Though the DIVA Jazz Orchestra only began officially affiliating with the MCG Jazz label for the 2014 release of A Swingin’ Life, the hard and soulfully swinging all-female ensemble boasts a lengthy and fascinating history that extends back nearly 30 years.
The inspiration came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich, who was conducting a band featuring Sherrie Marcie on drums. Blown away by her skills, Kay in 1992 began searching for other top female jazz players via nationwide auditions.
Now celebrating their 25th anniversary performing as part of the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild concert series, the collective – still helmed by Marcie and currently featuring 16 musicians – is all brassy glow, fire, moonbeams, sunlight, vim, vigor, spirited boom and sensual seduction on DIVA + The Boys, a live performance collection of lushly arranged set of classics (Benny Goodman, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ivan Lins) and originals seamlessly and whimsically pairing the wild yet tunefully tasteful orchestra with four of the jazz world’s most storied “boys” – Ken Peplowski (clarinet), Claudio Roditi (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Jay Ashby (trombone, percussion) and Marty Ashby (guitar).
Ashby and Roditi are not simply contributing key solos – they were also invited to bring to the party new compositions (Ashby’s lighthearted, horn fired “Deference to Diz,” Roditi’s jaunty, sashaying “Piccolo Blues”) that stand beautifully alongside the fresh spins on the classics. With a title like DIVA + The Boys, at first glance the project could be seen as a girl power type novelty – but it’s anything but. It’s more of a reminder that great jazz has no gender. The concept may draw you in, but the musicianship and fun-filled arrangements are what will win your heart.