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Tacoma Big Band Keeps The Authentic Sound Of Ella Fitzgerald And The Swing Years Alive

Credit Kevin Kniestedt
The Swing Reunion Jazz Orchestra

As the years go by, it can be harder and harder to find singers and bands that still perform the original charts from the '30s and '40s, which include Ella Fitzgerald's first big hit with the Chick Webb Orchestra, the 1938 recording of “A Tisket, A Tasket.”

In Tacoma, you can find the Swing Reunion Orchestra doing just that. The Swing Reunion Orchestra performs free concerts at the McKinley VFW in Tacoma the last Mondays of the month, and first and foremost, they want their music to sound authentic.

The arrangements they play are not some variation on the original recording, but the original arrangements as they were written back in the day.

Don Miller is the director and co-founder of the Swing Reunion Orchestra, which he founded in 1990. He says that he never got into music that happened after 1949, so it was always his dream to have his own band where he could play the music from the era that he loved.

He also says that the singer in his band, Melanie Vail, is the best vocalist he has worked with in six decades of music.

Vail has been performing with the Swing Reunion Orchestra since 1997, and many of the songs she has to sing are the classic hits by Ella Fitzgerald.

She says the key to being able to sing the music of Ella is not to try to emulate her, but to honor her and just bring a little bit of her flavor into the music.

The Swing Reunion Orchestra will have a spring concert set for June 12 at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.
Paige Hansen has been heard on radio station 88.5 KNKX-FM for over 20 years where she’s hosted news & jazz. You can currently hear her hosting jazz weekdays & Sundays. She is also an active musician, writer and singer.