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?