Lyman Mitchell

Born: 1924 Florence, AL

Jazz Trumpet Auburn Knights, Little Big Ban

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame



The 25th anniversary of the Big Band of the Shoals will be celebrated with a concert at Norton Auditorium beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14.

The group was formed by Dr. I. Lyman Mitchell in 1979. Mitchell began playing trumpet at the age of 14. After getting a job with a local dance band, he formed the Southernaires. Soon the new group was playing throughout north Alabama.

Mitchell took his love for music and especially the big-band and jazz genres to college, where he became a member of the Auburn Knights. He eventually became the leader of the Knights. After graduation, his performance career continued as part of military dance bands.

Earlier attempts to begin the Big Band had not been successful, but the return of trumpet player Gary Armstrong to the area helped put the instrumentation together. Armstrong had performed as a studio musician in Nashville, and with the Nashville Symphony.

The original Big Band had six trumpets, six trombones, two drummers, two basses and two guitars. Using arrangements that Armstrong provided, the Big Band was formed.

Several members of the original group are still performing with the band. In addition to Mitchell, who continues to be the leader, they include Edd Jones, Jimmy Simpson, George Ingram and Edsel Holden.

Other Shoals musicians who share the Knights tradition include Sonny Thompson, who was with the group when Toni Tennille was the vocalist. Selwyn Jones, a former Auburn Knight, now plays with the Big Band of the Shoals.

The instrumentation of the Big Band includes five saxophones, five trombones, five trumpets, keyboard, bass and drums. Vocalists for the upcoming concert are Edsel Holden and Donna Berryhill.

The big-band era is said to have begun in the early 1920s, with such jazz musicians as Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Art Tatum and others. The swing era moved into the music scene in the next decade. In 1932, Duke Ellington recorded "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing."

In addition to Ellington, names that would soon become associated with the art form include Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and others. In his autobiography, W.C. Handy tells about a grand celebration in 1939 he participated in that included the big names and the big bands of the time. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and "Basin Street Blues" were on the music stands.

The Big Band's anniversary concert will feature many big-band and swing standards, including "Woodchopper's Ball," "In The Mood," "Sweet Georgia Brown" and others.

The band will be joined in the second half of the concert by the University of North Alabama Bands. The 180 students in the Pride of Dixie Band are directed by Lloyd Jones.

Nancy Gonce's column appears every Friday in the TimesDaily.

Source: Big Band celebrates 25 years | | The Times Daily | Florence, AL

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