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David Blackwell: Making Music is His Life

By Rod King

Fort Wayne Reader


David Blackwell would rather be playing his clarinet and tenor saxophone with his Music Express dance band, arranging music for the group or making music with the Fort Wayne Area Community Band than just about anything else in the world.

His five piece Music Express ensemble has been providing ballroom dance music for veteran’s organizations, wedding receptions, parties and concerts throughout Northeast Indiana for the past 16 years. They play a broad variety of music ranging from the 1930s through the 1960s with particular emphasis on the big band swing tunes. "Not many groups are geared to play for ballroom dancing,” says Blackwell. “We do a lot of the old standards, ballads, waltzes, Latin-style numbers and even a few polkas. Our library includes around 350 charts (pieces of music)," he added.

Most of those pieces were arranged for the group by Blackwell, using his computer and special music software that even plays his work back to him so he knows exactly how it will sound when played by Music Express. “I first listen to the original piece and then try to decide how I can make it fit our players. My goal is to make our arrangements sound as close to the original compositions as possible.

“I’m able to create the true big band sound with just five people because of the versatility of our two keyboards. With her right hand, keyboard player Dona Longbons plays the tenor saxophone part while doing the trombone line with her left hand. When we do Artie Shaw’s Begin the Beguine, I try to emulate Shaw on the clarinet and she fills in the saxophone part with the keyboard. The other keyboard, played by Marlene Lobsiger, does the piano and bass parts. Kim Lobsiger plays trumpet and is our vocalist, Mike Shivley is on drums and I cover the clarinet and tenor sax parts, but not at the same time.”

Music Express will be performing at Foellinger Theater June 28 as part of the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation summer concert series, and will also do a performance at Warsaw Central Park July 22.

Music has been a big part of his life since he was a kid. “I wrote my first arrangement for the Blackwell family band. My dad was an avowed Sousa nut and actually took lessons from Sousa's drummer. My mom was an amateur piano player, my brother played tenor sax" says Blackwell, "and after I began learning the clarinet we would all play together.”

He played in the North Side High School band and was in a rock combo called The Del-fi’s. Blackwell had already determined to make music his career and traipsed off to Indiana University to major in music and be part of the Marching One Hundred and the Symphonic Wind Ensemble. While there he also played in a rock band called The JB’s With sheepskin in hand, Blackwell landed his first teaching job as director of the Ridgefarm (Illinois) High School band. There were 22 kids in the band and just 100 in the whole school. Three years later he accepted a band director position at Syracuse (Indiana) Junior High School. When the Wawasee High School band director retired four years later, he took the job and later was named music department chairman. He led the high school program for 21 years and closed his teaching career at Wawasee Middle School in 2003.

In addition to Music Express, which performs 20 to 30 gigs a year, Blackwell sits in with Dan Heath and the Paradise Band and Papa Lo Jazz Band. He did all the arrangements for the “Lights on Broadway” review and directed the pit orchestra to mark the 75th anniversary of the Embassy Theatre in May 2003. Area swing choirs keep him busy writing arrangements for their back-up bands.

The Fort Wayne Area Community Band is another love of his. Blackwell serves as an assistant conductor, has written and arranged several pieces for the band and has been president of the 70-member concert band for the past three years. He admits that he inherited his father’s Sousa fanaticism, and has dressed up on several occasions as the “March King” to lead the Community Band in an all Sousa concert.

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