A free performance of the big-band sound

The Columbia Jazz Band is made up of more than 22 volunteer musicians -- professional and amateur -- who share a love of performing the big-band sound.

"The interesting thing about the band is that the musicians earn their livings in other ways," said Riley McDonald, 67, a saxophonist.


Engineers, teachers, doctors, National Security Agency employees and other professionals meet Mondays to practice and socialize. As one member said, the band has "become like family."

The group, which includes musicians ranging from the late 20s to early 80s, is to perform a free concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at Howard County Community College's Smith Theatre. Music from swing to contemporary, including songs by Frank Sinatra, will be played and recorded for an album.


The ensemble has been conducted by Peter BarenBregge for four years.

"This is [largely] an amateur group, so it's a challenge to take people who aren't professional musicians and educate and mold them, but it's been very rewarding," BarenBregge said about conducting the band, "They work real hard, are enthusiastic and make great music."

BarenBregge, 58, is the former musical director of the U.S. Air Force Band's Airmen of Note, the professional premier band of the Air Force that deals with community relations and troop morale. BarenBregge retired in 1998 as a chief master sergeant after working with the troupe for 20 years.

"The Airmen of Note is the most top-notch band you can imagine," said Rip Rice, 82, a member of the Columbia group.

Rice is the Columbia Jazz Band's oldest member and a World War II veteran. A chemist, he has worked on the creation and application of ozone at ground level for the past 35 years, he said. The tenor saxophone player conducts the Olney Big Band and plays in four ensembles.

"People are always asking me when I'm going to retire," said Rice. "Retire, why the [heck] would I retire? I'm having so much fun."

BarenBregge primarily plays saxophone, but he also plays the flute and clarinet. He has performed with celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and Sammy Davis Jr. When asked about his favorite collaborations, he said, "Tony Bennett and Mel Torme were not only singers, they were musicians."

BarenBregge, who will release his third compact disc next week, also performs in pit orchestras at the National Theatre and Kennedy Center in Washington.


"Working with [BarenBregge] has been excellent. He has a wealth of knowledge and has whipped us into shape. You can definitely hear a difference in the few years [he has been conducting the band]," said trumpet player Matthew Williams.

"God was smiling on us because we pay [BarenBregge] a pittance," said the band's manager, Maurice Feldman. "I'm a retired music teacher, so I know what it's like. ... We don't sound like an amateur band and most of that is credited to Pete."