Wednesday, the jazz age beckons!
Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra is the world’s premier Jazz-Age dance orchestra, steeped in the hot-dance band tradition of the 1920s and early 1930s.
The orchestra’s presence invokes the vibrations of something unmistakably timeless.
No dance skills needed, come learn the steps with our instructors and dance the night away while enjoying the ageless melodies.
We spoke with Michael about his music and the upcoming Waterside show.
Your music seems incredibly unique and appeals to people of all ages. How do you describe it?
We play the pop jazz of the Prohibition Era, so that would be the ‘20s and ‘30s.
It’s a timeless sound and has a very vibrant energy that has stood the test of time.
I think that’s why we get such a wonderful variety of different age groups and all different walks of life that are big fans of our music.
On your site you state that you and your band “capture the essence of what this music and times were all about: Joy, romance, modernity, and possibility.” Those are wonderful qualities to bring back!
Yes, I think that in the 1920s people were a bit broken and looking for a reason to celebrate life again, and to find joy in the everyday once again.
And now, similar to the ‘20s, we’re looking for a return to the simple pleasures of life and a reason to just go out and be among friends and remember the simpler, kinder type of life.
I think that’s part of why people love to come to our event today.
What was the impetus to create a full orchestra that played jazz?
That was a standard band size in the 1920s, an 11-deep orchestra, and I wanted to recreate that sound, and I went back and I found the old recordings, the 78 recordings on shellac and vinyl, and I listened to those recordings and I transcribed everything they were playing, note for note, for all the instruments.
So what I have, and what my orchestra presents, is a one of a kind transcribed songbook of music that you won’t hear anywhere else in the world because nobody else has found those records that I found – and if they have found them, they surely haven’t transcribed them.
We have a very unique musical experience for people that they won’t hear anywhere else.
Tell us your favorite part of entertaining.
What really gives me joy is playing music, and I feel that music is a sort of medicine. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a physicist, it’s nothing that important but I feel that music is its own very special kind of medicine for people and I feel very lucky to do it.
It’s a real gift to bring people merriment. Entertainment is often escapist, which is one of the best parts: For a while you’re transported somewhere different, outside of your immediate reality and life.
Speaking of different, how do you feel about playing on a huge plaza overlooking the water? Have you been here before?
Standing on the plaza right now – it’s breathtaking!
It’s a beautiful viewscape of Greenpoint and Long Island City and Williamsburg. You can see the Queensboro Bridge, you can see up at Harlem. It’s breathtaking. It’s a very unique viewscape and the breeze coming off of the river is most refreshing.
That’s fantastic. We love it too!
This show is open to the public – and it’s especially fun for our residents: They can just step outside and have the jazz age waiting for them.
Right at your door.
Where else have you played that’s been memorable?
We play all different sorts of venues, both indoors and outdoors. Our largest event of the year is the Jazz Age Lawn Party which is held on Governors Island. We do speakeasys and restaurants, clubs throughout the city, and throughout the world. We’ve just returned from Cannes, France.
Were you born in New York?
I wasn’t, no. I was actually born in Texas. But I’ve been in New York for 20 years and both of my parents are native New Yorkers. So I could even argue that I’m a New Yorker once removed.
It’s, of course, amazing to have been born in New York – that is a unique experience. But if you come to New York, as an outsider, there’s a whole other component in how you experience the city.
Many of our residents are from around the world. So, as someone who also wasn’t born in the city, what are the things you love about New York? What made you stay?
Well, times have changed and it’s now a much more difficult place for an artist to make it than when I came here in ‘97 and so when I perform, I also try to reach younger folks who might not have had an opportunity to get up close to live music or live orchestra.
I take the opportunity as often as possible to play in public, places where people can see us free, so that young folks can also be exposed to what we’re playing without having to pay a premium for it.
New York is still so full of beautiful art and a beautiful energy, and I think that’s what draws people here and continues to draw people here.
It’s an ever-evolving city and it’s constantly kind of working itself out and it’s an honor to be a part of its tapestry.
Is there a particular thing that you’re most excited about in terms of playing at Waterside?
I’ve never played here before and I’ve never had the opportunity to touch the East River from this exact point.
It’s a discovery for me. That’s one of the cool things about New York, that you can have been here for a long time and maybe even your whole life, and still discover something new every day, and it’s a lot of fun for us to discover this new venue, and bring the jazz age here.
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Register for this event on Eventbrite.