a lot of the dancers who like big band music, the swing dancing, would come out.”

Another popular venue, “White Star Mine, used to be a club; it would be packed and was set up for dancing. It had a dance floor, booths around it, an open area with food and drinks, a patio, and a big window overlooking the valley. People were always dressed formal. It was really something, the lights, the floor, the view.”

Scot Rogala, band leader, remembers some special performances. ““We played a black tie event in Bakersfield, a private party for Larry Cosner when he was elected to be the President of the Kern County Medical Society. He hired the big band and paid the bus to take us over there. We played a dance for his celebration.

The locals thought we sounded pretty good. We also played at a wedding reception at Bally’s in Vegas and the people working the party thought we were a local professional band.” Velicer remembers, “One year we played as part of the IWV Concert Series, that was probably one of our biggest concerts. A lot of rehearsal went into that and we made it a very professional deal. Stan Ricker, another founding member, recorded our one CD from the IWV Concert Series.”

Velicer is one of the original band members, “The big band got together in 1987. I worked with (founder) Jim McClane on the base when I was in high school. When I came back from college Jim had put the big band together and asked if I wanted to play. He knew I played in the stage band in high school. I am one of the original members, I wasn’t there for the first few rehearsals, but I joined in the first year. The big band started with the music teachers in the school district. They were the core of the band. Almost all the music educators that played horns and instruments that are a typical big band joined.

A typical big band is five trumpets, five trombones, five saxophone players, a rhythm section of drums and bass, either piano or guitar or both, and sometimes a singer. Big band music is fun upbeat dance music. If some music gets you on your feet or just moving in your seat big band music is for you.”

When the pandemic restrictions lift, the band will go back into rehearsal in the high school band room and be available for private and public events. Two smaller bands are a part of the group: StarDusters, a ten member jazz band and a Dixieland Jazz Band, known for playing on the base’s summer ice cream social. The big band has a repertoire of about 500 songs and they take requests.

Contact the band via their Facebook page: There you can put in a request for songs before their next appearance, arrange to join the band, book the band, etc.

Velicer proudly states, “For such a small town, Ridgecrest has a surprising high level of talent. When the big band is ‘on,’ it is ‘ON.’ It is impressive.

It is cool that in Ridgecrest, such a small town, people are close enough that they will get together to form a group like that and there is the talent in town to put something together that is really special.”

Pictured: Brian Cosner, Mike Keeter, Joe Hunter, Nathan Simons and Heath Workman, and the band played on. — File photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2021-03-26