After 11 years of teaching band music in public schools, Tommy Brinson is “taking the A Train,” so to speak, and going full time on the road with The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra.
The assistant band director at Burke County High School in Waynesboro, Ga., has been playing trumpet part time with the Savannah-Ga.-based big band group for several years when school breaks have allowed.
But Brinson, now 36, feels it is time to see what it could mean to totally commit to the band. And part of that commitment is to appear with the band members as part of an hour-long pledge break program airing at 7 p.m. Monday, June 6, on Georgia public broadcasting TV stations.
Brinson said the program filmed last December at the Morris Center in downtown Savannah, Ga., takes a look at The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra and its goal of preserving big band music.
The orchestra ranges from 18 members at many engagements to a smaller touring group of 11 or 12 musicians. Their songs include such classic big band standards as Come Fly With Me, Luck Be A Lady Tonight and That Old Black Magic to rock hits like Huey Lewis’ Power of Love and Roy Orbison’s Crying.
“A few years ago we created a show that was called ‘Mostly Mercer,’” Brinson said of Savannah-born composer Johnny Mercer, who is known for writing or co-writing such hits as Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening and On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.
“On the PBS special, we pay homage to Johnny Mercer by doing his song One For My Baby And One More For The Road,” he added, “and we were filmed going to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah and visiting his grave.”
Although the band is based in Savannah, Brinson plans to continue living in Grovetown with his wife, Lara, and son, Stiles.
Brinson became involved with The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra when the band’s founder Jeremy Davis, tenor sax player and music director, and his friend from the seventh grade Clay Johnson, trombone player and lead vocalist, moved from West Monroe, La., to Savannah.
“Jeremy went to a music store and began asking around for musicians,” Brinson related. “I got a phone call out of the blue with Jeremy saying, ‘We’re having an open rehearsal. Do you want to join us?’”
Brinson’s love of music began in a serious nature when he started playing a trumpet in the second grade. He joined a school band in the fifth grade and majored in music in college.
Since Davis and Johnson are heavily involved in global missionary work using the band members, Brinson has been doing some major travelling. Last year the band went to perform at the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Jazz Festival and helped Living Hope Community Church through free public concerts, educational outreaches, etc.
“We rode 5,000 miles over 10 days in a coach bus with 11 musicians, three wives and seven children,” Brinson said. “This year we’re going to Poland.”
Before becoming assistant band director and music teacher at Burke County High School, Brinson was the band director for six years at Ebenezer Middle School in Rincon. Ga., in Effingham County.
He said it is “absolutely scary in a general sense” to be quitting teaching and be going on the road full time.
“Yes it, makes me a little anxious not to be working daily 7:30 to 4, but I think this band will continue to grow,” Brinson added. “The tipping point was deciding to either jump aboard and commit to the journey that the band is on or get off and let someone else continue the journey.”
He said a lot of students don’t quite understand his decision.
“They have said, ‘Oh, you’re leaving us,’ but I’ve told them, ‘I’m not leaving you. I’m just pursuing my dream. You will always be with me in my heart.’”
The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra will perform June 11 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and July 4 at a celebration in Sea Island, Ga. And most Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m., they perform at The Club at the Savannah Harbor Club Pavilion. Visit Equinoxorchestra.com for more about the band.