For decades, if you were a fan of swing music folks in the Central Maine area, you needed to look no further than Waterville’s own Al Corey. From his music store on Main Street, to stages and theaters around the our fair state, Al Corey Big Band was known for its meticulous sound, professionalism, and innate ability to make people want to dance. Well, that famous group will be performing in Waterville once more on Dec. 3t at The Elm, a brand new venue for concerts, performances and much more,  and to that end, I was able to set up an interview with Brian Nadeau from his Bangor home to chat about his connection to the local legendary band leader and saxophone player.

Q: Now I believe you’re coming to Waterville’s The Elm for a New Year’s Eve show — does that sound right?
Nadeau: Yup, and it should be a lot of fun.

Q: In setting this interview up, you confided that you have played in this band for a long time — just how long has it been?
Nadeau: Since 1974 when I was 7 years old.

Q: Oh, my word!
Nadeau: (Chuckle) Yeah, I used to be a featured soloist with the band when I was that young. I started taking serious cornet lessons when I was 6 because my dad also played in Al’s band. I worked up a couple of tunes — “Hello, Dolly” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” — and Al was so thrilled that I had done that, and of course we had bought my cornet at his store, that he said, “Hey, I’d like to feature you with the band, would you come do it?” So, he used to take me all over the state to concerts and events, (and) I think the very first gig that I did with Al was at the Waterville Hanger at the airport on July 4 in 1974. And then, I used to play the Colby Shell concerts with him in the summertime, too, which was a blast. He used to host that, as you probably remember, every year.

Q: I certainly do. Now, who offered you the position of band leader?
Nadeau: Al did, when he was getting ill, probably around 2002. That was when he was starting to get really tired and his health had declined. He said to me, “Why don’t you share some of the leadership responsibilities with me?” I did and at one point when he was feeling really tired, he said, “I’m going to give this band to you very soon and let you just take over.” And then I said, “No, as long as you’re healthy, Al, and you’re still playing, I want you to hang on as long as you can.” And he did, actually, he probably went almost a year beyond that … I wanted him around because really Al is the magic — and was the magic — behind all of this.

Q: What happened when you finally did take up the reins, as it were?
Nadeau: Well, I knew his format, having played for him for years, and his programming choices, so when I did take the band over, my goal was to keep the band as close to what it’s always been in the past: sound-wise, programming-wise, and of course number-wise, too. Which is hard because some of the guys were up there in years, as well, and some of them have passed away since. It’s really hard, in that sense, to lose people that have been around for so long.

Q: What was your primary goal in all of this?
Nadeau: We’re just trying to keep what we can keep alive and that is the sound of the band, the band the way that it sounded when Al was running it. I mean, people from Central Maine — or even beyond — just love and cherish the band. I’m really surprised that we are still going, in a way, because the music industry itself has shifted so much; but what’s really sweet is that we do play out and when they hear us, even if they’ve never heard us before, they seem to be really excited about what we do and how we sound … which is great.

Q: Well, let’s face it, his band never sounded like a local Maine big band, did it.
Nadeau: Nope, it sounded more like a professional — and exceptional — road band like you’d hear with Woody Herman or Count Basie. The band always had such a solid sound.

Q: When did he start it, just out of curiosity?
Nadeau: I know it was during World War II — I think 1944 was the year he started the band — so if you do the math, the band’s been going one hell of a long time. And I can’t believe it: here we are today still getting gigs — we get four or five jobs a year, usually, at this point in time. But the audiences are loyal, they come back every year which is truly wonderful … there’s a lot of sentimental value to everything we do.

Q: Could you talk a bit about this performance in Waterville at the end of this month?
Nadeau: This thing at The Elm that’s coming up is really a brand new venture for the owner and it’s a new venture for us as to where it is, but the owner does know Al very well and I guess he had a special relationship with Al. The owner originally wanted to do a mid-December dance and then I suggested the possibility of a New Year’s Eve gathering which used to be traditional with Al back in the day. The only difference being that we’re going a little bit earlier with the time, and not going until midnight. We’re going to do it from 7 to 10 p.m. so that it doesn’t discourage Al’s demographic which, let’s face it, is probably mostly in the 50-plus range or higher. We don’t want to discourage them from coming out to enjoy a beautiful evening of New Year’s Eve elegance to ring in the new year. And we will still play “Auld Lang Syne” at 10 o’clock because that’s the celebration of what it’s all about.

Q: What’s your set list going to be like?
Nadeau: We still play the old hits of the Big Band Era — Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw — all those people that are in the demographic just love to hear swing music. I have always said there is nothing more dynamic and powerful than a big band and Al’s band, of course, has always been very special. Like I said, it doesn’t sound like a local group, it’s more complex than that.

Q: What’s the bottom line for you as the leader of the band?
Nadeau: What I’m trying to do, as somebody that grew up with Al and playing hundreds of gigs with Al over the years, I’m just trying to sustain a sound and a reference very close to people’s hearts as long as we can do it and as long as people will have us out there doing it. So, my hope is that people will realize how precious that is and hopefully come to this event.

Q: Is there anything, Brian, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks you’re referring to about the show?
Nadeau: Well, my personal hope, deep down, is that if they don’t already have plans and if the fans of this band want to hear the band and vocalist again, then hopefully they’ll come out and support the event and also support the precious history and current fact that the band is still in existence. I plan to keep it going as long as people will have us. I have no immediate thoughts of retiring the band.

Q: Well, that will be a huge relief to fans of this timeless group, that’s for sure. Is there anything else you’d like to have passed on the the readers?
Nadeau: Just that I’m grateful to Al’s audience for supporting us all these years, and for keeping him in their hearts and keeping the band there, as well. I want to thank the people of Central Maine and beyond that have been so supportive of the band and recognize that it is a special and precious piece of musical history in Maine. Their belief in keeping it alive and going into the future is something I’m very grateful for.

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.