Big band music is alive and well in Portland, Maine. Need proof? Look (and listen) no further than the 18-piece Fogcutters Big Band, co-led by trombonist John Maclaine and baritone saxophonist Brian Graham.

The band boasts 13 horns and a five-piece rhythm section, along with the vocals of Stephanie Davis and Chas Lester. Fogcutters love the many traditions of big band music, but they also don’t shy away from funk, rock, hip-hop or whatever else strikes their fancy at any given time.

Last December, a very special performance took place at the State Theatre. It was called Fogcutters Big Band Syndrome, and it took the music of local musicians and rearranged it to work with a big band. Guests that night included local artists Dave Gutter, Spose, Darien Brahms, Jacob Augustine, Lyle Divinsky, Domic Lavoie, Sly-Chi, Zach Jones and The Mallett Brothers. Thankfully, the entire show was recorded, and a double-live CD is being released later this month with a celebratory show at The Big Easy.

GO caught up with Graham to get the lowdown on the band, the genre and the “Big Band Syndrome Vol. 1” CD.

When and how did the band form?

Technically, the first Fogcutters gig was a Clash (of the Titans, in which local bands play songs of famous acts). We did Ella Fitzgerald vs. Frank Sinatra, and we weren’t called The Fogcutters. We had such a good time that we decided we should do it for real. We realized that big band music was written as popular music. Learning that lesson made us realize that people do love this music, but it’s just not as accessible as it used to be. So we decided to try and bring it back with our own twist.

What brought about the show at the State Theatre, and did you have any idea how huge the response was going to be?

Our whole idea with The Fogcutters is to take big band in a new direction while paying homage to the great bands of the past. We had originally thought about trying to cover local artists in a big band style, which we thought would be a unique undertaking. Then we figured, “Hey, why not make a big show of it, ya know, sort of a showcase of Portland music and its versatility,” thus we came up with this “Big Band Syndrome” idea. We pitched it to (State Theatre general manager) Lauren Wayne, and she loved it. It is honestly because of her that it even happened. We were going to tell her that we didn’t think we had enough of a following to play the State Theatre, and she convinced us that it was worthy. We are so thankful that she believed in us. We had a feeling it was going to be well received when we started rehearsing with the guests. The reaction they had when they first heard their tunes revamped led us to believe that we were doing something special. The whole experience … was truly incredible.

What was it like assembling such a fantastic lineup of guest musicians, especially since Fogcutters have only been in existence for a relatively short amount of time?

Assembling the lineup was actually one of the easier parts of the show. Even though The Fogcutters had only been in existence for a short period of time, John and I have been around the music scene for the past seven to eight years, and had shared the stage/made music with all of these guests. So when we called and asked them, it was like asking one of your friends to play an awesome show with you. Everyone was immediately on board.

What’s next for the band?

The Fogcutters have a busy summer schedule ahead of us. We have a bunch of great shows, including opening up for Boyz II Men on June 28 at the Cellar Door Winery’s “Pop the Cork 2012” event in Rockport. We are also playing at L.L. Bean on July 5 in celebration of their 100-year anniversary. In the fall, we are planning on going into the studio to do our first all-original studio album, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that. We will also continue our Halloween tradition of the Speakeasy Ball. Then we will end the year with a bang and do “Big Band Syndrome Vol. 2” at the State Theatre. Mark your calendars for Dec. 7, because we are doing it all over again with nine new acts.

What are some misconceptions that the average person might have about big band music?

In our opinion, the biggest misconception is that big band music is old and boring. A lot of people think of it as sit-down music or background music or something akin to a museum where everything is stuck in some past time exactly the way it was, when in all actuality it was written for parties and dancing. It was the pop music of its day, some of it just as risque as now, except they didn’t use Auto-Tune. Hahaha. They were always pushing the boundaries, and that’s where we want to be. It’s a truly live art form only to truly be experienced as live expression.

Who are some of the Fogcutter’s big-band heroes?

Our big band heroes are Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Thad Jones, Buddy Rich, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Armstrong, Ray Charles and many more. The one that we cover the most of is Duke Ellington. He honestly was a genius and so far ahead of his time. One thing that is amazing about Duke Ellington is that when he wrote for his band, he literally wrote for the individual players. We try to do that in the Fogcutters, but we can’t compete with Duke. 

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

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