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MUSIC

The Swing Set

LAPD Jazz Band players, many over 60, share music and vitality around the city.

May 01, 1997|FRANK B. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who says that aging musicians--the ones who grew up listening to and playing that timeless big-band music--have to store away their instruments and pack up their dancing shoes?

Still showcasing the sound that dominated most of their young adult years, the Los Angeles Police Department's Jazz Band, whose average member is around age 62 and retired, continues to produce spirited jazz that often tempts even the most rigid audience members to shake their hips or make a beeline for the dance floor.

"We play the standards of people like Harry James and Tommy Dorsey," said LAPD Jazz Band director Lenny Burns. "We don't play progressive or bebop. In other words, we stop right around the Count Basie and Duke Ellington era of swing."

On Sunday, as a warmup for the upcoming San Fernando Valley Jazz Festival, the band will perform original and standard compositions for a younger and perhaps more alternative-music-loving crowd at the Boys & Girls Club in Pacoima.

Since it was formed eight years ago, the jazz band has played for the mayor, at city celebrations and even has entertained Queen Elizabeth II.

The jazz group is an arm of the LAPD's 75-member concert band, which serves as the official band of the city of Los Angeles.

Some of the 17 members of Burns' band are well-trained amateurs who auditioned and managed to make it into the band. Many of those folks, like Burns, played in high school and had careers unrelated to music. But the majority of the members cut their teeth in professional bands, including those of jazz greats Les Brown and Freddy Martin.

As a teenager growing up in New York City, Burns dreamed of being a musician full time, but when rock 'n' roll became the rage, scores of musicians had to find other jobs. Fortunately, Burns had an engineering degree, which kept his bills paid and his family fed. Now the 68-year-old former structural engineer and North Hollywood resident spends his time with lips locked on a trumpet, either with the LAPD band or his own band, the Lenny Burns Orchestra.

The band receives two or three requests a week to play somewhere in the city, but is selective. "We limit ourselves to police, city or civic functions," Burns said firmly.

Two of the musicians have a deeper connection to police life than just the band. Trumpeter Lloyd Glick, 73, was a reserve patrol officer in the Alhambra Police Department for 20 years. And the band's bass player, Marion Newton, is an LAPD detective.

For Glick, the music was a calming factor amid the chaos of police work. He would come home, sit down at his organ "and for two hours just get lost in the music."

Though now comprised of volunteers, the concert band was once made up of department officers who were paid to perform in the band. A city measure in the 1970s changed things.

"When Prop. 13 came along," Burns said, "it was decided that as a cost-cutting measure they would not have officers taking time off from their duties to play music.

"So at that time, a group of professional musicians volunteered to create a non-police band."

Band members say they find satisfaction in swinging for school kids. With music education a victim of budget cuts at school districts across the country, far fewer children are getting an opportunity to latch on to the clarinet or drums.

Burns said sometimes children from school bands sit in with the jazz band. "There will be 10- or 11-year-old boys and girls playing flute or trumpet right alongside a 65-year-old man. It's a kick for both of them."

Burns said the performance at the Boys & Girls Club offers his group an opportunity to share a positive message.

"What we try to do is show them the joy in instrumental music and how it can stay with you all of your life," Burns said. "Most [band members] are as old as these kids' grandfathers or great-grandfathers. So we show them not only what music means but what it can do to improve the quality of your life."

BE THERE

LAPD Jazz Band at the Pacoima Boys & Girls Club, 11251 Glenoaks Blvd. May 4, 2 p.m. Free. (818) 348-8030.

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