The Gainesville Swing Orchestra was created in order to put on a one time performance when former Texas Governor Bill Clements came to Cooke County to speak. More than 35 years later, the big band is still performing all over North Texas.
The band played the Cooke County scholarship fundraiser in May, the Denton Arts and Jazz Fest, Austin College’s Casino night. Tickets recently went on sale for the group’s 10th annual “A Swingin Christmas” that will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 26 at North Central Texas College, 1525 W. California St., Gainesville. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youth.
“In the 37 years the band has been together, we have played as far north as Ardmore, west Saint Jo, south as far as Dallas, and as far east as Bonham,” the orchestra’s Dean Patterson said. “We will play wherever we can as long as we can afford it.”
Last year, they played the Bootlegger Ball for the Morton Museum in Gainesville.
“The band was put together for a one-time performance for Gainesville’s Chamber of Commerce Banquet,” Patterson said. “The band was well received and invited to play for a dance and later in the spring for the Germanfest in Muenster. We played there for 11 years.”
The orchestra works with the Cooke County Arts Council, Butterfield Stage, North Central Texas Chorale and the Gainesville Area Visual Arts.
“The Cooke County Arts Council gives two $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors from Cooke County each year,” Patterson said. “To raise the money, we do a show in which each members presents their arts. The orchestra has been the closing act for that show. It is a social event that earns money for the scholarship and gives the Arts Council an opportunity to show what their organizations does. We represent the city of Gainesville every time we perform out of town.”
Many of the members of the orchestra have been with it for more than 20 years. Because of that, there are not many openings with the orchestra, Patterson said.
“If we have one, a member may have a friend interested or we go to UNT and get a sub,” he said. “You have to be able to play your horn and enjoy working with the band. Our director is Dave Alexander and he was a UNT sub 32 years ago for us. He is a successful professional musician.”
Patterson is one of the last original members of the band.
“I played in band in high school and my senior year I got to play in the stage band,” he said. “I had always enjoyed the big band music before I knew I was going to play a horn. Once I got involved, I enjoyed it so much that I did not want to stop.”
The appeal of the orchestra for Patterson is all about the response of the audience as he plays music from the 1940s and 1950s.
“The appeal is it is something I listened to as a little kid and enjoyed it but never dreamed I would be involved with it,” he said. “When you get a positive response from the audience, it makes you feel good all over. Being a part of the talented and wonderful band members is a great feeling.”
Patterson said that one of the best times he had while playing with the orchestra was during the grand opening performance at a senior assisted living place in Denison.
“The band had to go from one room to another and play a few numbers,” he said. “I noticed a little lady following us and she was singing every song we played. Everywhere we went she was there. I told the band we had our first groupie. She was close to 90 years old.”
Patterson said that he has met a lot of great musicians during his time with the Gainesville Swing Orchestra, including performers with great musical legacies.
“I met Harry James’ son, who told me stories about his dad and Frank Sinatra,” he said. “We were playing in a restaurant is Denton and Gene Hall was there. He is the man who started the jazz band program at UNT. I had one man that was trying to be a professional musician that said he would like to play with a group like us if he could not make a career in performing. To me that was a compliment to what we were doing. When I work up a program, our first obligation is to entertain the audience but I want the band members to enjoy themselves. If a member is not enjoying themselves, then they do not need to be there.”