The Big Beat: Swinging into Almost 40 Years

After 35 years of playing with The Big Beat, most of the songs have a special place in my heart, bass player Professor Ward Harris conveyed.
“After 35 years of playing with The Big Beat, most of the songs have a special place in my heart,” bass player Professor Ward Harris conveyed.
Cecelia Vederman

Ward Harris and The Big Beat hit the stage once again for their Thanksgiving Hard-Bop Jazz performance (20+ years running!) on November 20th at the Recital Hall in the Rockville Montgomery College Music Building. Initially advertised as their 40th anniversary, Professor Ward Harris from Montgomery College’s Music Department corrected it to be the 38th, playfully remarking, “But who minds celebrating a few years early?”

Bob Offutt, the group’s founder, kicked off the performance on trumpet playing “Hocus Pocus” by the late trumpeter and composer Lee Morgan. Wayne Hovis joined in on the tenor saxophone, Jim Moulder on the piano, Chris Allen on the drums, and Professor Ward Harris on the bass. The song’s up-tempo swing and dynamic rhythm created an energetic atmosphere in the recital hall that captivated the audience.

The Big Beat’s founder, trumpeter, and flugelhorn player, Bob Offutt. (Cecelia Vederman)

Following “Hocus Pocus”, the ensemble performed a seven-song set as follows: “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson, “No Room for Squares” by Hank Mobley, “The Sidewinder” by Lee Morgan, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” by Don Raye and Gene De Paul, “Senor Blues” by Horace Silver, “Dat Dere” by Bobby Timmons, and concluded with “I’ll Remember April” by Don Raye and Gene De Paul.

Wayne Hovis plays the tenor saxophone. (Cecelia Vederman)

When asked about the performance, second-year math major Avi Logan, replied, “Each of the musicians seemed to play with so much individual character, so much unique expression and skill, but they also played with the developed nuance they needed to blend together really beautifully.”

He also pointed out the subtle communication, “…the way the performers communicated so smoothly with each other during the performance, the way they’d smile or raise an eyebrow during each other’s solos as if to comment, “That was a real nice choice”: all of that added up to give the impression that the performers were having a great time as well.”

Professor Ward Harris highlighted his favorite part of the performance, saying, “The group [The Big Beat] has a deep appreciation for the audience. If they enjoy the music, then the concert is a success. I view each concert as a collective tribute, between audience and musicians, to one of America’s great gifts to the world: jazz!”

The Big Beat pays tribute and channels the spirit of hard-bop jazz pioneers, including Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, and Hank Mobley, among others. (Cecelia Vederman)

The Big Beat did a wonderful job picking out which songs to perform, making it hard for me to choose a favorite. The last song of the set stuck with me the most, “I’ll Remember April” by Don Raye and Gene De Paul. By slowing down the tempo with a timeless and tender piece, the audience was able to reflect on the wonderful evening it had been.

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About the Contributor
Hi! I am Cecelia, a writer at The Advocate and a second-year General Engineering student. I enjoy playing ice hockey, listening to music and reading. My favorite music artists are Steely Dan, Morrissey and Frank Zappa. Unfortunately (for this local crowd), I am a New England sports fan as well. My goal while writing is to spark interest in Humanities, STEM or any other kinds of topics for Montgomery College students.

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