Cultivating Creativity: Still hopping after all these years

By Jeanette Arsenault

Quick quiz: 1) Which Canadian orchestra is the longest running big band orchestra? 2) When did they form? 3) Where are they based?

I knew The Commodores Orchestra was the longest running orchestra, having just celebrated its 90th year and that they are Quinte-based. What I didn’t know is that they hold the record not just locally or nationally but around the world.

“There are no original members left,” says former music director Andy Sparling with a chuckle.

Sparling wrote an excellent book called “Dance of the Decades” with stories and photos of days gone by right up to the present. The Commodores Orchestra created their own cooperative to build their own dance hall in 1947 – Club Commodore – which the members at the time financed themselves and which, by today’s standard, would be considered close to a million dollar operation. Plus they did all the physical labour themselves.

The club’s capacity was 400 for dances and, at its height, the band would play four to five times a week. Currently, The Commodores Orchestra is a 17-piece band featuring Grammy award-winning and Juno-nominated musicians.

Don’t know what to give Mom for Mother’s Day? How about a ticket to “A Swingin’ Affair”, their cabaret/dance concert as part of the Cobourg Big Band Festival Concert Series at Victoria Hall? Concert is tomorrow night, May 11 at 8 p.m. featuring the smooth vocal stylings of one of my favourite crooners, Craig Parry.

“The new music director, Gord Smith, keeps the orchestra hopping this year with several more shows lined up for 2019,” says Sparling. “If you are anywhere near Hamilton, Ontario you can catch them June 8 in a gala being organized by the Hammer Hoppers, a steel city dance club.”

“Or you can hear them in Belleville at Zwick’s Park July 7 at 6:30 p.m. And once again, they will be playing during the Trenton Big Band Festival at Riverfront Square in Trenton July 20 at 6 p.m.”, he says with a hint of pride.

A hint of pride because, after all, he’s been playing in the band for more than 25 years, the last 10 as leader. But it goes way, way back to when he was around eight or nine years old. His Dad used to take him to summertime gigs played by his band… the London-based Casa Royal Orchestra.

“Dad was also a member of the RCAF Streamliners, very famous throughout the U.K. and Europe during World War Two. You could say the big bands are part of my DNA,” says Sparling says with a smile.

You can learn more about the fascinating story of the Commodores Orchestra in Dance Of the Decades available in Belleville at Chapters, Pinnacle Music, the Quinte Arts Council office, and, through the Hastings County Historical Society. ( You can find more information on their Facebook page @commmodoresorchestra.