Let's start by acknowledging the elephant — excuse me, the moose — in the room: the Cool Moose Orchestra is composed entirely of local high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors; they're mostly Community High students, though Huron, Pioneer, and Dexter are also represented. None of the members of CMO is old enough to vote, or to buy a drink at any of the clubs where they play.
High school rock bands are a dime a dozen, but young jazz combos are far less widespread — and CMO's size, a baker's dozen of musicians, makes it rarer still. To say "They play very well . . . for high school
kids," though true, would be damning them with pretty darn faint praise. Their sophisticated soloing and tight ensemble work give the lie to their age. This band swings.
Sure, there have been aspects of CMO that betrayed their youth. They used to wear goofy moose ears on stage, and their bass player painted his instrument pink. No more. Now their show attire is red T-shirts and black jackets, and there's no nonsense on stage. Though they play with the irrepressible energy of the young, there is nothing of the moose-in-the-china-shop quality about their exuberance. They've studied with, and been mentored by, some of our area's finest players and teachers — Vincent York, Community High's Mike Grace, and Jack Wagner and Paul Finkbeiner of the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, among others. It's evident in their playing.
Several members of the band have already scored notable achievements. Last year, Raynor Vandeven was one of only eight winners — and the only bassist — in DownBeat magazine's High School Jazz Soloist category. Along with CMO saxophonist Glenn Tucker, trumpeter Paul Lewis, and pianist Will Cunningham, Vandeven was also a member of AASPA's Six O'Clock Jazz Ensemble — one of only five jazz combos honored nationally by the same magazine. Tucker, who recently released a solo CD on which he fronts his own combo as pianist, is also a highly accomplished arranger and composer. He's written a number of clever tunes, and he created most of the CMO charts.
The band also includes Galaan Dafa and Micah Nagourney on trumpet, Connor Otto and Quinten Ho on trombone, Eric Weidermeier and Vicky Sheerer on alto sax, Yali Rivlin on tenor, Nick Nelson on baritone, and Jordan Otto on drums.
Catch them while you can, because this incarnation of CMO, which plays the Firefly Club on Tuesday, April 17, is not long for this world. The bulk of the band, including Tucker and band manager Connor Otto, will graduate this spring, though not before releasing a CD to preserve this version for posterity. You can bet there will be many more recordings from CMO alumni in the future. And here's hoping that further manifestations of CMO continue to gallop.
[Review published April 2007]