Jazz tradition at Stamford club

Three Wilton residents are bringing New York big band tradition to the 9th Note Jazz Supper Club in Stamford every Monday night with the 9th Note Jazz Orchestra.

They are Jens Wendelboe, Jon Saxon, and Per Onnerud. Wendelboe is the artistic director of the 19-piece band and its trombonist. Saxon plays the saxophone, and Onnerud is lead trumpet.

“In New York, there’s a tradition that Monday is big band night, the Village Vanguard being the most famous — they’ve been doing it for 50 years this year,” said club owner Christian O’Dowd.

Wendelboe, who was the music director and conductor for Donna Summer for more than 20 years, and was a featured member in Blood, Sweat and Tears for eight, formed a band with Saxon and Onnerud late last year after the three met each other at a Wilton High School jazz summit.

They were slated to play O’Dowd’s club, and after hearing them, O’Dowd invited the musicians back for a second show.

“The big band is such a fabulous vehicle, and there’s nobody doing it around here, so I thought, you know what, why don’t we take a shot at this?” O’Dowd said.

Now named for the club, the 9th Note Jazz Orchestra is O’Dowd’s big band in-residence on Monday nights from 8 to 10, and their inaugural show was June 6.

“There’s a traditional big band sound, and I would say that we are pretty far from that,” Wendelboe said. “We had somebody say it’s like a combination of Count Basie and Frank Zappa.”

“We go all over the place,” he continued. “There’s some punk; there’s some funk; there’s some ballads. Last Monday, we dedicated a song in honor of the shooting in Orlando, which is a song I wrote almost 30 years ago that suddenly seemed to be current again.”

“What’s fun is as a listener, you don’t know what’s coming,” O’Dowd said. “You really don’t.”

“And that’s part of the deal,” Wendelboe added. “If you come one Monday and you come back the next Monday, it’s a completely different concert.”

“And you know, that’s pretty wild,” O’Dowd said, “because we’ll have a quartet come in, and the same quartet will come in two or three months later and they’ll do the same thing. These guys turn on a dime every Monday night; it’s incredible.”

Wendelboe writes all of the compositions and arranges all of the music the band plays, so perhaps the 9th Note Jazz Orchestra’s diverse sound is a byproduct of its artistic director’s diversified style.

“Tonight I’m playing a Latin Broadway show about Gloria Estefan; tomorrow I’m playing a Mahler’s symphony, and then I’m playing a jazz club. I’m like a chameleon,” Wendelboe said late last month.

The 9th Note Jazz Orchestra isn’t just a big band; Wendelboe has launched a nonprofit educational program alongside his new group.

“We want to involve band directors, high school jazz bands, university jazz bands, and other extraordinary soloists that are out there but don’t have a vehicle to show what they can do,” Wendelboe said.

The 9th Note Jazz Orchestra plans to do this by:

  • Scheduling jazz ensembles to perform short sets at the 9th Note Jazz Supper Club;

  • Providing opportunities for select top students to sit in with the orchestra during its regular Monday night performances;

  • Critiquing rehearsals before competitions or festivals;

  • Coaching jazz band sectionals, instrumentalists, and/or ensembles;

  • Holding clinics on all-state/western region jazz preparation;

  • Performing for schools or music programs;

  • Supplementing school concerts with ringers;

  • Providing compositions and arrangements for student ensembles.

For further information on the 9th Note Jazz Orchestra’s customized clinics, contact Jens Wendelboe at 203-434-1109 or jwendelboe@gmail.com.

O’Dowd is thrilled with Wendelboe’s band’s performance so far.

“I mean, this band is fantastic, and I listen to jazz seven nights a week,” O’Dowd said, though that wasn’t always the case.

“We were closed on Mondays,” he said. “This seemed like the only good-enough reason to give up the one day off.”