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Although HR-57 advertised last night’s screening/score performance of Elevator to the Gallows as featuring the Thad Wilson Big Band, the evening actually found Wilson leading a quintet, featuring 19-year-old Elijah Jamal Balbed on tenor sax and D.C. veterans John Ozment (piano), Michael Bowie (bass), and Jimmy “Junebug” Jackson (drums). More appropriate, since the film was originally scored by a quintet, but why not the band as advertised?

“The band basically mutinied on me, so I shut it down,” Wilson explained during a set break. “The bottom line? Money fucks up everything. The gigs just weren’t there. But I also felt like the discipline just wasn’t there with a lot of people. They didn’t get the hard work and rehearsals that come with a big band, and they weren’t into the ensemble work either. It was more an attitude of ‘Hey! I can solo in this band!'”

The ensemble, variously billed as the Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra or the Ugetzu Big Band, had been a staple of the Washington scene since January 1998. It had become something of a required course for D.C. jazz musicians, with players from Nasar Abadey and Reginald Cyntje to Bowie and Jamal passing through its ranks over the years.
“That’s disappointing,” says Dustin Mollick, until recently a tenor saxophonist in the big band (and the only recent member available for comment today), of the breakup. “I haven’t been in the band for 3-4 months now…but I hadn’t heard about it from anyone.”

Mollick does suggest that there had for some time been dissension in the ranks. “Lots of people in the band had problems with the way Thad ran the band and rehearsals,” he says. “Especially the fact that we played the same charts so many times when we had a great opportunity with that group to play new music.”

Wilson intends to rebuild the band from the ground up. “I will always be doing something with the big band configuration,” he says. “I have some of my core players who are still willing to work with me. And I’m looking at bringing down some cats from New York.” He adds, however, that this version of the band will gig much less frequently than its famous weekly gigs at Bohemian Caverns: “I think part of the problem was that I overexposed us. You see us all the time, it’s less interesting.”

No word on the fate of the band’s long-delayed second CD, Movin’ On (for which your humble correspondent wrote liner notes).

In the meantime, Wilson—who also teaches music at GWU—promises to remain active in smaller group configuration. He also announced from the stage last night that his Movie Nights (i.e., playing the score of a film as it is screened) will now be a monthly feature at HR-57.