Monday, July 13, 2009

Disneyland - Big Bands - Carnation Plaza Gardens - Empty Nest

The trip across the wooden bridge to the colorful red and white canopied stage and dance floor of Carnation Plaza Gardens once brought a surprising reward to devotees of the Big Band Orchestra in the summers of Disneyland's yesteryear.

One would surmise from modern Disneyland's dearth of entertainment at Plaza Gardens that most of the Big Band afficionados have shuffled off to the grand, glitter-ball ballroom in the sky, leaving behind only those who favor performances by random, unknown, amateur bands, choirs, or dance ensembles (mostly from junior high and high schools across our great land).

The Plaza Gardens stage has gone from Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Les Brown, Harry James and Buddy Rich to the Broomfield High School Eagles Marching Band, Color Guard, Jazz Band, Percussion and Wind Ensemble (of Broomfiled, Colorado).
Now don't get me wrong.

It is not that the Eagles bands are anything less than entertaining or are in any way undeserving of a chance to perform at Disneyland (and we here at Jungle is 101 absolutely applaud their efforts, especially in this age of budget cuts and video games when true musicians are disappearing faster than Western Lowland Gorillas).

It is a simple truth that such groups (and others like them) are not of the same caliber as the legendary performers who used to light up the Plaza Gardens stage. I am not saying that these young musicians won't reach those heights some day---they are not there just yet.

Disney's Magic Music Days and the Disney Performing Arts Program are certainly noble in their support of young musicians---and have been for many years. Indeed, it is always a thrill to see one of these groups march down Main Street during a parade or pre-parade. It is also nice that they can perform from time to time at Plaza Gardens. True.


At night, when Disneyland used to come alive in most every corner of the Park, the Plaza stage now, generally, sits empty and dark. And on summer evenings in particular, this empty stage is literally a void that was once filled with life, music and light.

Chuck Cecil authored the article to the left for the Summer 1983 edition of Disney News, the Official Magazine for Magic Kingdom Club families (Vol. 18, No. 3), Margery Lee (Editor). Chuck hosted (and apparently continues to host) a syndicated radio program entitled The Swingin' Years, which is devoted to Big Band Swing music and is produced in Mr. Cecil's own home studio nowadays. A Jungle is 101 thank you to Chuck Cecil and all he has done to promote and bring (even more) magic to the original Magic Kingdom over the years.

In the article, Chuck announced 1983's big band season lineup: Count Basie and his orchestra; Harry James and his big band; Lionel Hampton and his big band---he could play the drum let's just say---watch the whole video clip gang); Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians directed by Art Mooney; and the Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Larry O'brien. Not too shabby.

The bandshell at Plaza Gardens in 2009 does not exactly foot the same bill. Indeed, the current version of Plaza Gardens is hardly even a ghost of its former, gloriously, ebullient self. It has been largely "Astro-Orbiterized" and sits, waiting, like the old Skyway chalet in Fantasyland (and the attraction formerly known as the Rocket Jets), for a chance to maybe, somehow, return to its former pre-Eisner glory and true self (*sigh*).

Until then, my friends, I leave you with the attached article from 26 years ago and the faint hope that someday a "big band" or two might return to Carnation Plaza Gardens on a summer's night to create a little, old-fashioned magic for a few lucky guests.

Until then, this is Mike signing off and reminding you that, during my illustrious tenure, four out of five Jungle Cruise survivors had not ridden my boat. How many skippers can make that claim?



The Blue Parrot said...

The shame of the dearth of music at the Plaza Gardens is likely based more on cost ((darn those Accountanteers!) than on public appeal. The music of the big bands is still popular with people of all ages. And there are still a number of big bands (old and new) touring today all around the world.

Even a jazz combo playing there like the old days at the French Market with Teddy Buckner and his Jazz All-Stars would bring life to the Gardens. Not everyone needs to dance. Sometimes, it's just the time to relax and enjoy the music that made for special memories.

A couple of weeks ago, we watched fireworks from seats at the Gardens. It was downright painful to watch unsuperviseed young children using the stage as a playground and assaulting the piano.

Yes, sir... I'm right there with you. Time to bring some life (and more memories) back to the area at night.

Michelle said...

Last time I was at Disneyland I definitely noticed a "lack of musical atmosphere." I'm sure this has something to do with saving money and the musician's union but I do miss all the good music that used to be at Disneyland.

*THE Disneyland Mom* said...

Beautiful piece, Mike. I miss the fun and excitement of evenings at CPG. I have lots of great memories swing dancing and having fun with friends.

Got your comment and would love for you to do a guest blog for me! Send me your email address so we can talk about it. My email address is

Anonymous said...

A great observation. I think back at my time in the Park years ago when these bands were playing. Great music and sound filled the Plaza area. I should have appreciated it more back then. Just took it for granted that it would always be there and so would the stars of the era. Yes, that area is just a shell of what it used to be. Seems like the entertainment is more parade and spectacular driven these days for the masses. Definitely the Park has lost the charm of its past.

Boaz16 said...

As a cast member at Casa Mexicana from 1986-2000 I had the privilege of listening to countless performances from the PG stage. Our backstage break area was in the alley between Casa and Plaza Gardens, the area is now "on stage" and accesible to the public. Our break table was literally right behind the stage and we were able to hear the musicians warming up and interact with them. I spent many a summer night relaxing to the music. Great memories! It was backbreaking work in the Casa Mexicana kitchen but little bonuses like this made the nights a little easier. Great memories! Thanks for the post Mike.

Laura said...

When I was in high school we used to go to Disneyland every weekend to go swing dancing at Carnation Plaza. What fun memories. People of all ages coming together through music. I know things can't stay the same forever, but I hope that my son will be able to experience special memories such as these.

Mike said...

Blue Parrot:

Great to hear from you, my friend! Been there and done that with the kids taking over the CPG stage. Seems to me like Disney my limit some of its liability exposure if it put some paid acts up on the stage, rather than rambunctious, unsupervised kids!


Of course, I agree with you! Thanks for stopping and sharing your thoughts. Come on, Disney! Drop a few coins on a Big Band or two---or twenty!

Lisa (The Disneyland Mom):

YOU are a person who "gets it." Thanks for your great blog and for the kind invite. You are invited to post a guest blog piece here ANY TIME!


You---and thousands of us like you---clearly know what is "missing" from "modern" Disneyland (ahem, "The Disneyland Resort"). These missing items are not "moneymakers," but they ARE what made the Park something more than just a "theme park".


You're killing me! My hear breaks and yearns for a return to the "good old days" you describe as a Cast Member. We probably passed each other often in 1986 (as I was heading back to the Day Custodial office right by your break area!) Even Cast Members got a special benefit from live acts performing a Plaza Gardens. Let us hope those days return in some small way.


"People of all ages coming together through music." 'Nuff said! Thanks for your input.


Trixxie said...

You will be thrilled to know that the Carnation Plaza Stage has live Big Bands on it every Saturday night! I myself, have been swing dancing there for the past 3 years. Disneyland is even talking about bringing Friday Night music to CPG during the summer. (2010) They list the entertainment as Jump, Jive, Boogie, & Swing on their schedule. It currently consists of
Dave Eastly's Swingtown
Doc Anello and the Swing Machine
Stompy Jones
Tim Gill's All Stars
Side Street Swing Orchestra

and this summer The Disneyland College Swing Band

Come join us for some music, dancing and fun!