Fred Morgan Big Band
● By Wendy Sipple
Photo by Dante Fontana
Do song names like: “Begin the Beguine,” “Stormy Weather,” “Body & Soul,” or “Peg o’ My Heart,” ring a bell?
If not, then get with the groove! “It’s not Rock and Roll,” Big Band leader Fred Morgan says, “It’s good swinging ballroom dancing music.” And he should know. In an era when Big Bands meant big fun, Morgan, an amazingly young 84-year old, was already an accomplished musician and loved music. “I was raised in a house full of symphonic music,” Morgan says. As a child, he and his beloved saxophone would head out to his grandma’s chicken house and practice for hours.
Before he could focus on his musical career, Morgan served his country in World War II and among other duties fought in the “Battle of the Bulge.” After his homecoming and with the help of the GI Bill, he attended Conn Band Instrument Repair School in Elkhart, Indiana. By turning his passion into his profession, he has been helping local musicians make their best music ever since. “I enjoy doing repairs,” Morgan explains, “for those that appreciate it.” And from the look of his repair shop, he has lots of grateful clients. Woodwinds, brass instruments, repair tools mixed with vintage photos and copies of sheet music hang all over the walls of his tiny but efficient workspace.
However, it was the big band sound that made a lasting impression on him here at home and over seas. “I used to go to Sacramento,” Morgan says, “and see all the Big Bands at the Memorial Auditorium or the Trianon Ballroom.” He loves the sound and has made it his life work. Along with opening his repair business, he started his band more than 40 years ago. In 16 binders stacked in a corner of his reception area, he has literally pounds of sheet music. “In the business,” Morgan explains, “we call them charts.”
Well-known Sacramento radio host and Big Band aficionado, Lou Coppella, really loves Morgan’s music. “In my book,” Coppella says, “Fred is a dependable professional and very devoted to his craft.” Coppella founded the Nor Cal Big Bands Preservation Society and is very glad Morgan’s is one of the three bands that play monthly gigs. “His music is very up-tempo,” Coppella says, “and the orchestra really bounces.”
Legendary band leader Benny Goodman once said: “I don’t like people walking on stage not looking good. You have to look good. If you feel special about yourself then you’re going to play special.”
That’s what you’ll see at a performance of Morgan and his 15-member band. “We all wear tuxedoes,” Morgan says, “it shows a little class.” It’s a look that completes the feel of a genuine Big Band that is still alive and jamming today.
You can catch Morgan and his band this month for a full show on April 25, 2-5 p.m. at the Sacramento Elks Lodge #6 at 6446 Riverside Boulevard in Sacramento.
For more information on the Fred Morgan Big Band, call 916-624-0556.