During the 1930s and 1940s, there were the famous Battles of the Bands. In these jazz performances, two swing bands would set up in the same ballroom and play rotating sets. Such a battle of the bands took place between the now legendary orchestras of Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman at the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula in Orange County, CA in the summer of 1949. During the first weekend in June 2023, this tradition was taken up again brilliantly at the RVA (Richmond, VA) Big Band Weekend as Glen Boswick and the Sound of Swing Orchestra represented the archetypal swing band whereas Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians displayed the sweeter sounds of the big band era.
…Battles of the Bands…tradition was taken up again brilliantly at the RVA (Richmond, VA) Big Band Weekend…
Glen Boswick’s Sound of Swing raised the first battle flag in the initial set with riveting performances of Benny Goodman’s “Don’t Be That Way” and “PEnnsylvania 6-5000,” the latter a famous hit by another Glen—Glenn Miller. “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” came to the fore again when Mr. Boswick cleverly sampled it while performing a snappy big band arrangement of Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’.”
A special quality of Mr. Boswick is that his instrument is an electric bass—not usually associated with the big band era. It lends his performances a fresh sound while remaining loyal to the big band tradition.
As one band rested, the other immediately began a new set of songs, giving dancers no pause! Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians took the bandstand, saluting the big bands of the past, most notably Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. Indeed, the “Royal Virginians” moniker is a salute to the name of Lombardo’s orchestra. Mr. Enroughty played a medley of Lombardo hits, emulating accurately the smooth vibrato saxophone section of the Royal Canadians for “Little Coquette,” “Sweethearts on Parade,” and “Snuggled on Your Shoulder.” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Nat “King” Cole’s “Unforgettable”—songs Lombardo also covered—were performed as well in the smooth, danceable, big-band style. A particularly fun number was “Charley, My Boy,” sung by the Royal Virginians’ charismatic vocalist, Deborah Leone, in impish back-and-forth repartee with the band members singing their part in unison.
Occasionally, the Boswick and Lombardo orchestras would shift repertoire. The Royal Virginians took up the battle and acquitted themselves admirably in playing swing style for such vibrant numbers as Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” and Glenn Miller’s swing anthem “In the Mood.” The Sound of Swing volleyed back with big-band staples such as Wayne King’s theme “The Waltz You Saved for Me” and Jan Garber’s signature tune “My Dear,” also a lilting waltz.
The “battle” extended to Broadway as well as film music, with Mr. Enroughty honoring the 1920s-like sound of the theme from “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Mr. Boswick presenting a smoothly swinging arrangement of “Manhã de Carnaval” from the classic Brazilian film, “Black Orpheus.” The two orchestras proved themselves equally adept in swinging Latin orchestration styles, with Mr. Enroughty presenting a mambo with “Tequilla” and Mr. Boswick doing likewise for “Besame Mucho.”
The evening, of course, was not meant to be a competition as such, but a wide sampling of the variety which ballroom dance music, particularly the swing variety, has to offer. In fact, one musician, Russ Robertson, played trombone in both bands. Mr. Robertson serves as vocalist with the Sound of Swing, presenting that evening a haunting vocal to lyrical ballad “Moonlight in Vermont.”
Adding to the fun of the evening, Scott Michaels, host of the swing radio program “In the Mood,” served as announcer. Although he grew up in the 60s and 70s, Mr. Michaels exuded a radio personality channeled straight out of the 40s as he mimicked an announcer of that era. Indeed, he created the conceit that he was broadcasting remotely “from coast-to-coast across the CBS Radio Network from beautiful downtown Richmond.” For those uninitiated to ballroom dancing, dance instructor Gwendolyn Glenn and her highly experienced dance students, especially Michael Maul, were on hand to teach and guide audience members through the fox trot, the waltz, and Latin dances such as the tango and the mambo.
While the Boswick and Enroughty aggregations performed on Friday night, on Saturday evening the Silvertones Swing Band took the stage as the Richmond Big Band Weekend continued. We were unable to attend this Saturday evening performance but look forward to reviewing Silver Tones Swing Band who are local to the Washington, D.C. region.
This weekend is an annual event, but both Glen Boswick and Joe Enroughty perform at other times in Richmond as well as in the tidewater area of Virginia.
Running time: Three hours and 30 minutes.
The 2023 RVA Big Band Weekend took place June 2 and 3, 2023 in the Great Hall at Seven Hills School in Richmond’s historic northside at 1311 Overbrook Road, Richmond, VA. More information about Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians, Glen Boswick and the Sound of Swing, and the RVA Big Band Weekend can be found here. Masks were not required.