Before the birth of rock ’n’ roll, people danced to music played by big bands — “big” to refer to the number of their members, which averaged 12 to 25, divided into four main sections: trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and a rhythm section of guitar, piano, double bass, and drums.
Filipinos who came of age during the American colonial rule, especially in the 1930s and World War II, grew up hearing the music of popular US big bands led by the likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller.
In fact, the live music scene in Manila in those years had Filipino big bands — also called orchestras — playing at prestigious dance halls like the Sta. Ana Cabaret (pronounced with a silent “T” as in “caba-rey,”) and the Manila Hotel’s Winter Garden.
In the ’70s, the big band sound was adapted by such groups as Chicago, Tower of Power, and Earth, Wind & Fire, all of which featured three horn players.
In contemporary times, two groups of Pinoy musicians formed their respective big bands: the Ugoy-Ugoy Band, composed of members of the UPJazz Ensemble led by Bond Samson and managed by Butch Dans; and the AMP (acronym for the Asosasyon ng Musikong Pilipino), whose personnel included both seasoned and young professional session musicians, with Mel Villena as musical director/band leader.
Through word of mouth, AMP drew fans as the house band of a residence-turned-nightclub, Balete@Kamias, run by balikbayan Tierry Garcia. It was quite a scene — 18 musicians plus a female vocalist and a conductor waking up a sleepy corner of suburbian Kamias in Quezon City with jumpin’ jive renditions of kundiman classics, OPM hits, ’70s pop-rock, and originals.
AMP created a buzz loud enough for it to be invited to play at diplomatic gatherings and Malacañang events.
Supporters including Junji Quimbo, Boyet Guerrero, and Serafin Pua pooled resources to help produce AMP’s debut CD, “Musiko.”
Currently AMP plays weekly gigs at 19 East in Sucat, whose excellent audio equipment perfectly suits the band’s big sound.
On August 21, a holiday, AMP returns to QC for a special one-night show at a new seafood place, Fin & Claw Grill, whose business partners include Ramoncito Talisayon and Pua’s son Patrick.
The performance will feature a 20-piece personnel with Gail Blanco-Viduya on vocals and Villena conducting and on woodwinds.
It will be “bombastic,” says Villena.
Fin & Claw Grill is at the corner of Scout Torillo and Timog Avenue, Quezon City.