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Compaq Big Band really swings

Bob Young. Boston Herald. Boston, Mass.: November 9, 2003, page 47.

Copyright Boston Herald Library Nov 9, 2003

It's not every gig where you can walk up to the band between sets and engage in a highly informed conversation about hard drives, streaming video or technical infrastructure.

The members of the Compaq Big Band are perfectly capable of doing that - but, really, why crash the system, so to speak? Ellington and Basie, not interfaces and Web apps, are where it's at when this 21- member group of swingin' geeks hits the stage.

Don't think, though, that the Compaq Big Band is your grandfather's swing band.

"We've got IT guys, people in mar keting and sales, players from all different walks of life, a really eclectic mix," explained band director Al Saloky, alto saxophonist and computer systems consultant.

Though Saloky said band members consider themselves "hobbyists," these aren't casual model builders we're talking about. A band that has held a regular rehearsal every week for more than 28 years, has a pair of sound engineers, a librarian to keep track of 840 pieces of music, a Web site (www.compaqbigband.com) and an album in the works is serious indeed.

Listeners at the Sea Note on Nantasket Beach will get to hear just how serious when the orchestra brings the sounds of Woody Herman, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington into the Hull venue tonight.

Founded as a club in 1975 by employees of Maynard-based Digital Equipment Corp., the outfit was the DECbigband until 2000, when the company was absorbed into Compaq. Last year, Compaq and Hewle tt- Packard merged, but the band still maintains its Compaq identity.

Now headquartered at the HP facility in Marlboro, former and current employees of HP, Compaq and Digital make up most of the band, augmented by area pros and amateurs.

"I got laid off last year," said Saloky, "but I go back every Wednesday night for rehearsals."

A nonprofit organization that will have performed 30 shows by the end of this year - its busiest ever - the Compaq Big Band keeps its fees low as it concentrates on charity and fund-raising events. You'll find the usually black T-shirted band ("Kind of a `Men in Black' thing," said Saloky) playing anywhere within 50 or 60 miles of Boston.

"Nobody's getting rich," he said with a laugh. "We've only given out gas money this past year. For 27 years, nobody got a penny."

What they do get are the kinds of intangibles that feed amat eur and professional musicians alike.

"There's a great therapy in music," said Saloky, "and doing what we do and making people happy is a real kick.

"People think that big band music is for old fogeys, people Glenn Miller's age if he were alive now. That's not really true for us. Our audiences are 18 to 80," he said. "But when one of the old folks who actually saw Stan Kenton or Buddy Rich comes up to us and says, `You guys are just like them,' that's nice even if it's not quite true. There's some reward in this."

Wednesday night rehearsals in the HP-donated conference rooms in Marlboro offer another kind of reward.

"They're very nice to us," Saloky said about Hewlett-Packard, which also provides storage space for equipment and the band's many charts. "And we're fortunate to have people, a lot of whom have families, who will take not only their weekend nights (to perform), but one night during every week to rehearse.

"When you're a hobbyist, you have to get that repetition in, because we play some very, very difficult charts," he said.

"But we talk about music, mouthpieces, families, high-tech jobs. That's one of the reasons guys don't mind the grind of weekly rehearsals. We like to clown around with each other and have a good time. There's a lot of camaraderie, like on a sports team."

The Compaq Big Band isn't the only high tech-related outfit in the country. Texas Instruments, IBM and EMC Corp. all have spawned bands with past or present employees. It's no surprise given that, as Saloky pointed out, "There's a very large intersection between computer science people and musically talented people."

The ultimate common denominator, though, is far less brainy, according to the bandleader: "It's fun."

The Compaq Big Band performs today [Nov. 9, 2003] at 7 p.m. at the Sea Note, Nantasket Beach, Hull. $10. Call 603-673-7683.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.



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