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Don Rouse

Al Webber, co-founder of the Potomac River Jazz Club, and founder of the Federal Jazz Commission, is alive and well in Arcadia.

   There are those of us who might easily associate downtown Leesburg, Va. with Arcadia in its dictionary definition as a place epitomizing rustic simplicity and contentment (never mind that it is now a part of megalopolis). So it is appropriate that we have found a great sounding band in this charming colonial Virginia location. The Kings Court tavern is right on the main street in the middle of town - hard to miss, and so are the Arcadians. You can hear the mellow sounds emanating from the Tavern as you approach from just down the block.

   In the Arcadians, Al has formed a tightly knit ensemble (and, while I may be prejudiced, there is nothing that sounds more mellow than a clarinet, string bass and acoustic guitar together in an ensemble). Plus, the rhythm really drives. Al says he had as his goal with this band to play pop tunes in the traditional jazz style, and, as the band flier says, to feature “music from the golden age of jazz and swing”. It works, and everything meshes. Actually, the repertoire is varied; ballads done in trad style, “the good old good ones” as Al says, along with trad standards and lesser-known ballads and hot numbers the band has revived because they sound good.

   Al has reverted to the valve trombone of his idol, Brad Gowans, (after all those years on his greatest love, the slide trombone) and is, appropriately, the lead ensemble voice; and with Mike Ritter on clarinet (and any other instrument you might ask for as needed), Bob Carrier, guitar, and Larry Collier, bass, the group generates a glowing ensemble sound.

   As an extra surprise, the Arcadians present a fine vocalist who has had professional band experience. Diva Ponti Lynch sings ’em, and folks listen. Diva is her real name, and although her on and offstage presence is nothing like that of a diva, she sings with authority, and fits the band like a glove. Diva toured with a big band, and on the Poconos circuit, before, she said, she tired of cooking on a hot plate, realized that she is a homebody, and did not want to travel anymore. She says she picked up her 20s repertoire from her parents’ records, among other sources.

   Al and Mike Ritter discovered that they both played in trad bands while attending Amherst, although they were several years apart and never met. It took umpty ump years for their paths to cross, in, of all places, Leesburg. Mike played trumpet and clarinet with the Army Tourmobile, and subsequently played bass with the Hard Travelers out of DC. He also plays keyboard. He’s an aficionado of Johnny Dodds and Sidney Bechet, among others, and its a lot of fun to listen to Mike turn on these references in his trad style.

   An interesting sidelight to Al’s Amherst experience - at Amherst trumpeter John Bucher was in his band. Al played a significant role in turning John on to trad, by playing him Al’s 78 record collection. John now plays with bands in Philly and New York, (including one led by by a quiet, slightly built fellow with glasses who plays Albert clarinet).

   It’s a working band, these Arcadians, playing gigs all around the area, and their flier asserts that they are available for “meat market openings and balloon ascensions”. (They also recently played what has to be my favorite gig, the annual jazz brunch at the Ashby Inn in bucolic Paris, Virginia).

   Where is Al going with this band? Well, he’s there already. In Arcadia. -Ed.
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