The Steve Wright Big Band was featured at the 2011 International Trumpet Guild Conference, May 24-28th, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Formed in 1974, the Steve Wright Big Band has been a mainstay of the Twin Cities jazz scene, playing everything from jazz festivals to corporate meetings to dance band gigs.
With the creation of Steve Wright Music Endeavors music publishing in the same year, we decided to form a jazz orchestra of top musicians in the area — many of whom had played in the Buddy Rich, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton orchestras over the years. Others, including Dick Oatts who went on in 1977 to join the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (now the Vanguard Orchestra), Jimmy Johnson (L.A. studio artist/James Taylor) and Bob Rockwell (American/Danish jazz artist) have gone on to become world renowned jazz artists. Many who played in the original Steve Wright Big Band have stayed in the Twin Cities as first-call jazz/commercial musicians and jazz educators Three members of the band from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s toured and recorded with Prince for three years in the early 1990’s as part of a five-person horn section (Dave Jensen, Kathy Jensen & Steve Strand). They now often perform as an occapella jazz-rock horn group known as the “Hornheads” along with Kenni Holmen & Mike Nelson.
In 1981, the Steve Wright Big Band took a month long tour of the Midwest with a concert entitled “Sounds of the Big Bands”, playing both big band standards and compositions and arrangements by the leader. Among many other gigs the band has played, they were selected to play at the 1982 Kool Jazz Festival as a front act to both the Red Rodney-Ira Sullivan Quintet and the Dexter Gordon Quartet at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. The band has backed up many great artists, including Lou Rawls, Tommy Newsom, Shirley Jones, David Allyn and others, as well as recording and playing for the 1991 Special Olympics in Minneapolis.
Wright’s album “Take Two” (released on CD & available on this website) was recorded in August of 1981 in two days of recording, after making a guest appearance with Tommy Newsom (then of the Tonight Show) at the Schmitt Music Clinic. In 2001, fourteen of the same eighteen musicians joined him in performing for the annual Twin Cities Musicians Union party. At the 2011 International Trumpet Guild conference (co-hosted by Wright), the big band backed up Lew Soloff, Sean Jones, Wayne Bergeron, Marvin Stamm and Marcus Printup at the opening and closing concerts of the conference. That conference set an all-time attendance record, with over 1,400 registrants.
The musicians in the group remain mainstays of the Twin Cities’ music scene, working in every conceivable situation from Broadway shows to jazz clubs. Gary Gauger, the band’s regular drummer, was a member of the USAF’s Airmen of Note when Wright joined that group in 1968 and moved to the Twin Cities in the mid ‘70’s. He remains as the big band’s regular drummer and runs his own business — Gauger Percussion — in Minnetonka. Lead altoist, Brian Grivna, frequently performs with both the Minnesota Orchestra, Broadway shows and with his own jazz quartet. Rick Cornish ran his own PR firm, Flying Colors. Jimmy Hamilton performed regularly in both the Twin Cities and Las Vegas. Dave Karr, while now retired from the jingle business, is busy playing and composing jazz. Dave Graf is a computer graphics specialist, as well as a first call trombonist in the Twin Cities.