“There’s nothing like 16 real live musicians with blood pulsing through their veins, blowing air through instruments right at you,” says Mark Buselli, co-founder with Brent Wallarab of the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra. His eyes sparkle when he says this — he’s felt it, he knows.
Buselli and Wallarab met in Bloomington in 1994. Both were writing jazz compositions intended for big bands — and both were restless, tired of playing the same arrangements as everyone else. “We wanted a different approach,” Buselli says, “and we wanted the band to have a different sound.”
So instead of the conventional big band set-up with five saxes, four trombones and four trumpets, Buselli and Wallarab tried a different configuration, cutting the sax and trombone sections by one each, adding a French horn and allowing for a flugelhorn. Then they moved to Indianapolis, where their band has become a mainstay on the local music scene for over a decade.
In a city that claims a rich jazz heritage, the BWJO is a local treasure. Not only have they won themselves an international reputation through their recordings of original tracks, the BWJO has been a leader in jazz education and has also helped to preserve jazz history by resurrecting and performing classic jazz charts through its off-shoot, the Midcoast Swing Orchestra.
At the center of the band’s dynamism are the talented players that Buselli and Wallarab have managed to attract to this project. “Without the players in our band, the music is nothing but notes on a page,” Buselli says. “You can’t take an average musician to play what we’ve written.” And so Buselli and Wallarab take pride in creating a musical platform that allows for everyone in the band to shine. “We’re going to make sure somebody that’s playing for us has every opportunity to express themselves creatively.”
The Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra is trying to do for jazz what the Indianapolis Symphony does for classical music: provide the community with a high quality and consistent source for a culturally vital artform. In the case of the BWJO, this means original big band jazz, a kind of music that’s as American as the stars and stripes. “I’ve been told you’ve got to have three things when you play,” Mark Buselli observes. “Great music, good pay, or you’ve got to have a great hang — good places and people to play with. If you have two of those out of three, you’ve got a good situation. Then every once in a while you get all three and it’s like being in heaven. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
— David Hoppe