The Gateway City Big Band is a 17-piece band with two vocalists that has been entertaining audiences in the St. Louis region since 1966. Originally known as the “Friends of Music”, the group’s founders conceived the band as a volunteer organization where musicians could perform their favorite big band arrangements while helping local charities. Over time the band’s quality steadily improved and the demand for its services increased. On the bus trip home from a gig in 1976, the group decided the band’s name needed a little “jazzing up”, and the name “Gateway City Big Band” was born.
A number of local music personalities have helped the Gateway Band to acquire its reputation as a premier musical organization in St. Louis. “Cactus” Charlie Menees, a jazz broadcaster with powerful KMOX radio for years, was one of the band’s early supporters. Jim Bolen, a long-time St. Louis television broadcaster, fronted the band for four years and played vibes. Don Wolff, formerly broadcasting on KMOX, was once on the Band’s Board of Directors, and Dennis Owsley, host of Jazz Unlimited on KWMU radio, is currently on the Board.
The band became a non-profit corporation in 1998, and continues to play predominately for charitable and civic events. The musicians donate their time, energy and talents to rehearse and perform with the band, so the money from clients covers the band’s operating expenses. In recent years the band has focused on music education and gives much of its remaining funds to grants for worthy school programs and jazz camp scholarships.
The Gateway City Big Band has performed in most of St. Louis’ premier music and dance venues, including the historic Fox Theatre, St. Louis Casa Loma Ballroom and even Missouri Botanical Gardens. Several of the band’s members have toured with current national dance bands such as the Jimmy Dorsey, Jan Garber, Sammy Kaye, Dick Jurgens and Stan Kenton bands.
The band has made a number of recordings, most recently “50 Years & Counting!” in its 50th year of making music. “Swingin’ for 40 Years” (2006) celebrated its 40th Anniversary and “Live at the Casa Loma” (2002) was made up of live recordings from the St. Louis Casa Loma Ballroom. Other recordings include “Dedication” in 1995, which was dedicated to band supporter “Cactus” Charlie Menees and former leader Jim Bolen, and “Let’s Go Dancing” in 1999 which focused on a variety of dance styles and tempos.
Events of Note
1987 Played on a QE II cruise.
1997 Featured at the Glenn Miller Festival in Clarinda, Iowa.
2007 Invited to perform at the Missouri Music Educators’ Association (MMEA) Annual Convention
1977 “Just For a Thrill” (LP)
1978 “Don’t Play Dead, Play Jazz” (LP)
1979 “Meramec Community College Anniversary Concert” (LP)
1984 “Dancing Again” (LP)
1995 “Dedication” (CD & tape)
1999 “Let’s Go Dancing” (CD & tape)
2002 “Live at the Casa Loma” (CD & tape)
2006 “Swingin’ for 40 Years” (CD)
2015 “50 Years & Counting! (CD)