COSTA MESA — It may or may not be the Frank Capp Juggernaut's 20th anniversary, depending on whom you believe. Some reference books say the band, first known as the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut, was founded in 1975. Drummer Capp, calling last weekend from the Monterey Jazz Festival, said he believes it was 1976.
Either way, when the 17-piece band assembles Sunday at the Red Lion Hotel here with singers Ernie Andrews and Barbara Morrison, there will be plenty to celebrate. The focus of the concert will be the music of Count Basie, which always has been at the heart of the Juggernaut sound.
"It was supposed to be a onetime deal, this group," Capp said. "Neal Hefti was supposed to bring his big band to a place out in Canoga Park called King Arthur's that had a big-band night every weekend. But Neal, for some reason, got fed up and gave up on the big-band business. So one of the owners called me and asked me if I could put a band together to do it.
"I had been working with Neal, who'd written all this great stuff for Basie, and we had just recorded, and I had all of Neal's arrangements, so I suggested we call the show a 'Tribute to Neal Hefti.' Well, Neal nixed that idea, so I called [pianist-arranger] Nat Pierce, who had a lot of Basie arrangements of his own, and we ended up calling it 'A Tribute to Count Basie.' "
The Juggernaut moniker didn't come up until the band was playing regularly at King Arthur's and was reviewed by Times critic Leonard Feather.
"The caption to his story said 'Juggernaut on Basie Street,' " Capp continued. "At that time all the bands had some kind of name--the Louis Bellson Big Band Explosion, the Buddy RichJazz Machine. Everyone was using handles. So the Juggernaut name stuck."
With charts from Pierce, who had arranged for the Basie band in the '50s and '60s, the count's music continued to be central to the Juggernaut sound and has remained so even since Pierce's death. "Though we've never done an album specifically dedicated to Basie, all of our recordings have had tunes the Basie band played," Capp said.
"Nat wrote a half-dozen tunes or so that Basie recorded, and we also have a lot of the rest of the [Basie] library, songs from Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins, all the Neal Hefti stuff, Sammie Nestico and even older stuff from Buck Clayton. [The Juggernaut's] library has gotten so big that we have to keep half of it in storage."
Capp, 65, who first gained notice playing with Stan Kenton's Orchestra, has worked through the years with Benny Goodman, Andre Previn, Ella Fitzgerald, Terry Gibbs and Art Pepper, among others. His reputation as a swing drummer of taste and drive has been cemented with the Juggernaut and with his trios and quartets, which often feature saxophonist Rickey Woodard, who'll be in the Juggernaut lineup Sunday.
Sunday's show also will be a reunion with singer Andrews (who is replacing the originally announced Dennis Rowland).
"Ernie's a great singer. He's done a couple of albums with us. But since then, he's gone on to bigger and better things," Capp said with a laugh. Morrison, who also will sing with the band, "can sing anything--ballads, blues, funky stuff," Capp continued. "She has some of that Dinah Washington demeanor, without being a copy."
* The Frank Capp Juggernaut with Ernie Andrews and Barbara Morrison plays Sunday at the Red Lion Hotel, 3050 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. 6-10 p.m. $25. (714) 553-9449.