When the 2009 presentation of Saginaw On Stage takes place at Apple Mountain on Saturday, April 11th, it will include a showcase from The New Reformation Jazz Band, certainly one of the more seminal mid-Michigan musical collaborations that have been featured many times in these pages over the past three decades.
Formed 40-years ago by the sibling team of Dave and Nick Oppermann, with their kick-off performance at SOS the group will embark upon the most demanding tour in their 40 year history. Within a single month, the group will be playing 25 concerts in as many cities in 14 different states.
“Having just turned 66, I’m one of the younger dudes in the band,” laughs Nick. “So why didn’t we attempt this 20 years ago? Probably because of the thousands of performances we have played, I’ve never been more pumped than I am for this Lewis & Clark expedition because we have never put together an incarnation of the band as fine as this one. Brother Dave and I, along with our favorite slip horn virtuoso, Kenny ‘Twitch’ Sutton, will be joined by four Mt. Rushmore classic jazz performers.”
Leading the front line will be the incomparable Duke Heitger, known as the ‘Prince of Wails’ and the number one trumpeter in his birthplace of New Orleans. “Duke learned his craft at his father’s knee,” notes Oppermann, “and the legendary Ray Heitger will be among the first inductees into the Classic Jazz Hall of Fame when somebody has the good sense to build one.”
Also joining the band from their warm Florida digs are two veterans of the Disney World Jazz All Stars, clarinetist Jim Snyder, whom has performed for 35 years and worked with the legendary Al Hirt; and drummer Dick ‘Spanky’ Maley to add formidable backbone to the rhythm section.
“Rounding out the Four Horsemen is one of the first call string players in Nashville,” continues Nick. “Bobby Durham will be playing all the strings, guitar, banjo, bass, ukulele and tennis racket, and did I mention tuba? For those of you who may not know, a band is only as good as its bass player. Period. No exceptions. End of discussion. And we are blessed to have the best.”
In keeping with the spirit of this 30th Anniversary edition of The Review, allow me to pull a few excerpts from a feature we wrote on the band back in 1983, along with some local history. Long, long ago in 1970, Rev. Gary Miller would sometimes bring his trumpet to the Warwick Lounge in Saginaw and sit in with his friend Dave Oppermann’s musical group. Both shared a love of Dixieland music and Rev. Miller had an idea. Oppermann and Miller would “put some people together” to form a group for one engagement only – a Dixieland Worship Service at First Congregational Church.
With the exception of the Oppermann brothers, the cast of characters has changed throughout the years, but the group’s emphasis on toe tapping entertainment has not. Back in ’83 when asked about the bands’ enduring charm, Dave explained as follows:
“We call ourselves America’s Most Entertaining Band and I know that sounds like hype, but when I challenged the members of the group to name another jazz band that tries to project as much good time feeling as we do, no other names were offered. There are groups that can outplay us musically but the secret of our success is that we try hard to be a fun entertaining group. The entertaining thing is important to us. I like to call the group six clowns and one good audience.”
The music helps, too. “Dixieland music creates a good feeling,” states Oppermann. “One of the great things about Dixieland is that its not so intellectualized. It’s fun happy music. We don’t play charts and if we don’t get your toes tapping, we’re not doing our job. All the arrangements are created by the musicians in the band and you’ll never hear a tune sound the same way twice.”
It’s hard to guarantee a good time and sometimes even harder to have one, but The New Reformation Band can solve that quandary. Be ready to bounce your toes and withstand some deep down belly chuckling, as this group is without doubt a local treasure.
Additionally, for fans of jazz, the contemporary jazz collective known as Barbarossa will be performing a reunion concert at this year’s Saginaw On Stage. Barbarossa secured best Big Band honors two years ago at the Review’s annual Music Awards
16th November, 2023