BUTTE – There’s kickin’ it old school, and then there's kickin’ it really, really old school.
For nearly 25 years, the Butte Big Band has been playing swing-style music that was made popular in the United States in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The ensemble consists of 15 members playing trumpet, trombone, saxophone, upright bass and drums for the big, peppy sound.
J.P. LeTourneau, one of the founding members, said big band music was popular in Butte’s heyday and was often played at the Columbia Gardens. He said this band has always been about keeping that part of Butte's musical history alive.
“I consider this type of music historical preservation of sorts,” LeTourneau said.
LeTourneau started this band with John Raymond. It came together almost accidentally. There was a ground-breaking ceremony scheduled in 1986 for the U.S. High Altitude Sports Complex in Butte, and organizers needed a band. They contacted LeTourneau and Raymond to put a band together in a hurry.
LeTourneau said 18 musicians from around the area were contacted, and the band quickly formed.
“They basically wanted a pep band, but we broke out the big band music,” LeTourneau recalled.
Since then, the Butte Big Band has marched on – losing and adding new members along the way – to play throughout the years.
Michael McDaniel, the band’s drummer, has been with the band for almost seven years. He said they try to be as authentic as possible.
“It takes 10 to 15 people to make that sound, that big band sound, and we try to stay true to that,” McDaniel said.
Popular tunes from that era include “In the Mood,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Rock Around the Clock.” The Butte Big Band has played at two Governor’s Balls in Helena and Billings. It is a regular at dances at the Elks Club, and it plays at various events around town.
People love to dance to his high-energy, up-tempo sound, McDaniel said.
“If you throw your hip out, you’re on your own,” he joked.
LeTourneau said the 15 members volunteer their time to play. They make about enough to cover gas to get to the shows.
“We just want to play; everyone loves to play. They don’t do it for the money,” he said.