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Big Band Brings Best Of Both Worlds Together

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22 January, 2019 By Lynn Atkins

The annual Valentine's Day Dance at Riordan Hall in Bella Vista will feature a brand new band this year, but longtime fans will be able to spot some familiar faces. The Northwest Arkansas Jazz and More orchestra was formed when the JM Band and the Bella Vista Big Band merged in October, and now it's ready to perform.

The Bella Vista Big Band once played free concerts at Riordan Hall on a regular basis and performed at two inaugural balls for the Clintons. In 1992, bandleader and talented drummer Jack Mitchell took over the Bella Vista Big Band, says Ron Thurston, now leader of the JM Band, a recent incarnation of the same group, and in 1998, he proposed a new direction for the band. When the band's board rejected the plan, Mitchell left the Bella Vista Big Band to form the Jack Mitchell Band.

The Bella Vista Big Band rebuilt, and the Jack Mitchell Band was very successful, Thurston says.

When Mitchell moved away in 2008, he asked Thurston to take over the band, which is organized as a nonprofit. He agreed. Mitchell died in 2011, but Thurston chose not to change the band's name. He shortened it to the JM Band instead.

Now it's time, he says, for both the Bella Vista Big Band and the Jack Mitchell Band to dissolve and let a new entity emerge to replace them.

The new band is still a big band, publicity chairman Chris Thurston says, with five saxophones, four trumpets and two trombones, as well as a keyboard, drums, a bass, a guitar and a vocalist. She believes the band, which plays swing, jazz and rock 'n' roll, is the only regularly rehearsing big band in the tri-state area -- and it's also a nonprofit.

The merger was easier because members of both bands knew each other.

"All the musicians in this area travel on the same roads," Chris Thurston says.

It was the Bella Vista Big Band that usually played the Valentine's Day Dance, she adds. Both bands had a following from all over the region, and she expects them at the dance to see the new show.


Valentine’s Day Dance

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 with swing dance lessons at 7 p.m.

WHERE — Riordan Hall in Bella Vista

COST — $10

INFO — 855-8170


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