Mar 24, 2013 - Jazz Depot Swings Saturday with Tulsa Praise Orchestra and Special Guest Mike Williams

            According to its founder, trumpeter and former Tulsa jazz promoter Bob Archer, the Tulsa Praise Orchestra is “a group of Christian musicians who just happen to love playing all kinds of music, like big-band music.” The latter is exactly what they’ll be doing at 1:00 p.m. Saturday on the Jazz Depot stage, where they’ll be joined by the Count Basie Orchestra’s Mike Williams, who has played lead trumpet for the Basie band for well over a quarter of a century.  

            “With Mike being a screaming, high-note trumpet player,” chuckles Archer, “we’ll be doing things like `MacArthur Park’ and `Begin the Beguine.’ It’s mostly a secular concert, but we’ll do a couple of gospel numbers, too.”

            This will mark the second occasion for the group and Michigan resident Williams to work together. Last year, he appeared with the Tulsa Praise Orchestra in a couple of shows, including one at Miami’s famed Coleman Theater.

            “We’re now in our eighteenth year with the Tulsa Praise Orchestra, and we have a big band in Dallas, the Metro Praise Orchestra, that spun off of us thirteen years ago,” Archer says. “Mike went in and visited with them a couple of years ago. I met him through them and I brought him in to play with us. 

            “There’s another guy, [trumpeter] Mike Vax, who came to the Jazz Hall and played with the Stan Kenton Alumni Orchestra. He’s an old friend, so he came into town and sat in with my band for an evening, and we did a concert. We’ll snag these guys any time we can get them.”

            Often, there’s an educational as well as an entertainment component when one of the guest artists comes in to perform with the Tulsa Praise Orchestra. This time around, it’s an event Archer calls “a brass class,” scheduled a couple of hours after the Jazz Depot show.

            “It’ll be done over at Saied Music, the midtown store [3259 S. Yale Ave.], that evening at five o’clock,” he says. “Basically, it’s about an hour-long session where Mike will talk about performing on the road with the Basie band, and it’s free and open to the public. We invite high school, college, and adult musicians to come in and hear him talk about performance.”

            A Louisiana native, Williams began playing trumpet at age 13, becoming a band director at his alma mater, Northwood Jr.-Sr. High School near Shreveport. In 1983, after three years as a director and symphony performer, he decided to take the plunge into full-time professional trumpet playing. Enrolling in the music program at the University of North Texas, he became lead trumpet in the school’s renowned One O’Clock Lab Band, recording four albums with that group.

            “He recorded a tribute to Stan Kenton while he was there,” notes Archer. “Since then, he’s played with every name you can possibly imagine.” 

            From the university, Williams joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra on tour for a couple of months, and then got the call from the Basie organization, which has been his primary gig ever since.  Williams has recorded some fifteen discs with that group; three of them won Grammy Awards. He’s performed in all fifty states and more than forty countries, played for radio and television, worked with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine, and guested with several other big bands. He also teaches private lessons and works as a guest soloist and clinician at universities, high schools, and jazz camps.

            The Tulsa Praise Orchestra has performed hundreds of concerts in several states since its inception in the summer of 1995, sometimes working with such national recording artists as singer Dave Boyer, former Tulsan Phil Driscoll, and Tulsa-based vocalist Ernestine Dillard, who appeared with the orchestra at a major New York concert celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.

            The group has also made multiple appearances in Branson, at both Silver Dollar City and the Grand Palace, and, closer to home, at the Jazz Depot.

            “We’ve played at the Jazz Hall maybe five times,” recalls Archer. “We’ve backed Ernestine Dillard on a show she did there, too. It’s one of our favorite venues to play; we think they’re doing a fantastic job down there.”

            The concert is set to begin at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St.  Tickets can be purchased at the depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $10, reserved table seating $20. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.