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  • Don Neely (2009)

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    Had Don Neely been born 50 years earlier, he'd have been a contemporary of his musical heroes, who include Frankie Trumbauer, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Waller and Coleman Hawkins. But he wasn't, and, that half-century later, he grew up Hollister, California, a town rich in heat and earthquakes, but poor in music teachers, of which there was but one, and with whom Don began piano lessons at the age of six.

    Even as a pre-teen, when his actual contemporaries were into rock 'n' roll, Don was dancing to a different drummer (perhaps Cozy Cole, or Gene Krupa, or Sid Catlett, or Jo Jones). With money saved from working in the family business, he bought a Victrola and began his collection of 78 rpm records--jazz bands, vaudevillians and dance orchestras. The joie de vivre he found in this music has never left him, although for a while it was somewhat superseded by other musical genres: moving from the piano to the clarinet, he began to listen to, to appreciate, and to become a devotee of European classical music.

    From high school to Gavilan Junior College, and from the clarinet to the saxophone. Who knows what would have become of Don had he not chanced to see, shortly before graduation from San Jose State University as a music major, Woody Allen's "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex", which opened and closed with Irving Aaronson's version of Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave"? Seized immediately with Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney enthusiasm, he decided to form his own band to play period music. What could be more natural? After all, nothing stood in his way apart from a lack of money and musicians and instruments and arrangements and ...

    Fortunately for Don, and so fortunately for us, he knew an old ex-bandleader in Gilroy who not only had had a territory band in the '20s and '30s, but who also had kept, as Don himself puts it, "everything from his bandleading days, including his custom Art Deco music stands, arrangements, and publicity material." In the time it took Don to twist the arms of ten musical friends, the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra was born. Of course, Judy-and-Mickey-style enthusiasm is no substitute for practice, practice, and more practice. But the boys in the band grew quickly to manhood, doing what a man's gotta do, and soon they were ready for their first paying engagement. It may have been only at a pizza parlor, and the pay may have been only in pizza and beer, but it was a start, and well-begun is half done.

    30 years and well over a dozen recordings later, the milestones have been many. San Francisco jazz legend Turk Murphy booked the band for Earthquake McGoon's, and they've played long engagements at both the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont's New Orleans Room, and have appeared at San Francisco's Black-and-White Balls.

    30 years of milestones behind, and, it is to be hoped, another 30 ahead.
    Pick Artist Album Song Label
    # 1 Irving Mills and His Hotsy-Totsy Gang Volume 2 Railroad Man (Sensation)
    # 2 Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra Laughin' Louis That's My Home (Bluebird)
    # 3 Bix Beiderbecke Bix Lives! There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears (Bluebird)
    # 4 The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra Jump Start Record Skip Hop (Circle)
    # 5 Coleman Hawkins Hawk in Europe Stardust (ASV Living Era)
    # 6 Cab Calloway 1932 Old Man of the Mountain (Classics)
    # 7 Willie Bryant Jazz Archives #53 A Vipers's Moan (Jazz Archives)
    # 8 The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra Déjà Vu How? (
    # 9 Ted Lewis Is Everybody Happy Now? Dip Your Brush in the Sunshine (Take Two Records)
    # 10 Ray Noble and His Orchestra featuring Al Bowlly The Very Thought of You Way Down Yonder (ASV Living Era)
    # 11 Duke Ellington and His Orchestra Jubilee Stomp Jubilee Stomp (Bluebird)
    # 12 Thomas "Fats" Waller The Joint Is Jumpin' S'posin' (Bluebird)
    Book "Desert Island Survival for Dummies"
    Luxury Item A luxury yacht
    Castaways by date
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