San Francisco Starlight Orchestra

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For almost two decades, the San Francisco Starlight Orchestra has been making magic in the ballrooms of California with their faithful rendering of orchestrations from the jazz age. In the hands of the…
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For almost two decades, the San Francisco Starlight Orchestra has been making magic in the ballrooms of California with their faithful rendering of orchestrations from the jazz age. In the hands of the outfit's musicians and singers, the Roaring '20s come alive once again. Arrangements are those played by the original orchestras in the 1920s and 1930s, including those of Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, George Olsen, Ben Selvin, Ben Pollack, and Bennie Moten, among others. Audiences present at the orchestra's live performances can tango, foxtrot, waltz, two-step, rhumba, lindy, and Charleston. The San Francisco Starlight Orchestra's founder, John Howard, plays alto sax. He pulled the outfit together in 1984 with his home as base of operations and re-established it again in 1990. Howard, who in 1970 also helped establish the Chaos Mountain Boys, has performed with numerous bands and ensembles, including the Black Diamond Jazz Band and the Berkeley Mandolin Ensemble, as well as the Santa Fe Opera. Orchestra violinist Ray Landsberg worked with Howard during the early '70s in the Chaos Mountain Boys and in 1971 he took home the Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest's prize for Hot Jazz Fiddler. Other members bring a ton of experience with them to the orchestra. Tuba player Jim Brennan, who doubles as orchestra manager, has worked with numerous other San Francisco groups, among them the Fourth Street Five Jazz Band and the Red Garter Jazz Band. Brian Campbell, who contributes clarinet, saxophone, and vocals, also leads Campbell's Soup Jazz Band and has performed with Marty Egger's Blues Destroyers, among others. Violinist Pamela Carey, who has played with a number of ensembles and orchestras in the region, also teaches music at the elementary school level. Banjo player Dave Frey doubles as the Starlight Orchestra's marketing director and also teaches the banjo. Alan Hall performs triple duty as the orchestra's music librarian, arranger, and pianist. Trombonist Gene Isaeff has performed extensively in Nevada and California. The trombonist and his spouse, Gloria Isaeff, who plays violin for the Starlight Orchestra, also perform together in a duo they named Rags, Strings, and Bones. Hugh O'Donnell plays percussion, washboard, bells, and xylophone for the orchestra. He also founded a band called Hugh & the Heffners. John Pedone contributes saxophone, accordion, and clarinet, and also leads his own trio. Ed Rosenback plays violin and also sings with the orchestra. Bay area singer Janine Marie Braddock is often featured as well. Bruce Vermazen is the orchestra's musical director, as well as its lead cornetist. Bob Schulz, another cornetist who also contributes vocals, founded the Frisco Jazz Band. During the 1980s, Schulz worked with jazz trombonist Turk Murphy.