Inspiration from Dim Sum, Netflix & Frank Sinatra

Who starts a Big Band at the beginning of a Global Pandemic and what part does Dim Sum play in all of this?

At the beginning of the Global Pandemic, many of us turned to sources like Netflix to watch the latest documentaries. Mississauga Ontario based Professional Studio Musician, Dan Bodanis accidently stumbled on to a Frank Sinatra Special; four days later, he stumbled upon a Quincy Jones Special, and from those two Netflix Specials – highlighting those revered days of music, when Frank Sinatra, with the Count Basie Orchestra, under the Musical Direction of Quincy Jones, headlined at the Sands in Las Vegas, and a highly inspired idea was born – to form a 19 piece Big Band!

With the full support and strong encouragement of his wife Kelly, to realize his life-long dream of starting a 19 piece Jazz Orchestra, otherwise referred to as a ‘Big Band,’ the Dan Bodanis Big Band came to fruition. The Dan Bodanis Big Band is referred to as the DBBB or the DB Big Band.

With a lot of thought, Dan composed a 40 page business plan. He decided he would need the guidance of those who had strengths and experience he did not possess, and as such, he came up with the idea of creating a ‘steering committee.’

The selection of a ‘steering committee,’ comprised of Professional Musicians, like Barbara Streisand’s Musical Director, Randy Waldman; former Tenor Sax Player, with the Buddy Rich Orchestra/Frank Sinatra, & Tony Bennett – Pat LaBarbera, and Village Vanguard Big Band Sax player/WDR Big Band Arranger, Chris Byars; and outstanding business professionals like Mr. Ken Choi, the owner of 24 year success story – Mississauga-based ‘Summit Garden Chinese Cuisine, Kevin Sherwin, and others.’

Along with this diverse cross section of professional advisors on the DBBB steering committee, his 40 page business plan, and a sincere desire to achieve the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, Dan decided to emulate the Big Band ‘model’ created by the great Count Basie. The Musical Director for the Basie Band, was the amazing Quincy Jones! Dan turned to long time friend, Tom Skublics and asked if he would consider becoming the ‘MD’ for the DBBB? Tom Skublics is currently in the band at the Shaw Festival, in Niagara on the Lake, and has a rich musical resume. As a matter of fact, his first high profile gig, in 1984,was playing sax at the Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel, in Toronto, with legendary songstress, Ella Fitzgerald!

Actually, Bodanis didn’t quite ‘ask’ Tom to become the MD, here’s what transpired when he called:

“Tom, I have a really bad idea, and I want you to talk me out of it!” Having a personal and musical friendship dating back almost 40 years, where Tom and Dan had shared many stages with different Big Bands, Tom immediately said: “Ok, I’m in!” Not even knowing what Dan had in mind, Tom trusted it would be good, so, much like the Olympic High Jumper, who set the record, Tom first ‘threw his heart over the bar,’ knowing that he would land in a good place!

When Dan told Tom that he wanted to put together a Big Band, Tom’s response was: “Are you kidding me? That’s a crazy idea! Who starts a Big Band in a Global Pandemic?” “That’s a terrible idea… and I’m in!” “Well Tom, not only do I want you to play in the band, I would really like you to be the Musical Director!” Tom said: “No way! That’s a horrible idea! I’ve never been a Musical Director before!” Dan went on to plead his case for Tom to consider becoming the MD for the DBBB, and by the end of the phone call, that commitment was made!

Dan went on to explain to Tom that he wanted to get in touch with Nancy or Tina Sinatra, to see if it might be possible to purchase the actual Big Band arrangements that the Count Basie Orchestra performed, each night in Las Vegas, as they backed up Frank Sinatra.

Another ‘crazy idea,’ that had Tom asking: “How on earth are you going to get in touch with Nancy or Tina Sinatra to do this?” As part of the business plan, Dan actually thought it would be a good idea to reach out to Tenor Sax Legend, Pat LaBarbera, to ask how he might get in touch with Tina or Nancy Sinatra. Back in the 70’s, during a break from his performances with the Buddy Rich Orchestra, Pat had performed at Caesars Palace, in Vegas, with Sinatra, and Dan thought ‘if anyone might have a connection to the Sinatra sisters, it would be Pat LaBarbera!’

However, when Dan made the call, Pat explained that he was a ‘hired gun,’ who had performed with Sinatra, but had no connection to Tina or Nancy. As an integral member of the Dan Bodanis Band for over 20 years, and as a member of the new DBBB, Pat offered the following: “My brother John was an arranger for the Buddy Rich Orchestra for years and he is well connected in that world. If anyone would know how to help you to buy those authentic Basie/Sinatra arrangements, it would be my brother John. Let me set up a call for you, and let’s see if John could help.

The following Sunday, for over two very generous hours, Dan spelled out what he wanted to accomplish, in terms of purchasing the Basie/Sinatra arrangements, to which John LaBarbera listened very carefully. Encouraging Dan to go forward with the project, John suggested that Dan get in touch with Doug DeBoff, in Saratoga Springs New York. Doug and his brother have an online company that sells all sorts of music arrangements, and serendipitously, almost at the same time as John LaBarbera suggested that Dan contact Doug, Tom had done some homework and sourced out Doug DeBoff and his company, as the ‘go to’ source for the specific music library that Dan wanted to invest in for the DBBB.

Dan contacted Doug DeBoff, and after a number of calls, lengthy negotiations, lots of questions, and a few months time that had passed, Doug sent 33 arrangements to Dan, in Mississauga Ontario. The next task was ‘putting the band together!’ To lend some context to what is meant by ’33 arrangements,’ the average concert would last between 60-90 minutes, consuming 12-15 pieces of music (arrangements). The DBBB now owned ‘2 full concerts’ worth of Sinatra/Basie – Music that is cherished the world over!

When Dan had originally told Tom of his ‘terrible idea,’ he also told Tom that he had a very ‘different’ way to select the musicians for the DBBB. In actual fact, it is usually the task of the Musical Director to select the musicians for a Big Band, however, in this case, Dan had an entirely unique method, which he intuitively knew and expected Tom to wholeheartedly embrace!

Enter the Restaurant! The Dim Sum Restaurant – Summit Garden Chinese Cuisine!

Dan with Mr. Ken Choi, Owner of Summit Garden Chinese Cuisine - Patron and Honorary Member of the DBBB.For 24 years, Summit Garden Chinese Cuisine has been the restaurant of choice for those in Mississauga and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), who love fine Cantonese style Chinese food. The second day Summit Garden was open, Dan and his wife, Kelly, went in for an incredible 3 hour feast! Leaving with a strong desire to return, a new friend, in owner, Ken Choi, and the memory of the best Chinese food they had ever eaten, Dan and his family would return countless times for Dim Sum lunches, grand dinners, children’s Christenings, Birthday parties, and Anniversaries!

Dim Sum at Summit Garden, Dan’s influence on Tom’s dining habits, and how the band was formed.

Soon after falling in love with the wonderful Cantonese Style Chinese Cuisine, at Summit Garden, Dan introduced Tom to the restaurant and quite quickly, Summit Garden became Tom’s favorite Chinese Restaurant.

Normally/Usually, it is the job of the Musical Director to select the musicians for any project.

With the Dan Bodanis Big Band, Dan had a plan, and that plan included selecting musicians that he would like to share a stage with – that he knew intuitively Tom would agree with!

That plan: quite simply put, we would only select people that would like to share Dim Sum with, at Summit Garden, on a 1 on 1 basis, or as a 19 piece ‘dining collective,’ who also happen to be world class musicians, with lots of experience, and a shared mutual passion for big band music!

When Dan shared this idea with Tom, Tom immediately loved the idea, and together, Dan and Tom assembled a list of wonderful people, who also happen to be world class musicians, that they wished to ‘eat Dim Sum with, at Summit Garden!’

Enter the Dim Sum!

From the beginning, in March 2020, each time Dan would speak to Ken Choi at Summit Garden, Dan would share more details about putting together the Dan Bodanis Big Band, and Ken would listen very closely. Dan knew that Ken loved the music of Frank Sinatra, singing with the Count Basie Orchestra, but Dan did not know just how closely Ken was listening, nor did he know just how much Ken loved the music of Sinatra & Basie.

Fast forward to the early days of March 2022, just prior to the first rehearsal of the Dan Bodanis Big Band, at the West Edge Church, in Mississauga Ontario.

Dan received a phone call from Ken Choi, that went something like this:

Ken: “Hi Dan, I was wondering, do you think it might be possible for me to come out to your first rehearsal of the Dan Bodanis Big Band, on March 5th?”

Dan: “Ken, are you kidding? You’re family! Of course! You are always welcome and you don’t have to ask, just show up!”

Ken: “I thought so, but I didn’t want to assume. Do you think it would be ok if I brought out some Dim Sum for the band? Do you think they would like that?

Dan: “Are you kidding me? Of course the band would love it, but that is totally unnecessary!”

Ken: “I would really like to support you and your band, so I am going to bring out some Dim Sum for all of your musicians. I’ll see you on March 5th!”

At this point, Dan was truly amazed at Ken’s support and generosity! …but that would only get bigger and better!

Please understand: Dan knew that the band would be grateful to Ken if he were to bring out one Spring Roll, a knife, and cut that Spring Roll into 19 tiny pieces!

Who feeds a 19 piece big band ‘Dim Sum,’ at a Saturday morning rehearsal?

Ken Choi does! To say Ken brought a Dim Sum feast would be a true understatement. Ken arrived at the rehearsal, just as the band was taking its mid-rehearsal break, and asked for help from Dan’s son, Sabian, and Sabian’s friend, Raf. Why would Ken need the help of two 6’2” powerful 16 year old boys?

When the doors to West Edge Church swung open, Sabian, Raf, and Ken brought in huge tray after tray of Dim Sum, that smelled so delicious, the band knew instantly, this was a different band, with a different set of support circumstances – something truly special!

Ken had gifted the Dan Bodanis Big Band so much Dim Sum, by the end of the rehearsal, there were lots of left overs. Please understand – everyone came back to the second half of the rehearsal, preferring to have a nap, due to the over-riding ‘food coma’ they were all experiencing!

More Dim Sum? What? Yes! More Dim Sum!

Over the course of four rehearsals, Ken Choi had magnanimously gifted the Dan Bodanis Big Band with an entirely different menu of Dim Sum delicacies, that would equate to what could only be described as the kind of FEAST one might see at a Chinese Wedding or very special celebration.

Each week, Ken would call Dan and ask if it would be ok if he came out to listen to the band rehearse, and he would ask if he could bring some Dim Sum for the band! Who does this? Ken Choi!

In terms of Dan’s initial wish to put together a collective of musicians he and Tom would wish to go to have Dim Sum with – Ken Choi made sure that the Dim Sum came to the Dan Bodanis Big Band – in fine dining style!

That is the story of how the Dan Bodanis Big Band came together, as a Dim Sum eating collective, that happened to be wonderful musicians, all sharing one common ideal – a love of big band music.

Very special thanks to Mr. Ken Choi.

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