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Sixteen Men Swinging

Sixteen men swinging. There's nothing more exhilarating. I felt it with Woody Herman's Herds, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich......and that same excitement, the kind which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, is generated for me today by the Pete Cater Big Band. I enjoyed their debut CD "Playing With Fire" so much that I put a track on my Radio 2 show and it prompted immediate nods of approval.

Pete Cater is a self taught natural drummer just like Buddy Rich. Buddy appeared on a vaudeville stage with his parents when he was two years old. By a remarkable coincidence Pete's childhood was spent alongside his father's band and he appeared on television when he was also two years old. Thirty four years later and the scene changes. The child prodigy has become the leader of the band- Pete now fronts one of the most progressive  and exciting bands in Britain and is currently experiencing a breath- taking rise to fame. critics and musicians began to sit up and take note after a tumultuous reception at the Jersey Jazz Festival in 1998. Suddenly, here was a band which was drawing on the core values and experience of the great big bands of the past and then projecting into he twenty-first century.

There's no big secret as to how its done. It stems from freshness, originality and talent. The starting point is a band of brilliant young players, each and every one. The Herman, Kenton, Ferguson and Rich bands were all youthful groups of mainly under thirty year olds, and they kicked with the exuberance of youth. Similarly the Pete Cater Band kicks!

Many of the musicians in the band are rising young stars in their own right. Pete himself won many awards in his early days with the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, keeping the Musicians Union outstanding drummer award for five years straight. He won the prestigious Jack Parnell drum award in the BBC Radio 2 national big band competition and then went on to garner the Kenny Clare drum award a few years later.

Pete's CV includes many  of the great names of jazz, past and present, British and American, including Charlie Byrd, Benny Carter, Al Cohn, Dick Morrissey, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Harry Sweets Edison, Harry Allen,  Joe Temperley, George Masso, Jim Mullen, Buddy DeFranco, Scott Hamilton, Elaine Delmar, Terry Gibbs, Barney Kessell and Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval liked Pete's playing so much that he invited him to tour Europe in 1992. In addition Pete used to appear regularly with the much missed and ever-popular saxophonist Spike Robinson and is on Spike's last two album "Young Lions, Old Tigers", and "The CTS Session".

The Pete Cater big band is probably the tightest, hippest most dynamic big band to be heard in the UK today. Pete and his musicians are well aware that a band is a unit, not just a collection of soloists. Pete's band has achieved that all-important "internal balance" in its ensemble playing, so that it feels spot on and provides a confident bed for the soloists. The credit for this belongs to everybody in the band- Pete for his vision and leadership and each individual player for his ability and commitment. But they all rely on the arrangements. Refreshingly, the materiel is mostly new and unique to the band. Sometimes they play specially written arrangements of standards, and sometimes entirely new compositions. Pete commissions new materiel from some of the UK's finest young writers, and he's also brought in American tenor saxman Frank Griffith, who studied with both Bill Finegan and Bob Mintzer, to write some exciting originals for them.

So what is an evening with the Pete Cater Big Band like? First, what it's not like. It's not an evening of nostalgia, of listening to big band hits of the past, trying to simulate the sounds of the awing era. But it is an evening of contemporary big band music, played by some of Britain's finest young musicians, and played with verve, conviction and enthusiasm. Critic Dave Gelly of the Observer wrote,"the sheer unflagging drive is impressive". Chris Yates in "Jazz Rag" called the band "an important voice in British jazz". Roy Belcher in "Big Bands International" said it is "a band with verve, excellent, a taste of things to come".

The band has appeared the length and breadth of the UK, in theatres, jazz clubs and festivals. Album tracks have been heard on BBC Radio 2, Radio 3, Jazz fm and the band has had extensive airplay in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Southeast Asia. Pete says, "What I try to do is to give the musicians materiel that they want to play, and in so doing set themselves a challenge, to be the best that they can be and so perform at the highest level. Probably the most gratifying thing for me is that the music we play crosses so many boundaries. At our shows you can see people of 80 getting every bit as much from the music as the 18 year olds. In a time where most music is manufactured and cynically marketed in order to target a specific segment of society, what we do is totally honest and our only agenda is to play great music for everybody".

if all of this weren't enough, the Pete Cater Big Band consolidated its position in the UK jazz firmament by winning  the "Best Big Band" category in the British Jazz Awards 2000.Meanwhile do not miss them in concert. If you like the very best in jazz and big band music you'll have a great evening. 

 Malcolm Laycock   BBC Radio 2 (1999).

Humphrey Lyttleton, Pete Cater and Alan Williams (group corporate affairs director, The Post Office)  at the British Jazz Awards, BAFTA, April 2000


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