The Laguna Community Concert Band has shared its love of music through local performances over the past two decades.
By Sharael Kolberg
Celebrating more than 20 years of making music together, the Laguna Community Concert Band spreads joy throughout town, one note at a time, through public concerts and by partnering with local schools to promote music education. What started over a cup of coffee amongst friends at Zinc Cafe in 1999 has turned out to be a cherished community organization. The band has more than 65 members who enjoy playing music as much as residents enjoy listening to it.
Composing the Group
The original idea for the band came from three founding members: flutist Theresa Marino, local conductor Bill Nicholls, and Laguna Beach Arts Commission member and musician Carol Reynolds. Their love of music and eagerness to share it with the community led them to put in the time and effort to make the band a reality. It was originally offered as a class—with only eight participants—through the city’s Recreation Division and has grown over time.
Band members come from all walks of life—a mix of professional musicians, educators and those who like playing just for fun. They enjoy creating harmony together, but also appreciate the camaraderie.
“We have the full spectrum of musicians, from members who went to The Juilliard School, members who had careers as music teachers as well as people who haven’t played since their college days or are just picking up an instrument for the first time and want to play. As a community band we are available for everyone,” says Jay Kramer, who serves on the band’s board and as community engagement officer. “We rehearse and play music for all skill levels so everyone can feel comfortable.”
Kramer, who plays clarinet and saxophone and has been with the band since its first year, encourages others to sign up. The requirements to join are only a love of performing and a commitment to attend the scheduled concerts and weekly rehearsals at 6 p.m. Tuesdays at Laguna Beach High School. Members must also pay annual dues.
The band was established as a nonprofit in 2000 and includes both a 50-piece concert band and an 18-member Laguna JaZz Band; some jazz players also perform with the full concert band. There’s also a Dixieland Band, Brass Quintet, Clarinet Quartet and both woodwind and flute ensembles; the latter is led by Pacific Symphony flutist Cindy Ellis. They can be heard playing throughout the year at Festival of Arts, Sawdust Art Festival, Fête de la Musique, Patriot’s Day Parade, Hospitality Night, Memorial Day gatherings, concerts in the park and private events.
The groups also perform at indoor venues like Laguna Playhouse and Artists Theatre at Laguna Beach High School, presenting genres from pop to rock, swing, big band and classical as well as movie medleys, show tunes and other pieces from what’s known as the Great American Songbook, which is the enduring canon of influential songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century onward.
“It has been our pleasure to bring the power, magic and sheer joy of live music to Laguna Beach—completely free of charge,” says Lisa Morrice, a board member who handles publicity and marketing communications for the band and also serves as a vocalist and emcee. Morrice mentions that the band has performed with well-known artists like Stray Cats bass player Lee Rocker and English guitarist, singer, manager and record producer Peter Asher, of pop duo Peter and Gordon, but best known for producing multiplatinum albums for James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. “But our heart belongs to Laguna,” Morrice says. “We’re an eclectic team … dedicated to the positive power of music.”
Even while in-person rehearsals were paused during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the band found ways to keep in touch through Zoom, recording a couple of songs that are now available to hear on YouTube with the help of video master Patrick Dobrinen and Lynn Olinger, director of the Laguna JaZz Band.
“It was a huge undertaking to combine the video and audio, but we turned to that as a way to do something artistic together while apart,” says Jennifer Baker, a clarinetist who serves on the board as director of educational outreach for the band.
All That Jazz
For some events, the Laguna JaZz Band—rather than the entire concert band—takes the stage with a repertoire of jazz, swing, blues, pop and Latin styles, performing big-band numbers on instruments ranging from saxophones to trumpets, trombones, guitar, bass, piano, drums and other percussion, along with a female vocalist. The group began in 1989 when eight musicians joined through the city’s Recreation Division to play jazz together before becoming part of the concert band in 2003.
Olinger joined six years ago. As director, he’s responsible for choosing music to expand the group’s jazz experience while also planning rehearsals and serving the community by arranging for the band to play at various events.
Olinger started out as a musician, playing the keyboard and then saxophone all the way through college and the U.S. Army Band. He went on to teach music in Capistrano Unified School District for 36 years. Now that he’s retired, he enjoys performing again; he plays all types of saxophones—alto, soprano, tenor and baritone—in local jazz and concert bands including the Laguna group. “We are happy and excited to be playing together … [in] the community,” Olinger says. “I love playing in Laguna. It is a great town and arts community. We love the wonderful crowds when we play in Laguna Beach outdoor settings such as Main Beach and the Festival of Arts. People stop, listen and get involved with singing along and dancing. Not a lot of people get to see big band jazz very often, but when they do, they stop and appreciate this special form of jazz.”
Olinger notes that a few of the musicians have even come together to create a Jazz Quintet and Jazz Sax Septet with rhythm section for smaller venues and events.
As a nonprofit organization, the band prides itself on supporting the community through its musical efforts. The group does so by performing at events throughout Laguna Beach that bring locals together. In addition, the band supports music education in town by creating collaborative performance opportunities with the bands and orchestras in Laguna Beach Unified School District.
“When I came on board in 2013, our goal was to collaborate with one school music program each year,” Baker says. In 2014, members of the high school band and jazz ensemble joined Laguna Community Concert Band in its performance with Lee Rocker. The following year, the Concert Band joined Thurston Middle School’s student musicians at City Hall to play carols for the tree lighting ceremony during Hospitality Night.
In 2016, the Concert Band teamed up with Top of the World and El Morro elementary schools to perform a “Star Wars” medley, complete with guest stars—Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Yoda and Rey, played by local school leaders and Baker’s daughters. The following year, the Concert Band won an Art Star Award from the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance for the collaboration. “That summer, we offered a program for middle and high school students to rehearse with the band and perform at the Festival of Arts,” Baker says. “This allowed students to play side by side with the band during summer concerts at Festival of Arts.”
Additionally, the band sponsors two $1,000 student scholarships for Laguna Beach High School graduating seniors, which are funded by concert income and donations; one is given in memory of Roger Shew, the beloved former jazz band instructor at both the high school and Thurston Middle School, who passed away in 2016. And these scholarships are not limited to students who plan to pursue a music degree in college. “Whether the student goes into music as a profession or continues as a hobby,” Baker says, “we want to support music for life.”
Feel the Beat
Catch a performance of the Laguna Community Concert Band at these upcoming events. For more details, visit lagunaconcertband.com.
“The Summer Winds”
July 17 at noon
Festival of Arts
“Summertime: A Concert of Jazz, Big Band, Latin and Rock”
July 27 at 5:30 p.m.
Festival of Arts