When Lane Denson–Episcopal clergyman by day, cornet and flugelhorn player by night–started playing with the Monday Night Jazz Band, he hardly could have predicted how long it would last.
“We’re a band of volunteers,” Denson says of the group, which for almost 20 years has brought the music of the Great American Songbook to Nashville’s west side. “Sometimes it amazes me we’ve played together for so long–that people who do something else for a living have stayed with it this way.”
Denson co-founded the band when he was chaplain at St. Augustine’s Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus in the late ’80s. Peabody psychology professor Paul Dokecki brought his drums, English professor Emerson Brown played clarinet, and law professor Bob Covington joined on piano.
“The four of us started meeting at St. Augustine’s, learning how to play together, getting our style,” Denson remembers. “Monday night was the only night we could all make it. That’s how we got the name.”
The band’s roster has changed over the years. Denson and Dokecki now are joined by guitarist Lee Maxwell, a Peabody alumnus; Garnett “G.R.” Davis, who plays bass for the band and teaches tuba at the Blair School of Music; and Larry Taylor, a professional guitarist and bassist. (Pianist Ed Farley, professor of theology, emeritus, of Vanderbilt Divinity School, retired from the band this spring.) But the band’s repertoire, the standards that dominated American popular music from the 1920s into the 1950s, has held steady.
“We play a lot of the great show music, like ‘Take the “A” Train,’ ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,’ ‘Love Is Here to Stay’ and ‘Stardust,’” says Denson. “People usually like what they hear. They’ll say, ‘We didn’t know anybody played this music here in Nashville.’”
Taylor, who played professionally for more than 20 years, seems to revel in the technical demands of the music. “It’s sort of like doing a crossword puzzle every day,” he says. “It improves your vocabulary. These are tunes with good construction. If you play them every day, you will improve the technique. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just part of me, I guess.”
For almost 12 years the band played regular Monday night gigs at what might seem an unlikely venue: the commons area at Bellevue Center mall. But with the mall’s impending closure this year, they’ve had to find a new home. This spring they started a weekly session at Caesar’s Ristorante Italiano, a cozy place tucked into the corner of a strip mall a few miles south of the Vanderbilt campus.
They play on Tuesdays now, but, to paraphrase a classic, their name is here to stay.
© 2015 Vanderbilt University
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