When you first decide to get married, you need two things to have a successful wedding. One is a willing partner; the other is a good band. I’m not sure which is harder to find.
Of course, the definition of a “good band” is a matter of taste. But for me, it meant a band that was not going to play “The Alley Cat” and “Hava Negila” and “YMCA” – and when Ellen and I got married (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I was lucky that she agreed.
So we decided one way to have a cool wedding, that spurred lots of dancing but not a lot of that kind of dancing, would be to have a jazz band. We began checking out musicians at the various clubs in the Village and up near Columbia University, where the West End booked lots of players who had serious resumes but were looking for paying gigs (for which the West End barely qualified). It was there that we found Percy France.
Percy was an accomplished sax player – in both jazz and R&B circles. He had released a single in the late 50s that was a minor, regional hit, back in the days when instrumentals still filled the charts, and played on some of Bill Doggett’s earlier songs. So his band could swing.
I told Percy, “no ‘Alley Cat,’ no ‘Hava Negila,’ no ‘Chicken Dance.’ Give them ‘In The Mood’ if they wanna dance.” He was more than happy to oblige, and played a great set. Those jump rhythms got our friends, all fans of rock and pop, out on the dance floor; and our parents’ generation trotted out their lindy hops and whatever other dances they probably wished they could’ve done when they got married.
Inevitably, some older family friends wore Percy down, and at one point I heard “Hava Negila” playing, followed by “The Alley Cat.” But they were dispatched reasonably quickly, and by then it was evident that the band had made an impression.
Some of my friends went back to the West End to see Percy in the months after the wedding. I later learned that two of my uncles did the same. That is the sign of a good wedding band.
Have you been to a wedding reception with an untraditional wedding band? How did it go? Leave a comment.