Mile high and rising
Mile High Jazz Band
Band leader and pianist David Bugli stands up from his keyboard to face the audience, crack a few jokes and introduce the Mile High Jazz Band. The 17-member group jumps into a few rounds of a jazz standard, be it “Basically Blues” or “Take the A-Train.” Other times, they play an original tune. Since Mile High has been together and practicing at least two Tuesdays a month for nine years, the music comes off smooth and groovin'. Then the masters break in.
Trumpeter Reverend Gil Linsley—this preacher knows how to swing—puffs out his cheeks Gillespie-style and wails for a solid five minutes before sitting down to wild applause. The Reverend plays old-school jazz, hitting every note and climbing higher and higher. With the rest of the band at a low lull, though still wailing, Linsley’s momentum builds and breaks. The band rejoins full blast.
Why jazz? Bugli missed it. So he called up a bunch of guys, and a bunch of guys called a bunch of guys. They practiced in Linsley’s church, moving chairs and dragging in their own drum set. “It was a lot of phone calls to get them together,” says Bugli, “and a lot of e-mails to keep ’em together.”
They all put in their time, though maybe not always at the same time. “It’s like herding cats,” says Bugli about getting the band together to practice or play at Comma Coffee, their regular gig, or at one of the other concerts Mile High plays throughout the year in the area. The band doesn’t take its name from the Mile High Club. (Sorry, folks.) The name comes instead from a band Bugli played with several years ago in the Tahoe area because “it was a mile up there,” says Bugli.
Many of those in the audience have been with Mile High from the beginning and have certain expectations: a few tunes for dancing, a few lively songs for foot tappin', and a few technically challenging ones to show off the band’s skills. And of course, plenty of sarcasm and bad jokes between the music.
Dan Lancaster and Gerry Wright cover the sax solos. Lancaster’s face turns red as he empties his lungs, and Wright swings his hips along with his improv. Both have been with the band for some time. They mix their musical mastery with the mischief of having a male-dominated band of swingin’ grey-streaked doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers and a preacher. A few college kids sub now and then, and a pack of local poets add comedy asides for the occasional jazz-and-poetry night.
Sultry jazz singer Sheryl Adams gets up in front of the band at least a few times each show to prove jazz is, indeed, still alive. Her cool, sexy voice sets a mood conjuring the smoky clubs of Chicago, San Francisco and New York, where jazz was the way of life.
The band takes up a good third of the room in the small coffee shop on Carson’s main drag, leaving the rest of the space for mismatched chairs and a few loveseats. Between songs, the owner of Comma Coffee, June Joplin, grinds coffee and blends frozen mochas for the audience and musicians. It’s a pretty casual affair overall. The musicians may goof now and then or get the solos mixed up, but the show is always full of energy, humor and fun.