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RSJO Graphic  

Don Neely - Leader, Reeds, Vocals  Carla Normand - Vocals 
Steve Apple - Drums, Vocals  Frederick Hodges - Piano, Vocals 
Brent Bergman - Trombone  Kent Mikasa - Cornet 
Dix Bruce - Guitar, Banjo  Dick Mathias - Alto Sax, Clarinet 
Marty Eggers - String Bass, Tuba  Andrew Storar - Trumpet, Vocals 
Bob Embry - Tenor Sax, Clarinet  Jeff Gilbert - Vocals 

Our Music
Drawing inspiration from the great bands, performers and composers of the "Jazz Age" and "Swing Era," Don Neely and the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra affectionately and authentically recapture the excitement and fascination of that musical heyday. Guided by their affinity for the superb music of innovators such as Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Biederbecke, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and songwriters like Harry Warren, Fats Waller, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, and Walter Donaldson, the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra has captivated audiences all across the country.

The eleven-member RSJO present the colorful songs made famous by such greats as Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway, Ruth Etting, Eddie Cantor, Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, Dick Powell, Ethel Waters, Fred Astaire, Maurice Chevalier, the Boswell Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald and Al Jolson. And what songs! Avalon, Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, Three Little Words, Truckin,' The Music Goes 'Round and 'Round, Walkin' My Baby Back Home, Moten Swing, Hello Beautiful, and Shakin' The Blues Away. Don Neely draws from several sources, including the best of Silver Screen and Broadway classics such as the Gold Diggers movies, Top Hat, Shall We Dance, Cotton Club Parade, Anything Goes, Footlight Parade, Babes In Arms, The Wizard of Oz, 42nd Street and The Blue Angel.

One of the many things that set this eleven-member ensemble apart is their genuine understanding of the music they perform. By going back and carefully studying the original musical ideas of the period, they have been able to achieve their remarkably authentic sound. The band's entertaining and talented soloists are creatively spotlighted in their exciting and varied show, providing many delightful surprises. And the RSJO plays it all - from intricately-faceted, Syncopated Jazz to ultra-sleek, Big Band Swing.

When the saxophones and brass sound their first rousing phrases, the audience will know they are in for a rare experience. Projecting the original and exhilarating spirit of the music, they deliver each song, from high-flying barn burners, bitter sweet love ballads and earthy blues to whimsical novelties, in a fresh and dynamic style all their own. With propulsive rhythms and inventive harmonies, their sound captures audiences in its spell and tranports them to the "Jazz Age," setting their minds and feet to dancing. A concert journey with the RSJO covers a grand panorama of classic American music, from red-hot, Harlem nightclub revues and saucy Vaudeville shows to the Broadway extravaganzas of Florenz Ziegfeld and celluloid fantasies of Busby Berkeley. The artistically fertile time known as the "Art Deco" era, gave birth to some of the most stylish and intriguing music ever created. The RSJO presents a stirring array of selections drawn from this musical cornicopia-from the most celebrated and enduring songs to newly rediscovered gems. Experiencing a performance by the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra is a wonderful tonic, alive with fun, and guaranteed to lift the spirits.

The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra became a smash sensation in San Francisco, gathering a large following of enthusiastic fans. Their concerts and other performances have taken them all across the country and abroad and include engagements at Paramount Theatres in California, Illinois and Texas, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland, San Francisco Symphony Pops Concert, Toronto Jazz Festival, Connecticut Jazz Festival, Sacramento Jazz Festival, St. Louis Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and the San Diego Jazz Festival. The orchestra starred in an hour-long PBS television special, a first-rate production. The RSJO is a prolific recording ensemble with several highly-acclaimed compact discs to their credit. In addition to concert appearances, they have enjoyed long-running engagements at several famous places. They have played for several San Francisco Black and White Balls, opening night galas for the San Francisco Symphony, Opera, and Ballet, international cruises and scores of high profile San Francisco social events. The orchestra was voted #1 Favorite Big Band in the Jazzology Poll, and was voted most popular Big Band in the American Rag music poll. The RSJO's popularity and authenticity inspire many large-scale Art Deco-era-themed events in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

Critic's Comments

"The best band of their type in the world ... The Royal Society is solid, tight, brilliant ... It is at once a first-rate dance orchestra, a fine jazz ensemble (with strong soloists) ... Carla Normand is the band's perfect singer ... a bright, sure-pitched gem of a voice."
- Phillip Elwood, San Francisco Examiner, Music Critic

"Royal Society is a class act in every way ... Among the high spots, Frederick Hodges continues to knock me out with his dead-center replications of the technically demanding novelty-rag-infused white pop piano licks of the twenties. Multi-instrumentalist Neely is not only a strong soloist but also an engaging vocalist, evoking various period male singers from Ted Lewis, Rudy Vallee on up ... Carla Normand' s complete grasp of the idiom and just right pipes are impressive as always ... possessing impeccable diction, accurate pitch and a voice that has just the right blend of warmth and cutting edge ... Carla is always a pleasure to hear"
- Tex Wyndham, American Rag

"Lovingly and precisely recaptures the sound in a irrepressible, irresistible style ... Neely deserves a national medal ... for preserving this music with such affection and accuracy ... the whole idea soars when Normand steps to the mike and, in her lithe ... voice, sings "Get Out and Get Under The Moon" (which is so Ettingish it' s spooky) "
- Gerald Nachman, San Francisco Chronicle

"the R.S.J.O. has matured and developed a tough, elegant art moderne surface to their work-they sound remarkably like a big-league hot dance band ... Neely is excellent at reconstructing reed styles of the day, especially on clarinet and alto ... the craftmanship here is excellent, and the music is consistently interesting, imaginative and varied. Don Neely has organized a highly entertaining show ... Carla Normand ... has clearly listened to the great song spinners, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, et al.-and absorbed their intuitive approaches to phrasing and intonation. Only a handful of stylists survived the test of time, and she has paid close attention to their work, continuing the tradition respectfully but with fire and personal elegance ... She sings with confidence and elan and projects a solid feeling of mastery over the songs."
- William J. Schafer, Mississippi Rag, Jazz Critic

"perfect in capturing the full essence of the past ... the band plays with an effervescence ... Neely' s group really has the sound down pat ... Carla Normand' s voice is akin to singers of that period-Leah Ray, Helen Rowland and Annette Hanshaw as examples. Normand is really the find."
- Rapport, Contemporary guide to Books Art & Entertainment, Los Angeles

"Capturing the feeling, phrasing and intonation of bands that recorded over fifty years ago is not easy, as is proven constantly by contemporary ensemble that try. But the R.S.J.O. is more successful and versatile ... placing its primary emphasis on the spirit of the originals, not on slavish, note-for-note accuracy."
- John S. Wilson

"Carla Normand has a warm, rich voice and sings in a boldly confident style ... all of which she delivers with awareness of the lyrics and the nuances of the composer' s craft."
- Jazz Journal International, Great Britain

"Excellent ... Splendid ... First Rate ... Fine ... Wondrous"
- Herb Caen, San Francisco Chronicle

"It would be difficult to select a highlight from their program because each of the numbers was different and filled with zest. They seemed to have captured the best ... of the big band era, keeping the audience interested in not only what was being played but in what they were doing as well."
- St. Louis Dispatch

The Band Members
Don Neely

Carla Normand

Steve Apple
    Steve started playing drums at the age of five, on a toy drumset supplied by his very tolerant mother. In 1975, at age 14 he joined the Churchill Street Jazz Band, which at that time was made up of students at Palo Alto High School under the guidance of veteran banjo player Bill Armstrong. (He was invited to join the band by tuba player Jeff Wells, who of course later joined the RSJO). In 1979, after graduating from high school he joined the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, having met Don Neely through his association with Churchill Street. He has also played extensively with other Bay area Traditional Jazz bands such as Professor Plum, Magnolia Jazz Band, and the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, as well as recording with various studio groups for Stomp Off Records. There are unconfirmed reports that Steve has been sighted playing drums in Country-Western bars as well. He"ll say only that the RSJO is by far his favorite band. He cites Davey Tough, Ray Baduc and early Gene Krupa, as well as Chicago"s Wayne Jones and former bay area drummer Hal Smith as his major influences. He enjoys playing a supportive role for soloists, vocalists and ensemble work. Steve lives with his wife and three children in Mountain View, California.

Brent Bergman
    Brent was born in Oakland and raised in Berkeley, California. His love of music started when he began singing in the church choir. Later, in sixth grade, after trying the piano and the flute his mother encouraged him to take up the trombone. In high school, Brent joined the California High School All Star Jazz Band, played bass trombone with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and toured Europe twice with the Berkeley High School Brass Quintet and sang with the Concert Chorale. Brent attended University of California Berkeley and majored in humanities with an emphasis on classics.

    Brent was introduced to traditional jazz in 1987 when he started playing on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with sprtit of " 29. Brent has played with many other bands including Black Diamond, Churchill Street, and San Francisco Starlight Orchestra. He joined the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra in 1993. Brent works as an Information Systems Specialist and lives with his wife in Walnut Creek, California.

Dix Bruce
    A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Dix attended the University of Wisconsin and majored in film, radio and television. Dix credits his grandfather with introducing him to music and providing him with early instruction on the guitar. Dix lived upstairs from his grandfather and remembers fondly, the sound of his grandfather"s guitar playing, carrying up through the heat register.

    He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1974 where he has worked as a musician, composer and teacher. Dix plays guitar and banjo for the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra which he joined in 1987. He has authored eighteen instructional books, sound recordings and videos for Mel Bay Publications including his own series of play-along rhythm section CD/book sets, BackUP TRAX. Two of these, the popular Traditional Jazz and Dixieland set and the Early Jazz and Hot Tunes set, feature the rhythm section and cornetist Kent Mikasa from the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. These were created for the beginning improviser, who needs the experience of playing along with a traditional jazz rhythm section. In addition to making several CDs with the RSJO, Dix has also released his own recordings of other traditional american musical styles. Dix resides with his wife and daughter in Concord, California.

Marty Eggers
    Marty Eggers is well known on the West Coast as a top-notch ragtime pianist and bassist. Marty’s music career began in Sacramento where as a teenager he helped found the Sacramento Ragtime Society. Besides performing as a solo pianist, Marty plays with a number of traditional jazz and ragtime groups, most notably the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, the Yerba Buena Stompers and the Black Diamond Jazz Band. Since 1997 he has been the bassist for the Butch Thompson Trio, which became nationally known in the 1980s as the “house band” for the National Public Radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” Recently he has worked and recorded with the great blues, boogie and jazz pianist Carl Sonny Leyland. Marty performs around the country as part of the Tichenor Family Trio with his wife, pianist Virginia Tichenor and her father Trebor, also a pianist. They have recorded an album of piano solos and duets, aptly called "Family Album". 

    Marty’s talent and versatility have led him into several varied and prestigious engagements, from recording with San Francisco traditional jazz legend Bob Helm to touring Germany with Hal Smith’s California Swing Cats to playing both piano and bass in a Bay Area backup band for Leon Redbone. For ten years Marty was the bassist for the popular ragtime trio Bo Grumpus. Marty has appeared on over a dozen full-length commercial CD albums, and has been a “guest performer” on many more. He is also a skilled composer and arranger of ragtime and traditional jazz.

Bob Embry
    Bob Embry was born in Portsmouth, Virginia and lived in England, Massachusetts, and Kansas as a child. His family was musical, all members sang and his mother, though a registered nurse by profession played boogie-woogie and standards of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s on the piano. Bob began music study as a violin and viola player, but soon felt drawn toward hot jazz, big band music, and New Orleans jazz from listening to his mother’s records. He acquired a victrola and began collecting old recordings in his early teens similar to Don Neely, RSJO leader, and began playing an old metal clarinet purchased in a junk shop. He took up saxophone soon after and formed several assorted jazz bands while in high school.

    While a music student at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, he was a co-founder and reed-player of at least two traditional jazz bands, the “Six-Finger Dixieland Band’ and “Mint Julep”, both of which achieved local success, “covering at least a few blocks”, according to Bob.

    After moving to California in 1981, Bob met up with the newly-founded “Blue Street Jazz Band” and played the circuit of festivals with them for nearly twelve years, as reed player, music director and arranger, and occasionally violist and pianist. With Blue Street Bob performed all over the US, Canada, and Europe. Some of Bob’s many influences have been black gospel music, and the great vocalists and crooners such as Bing Crosby, Billi Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. Reed players that he admires include Lester Young, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Irving Fazola, Jimmy Noone, and the great Chu Berry to name but a few. Bob remains a big fan of the early big band and hot jazz ensembles of the 20’s and 30’s, ranging from Paul Whiteman to Jimmie Lunceford. Bob greatly enjoys performing with the RSJO as it offers lots of chances to harmonize as well as solo. Bob holds a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Oklahoma University as well as a Master’s in Conducting from Cal State. 

Frederick Hodges
    California native Frederick Hodges specializes in the piano music and popular songs of the ragtime era, the 1920s, and 1930s Classically trained and groomed for a career as a concert pianist, he was happily lured away from this path after he discovered a stack of 1920s sheet music in this grandmother's piano bench. Exposure to the rollicking rhythms of player pianos and 78 RPM phonograph records sealed his fate, and he set out to master the ragtime and novelty piano playing styles that had captivated him.

    While still an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, he was hired by Don Neely to serve as pianist and singer with the famed Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. Soon, Frederick was playing solo piano for society parties and holding down steady engagements at legendary Nob Hill establishments such as L'Etoile in the Huntington Hotel, Masons in the Fairmont Hotel, and the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Frederick also plays piano with the Peter Mintun Orchestra and with jazz ensembles.

    Frederick has displayed his unique piano playing and singing talents on stage, on television, and in Hollywood movies. He has had the honor of performing for stars of stage and screen, royalty, captains of industry, and even Tin Pan Alley composers. He is a favorite at jazz festivals around the country.

Kent Mikasa
    Kent was born and raised in Stockton, California. During his grade school years, his parents encouraged him to study music and so he took up piano. Eventually, the trumpet lured him away and he has never laid it down. In high school Kent played with a local Dixieland band, Port City. Kent attended San Jose State University, majoring in music and where he became principal lead trumpet player in the orchestra. Don Neely was a fellow music student. After graduation he joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra and toured all over the world. He returned to the U.S. and began to teach music privately and in the Palo Alto school district. In 1983, he joined the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra.

    Kent has performed in many other groups including the above mentioned Glenn Miller Orchestra, Churchill Street, Royal Society Six and has backed up stars like Frankie Lane and the Mills Brothers. For many years he was principal instructor and camp director of the Claude Gordon International Brass Camp, a week-long intensive workshop for brass players. Kent lives in Fremont, California.

Dick Mathias
    Dick Mathias is a woodwind doubler who works in a variety of musical genres, including classical chamber groups, orchestras, theater pit orchestras and jazz groups. He is a woodwind instructor at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, and the Branson School in Ross. Dick studied composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His work, "Spies!", was recently premiered by "Sounds New", a contemporary music ensemble for which Dick is clarinetist.

Andrew Storar
    A California native, Andrew grew up in the small town of Castro Valley, fifteen miles east of San Francisco. He took up the trumpet at age nine. With his father"s encouragement, he began to take private lessons from local teachers and to participate in school bands and orchestras. After graduating from High School, Andrew enrolled as a music major at California State University Hayward, studying trumpet performance and music education. During and since his college years, Andrew has focused more of his playing in the area of jazz. From backup groups for Della Reese and Doc Severenson to eight-piece Traditional Jazz band and small group work. In 1988 he joined the Devil Mountain Jazz Band. From that experience, he learned of the music of traditional jazz composers such as Jelly Roll Morton, Joe King Oliver, Lu Watters and others. Andrew was particularly infuenced by the trumpet works of Bob Scobey, Harry James and Chet Baker. In 1995, Andrew joined the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. He teaches music in Castro Valley public school and gives private lessons. He and his wife reside in Alameda, California.

Jeff Gilbert
    Jeff Gilbert was born in San Francisco and raised on the San Francisco Peninsula. At the age of 13, Jeff met up with Vaudeville great, Vivian Duncan, of the Duncan Sisters. Vivian who was in her late '70s, shared her knowledge and love of popular muscic with Jeff.

    At age 24, Jeff enjoyed performing with Rex Allen's Orchestra and started to freelance around the Bay Area. In 1986, he left California to sing with the Tony Barron Orchesta for a tour of the mid-west. Returning to California, Jeff began a two and a half year stint at the Hotel La Rose in Santa Rosa. He attended the Rudy Vallee safe opening at Rudy's house in the Hollywood hills. At the event, Jeff sang a medley of Vallee's hits and the L.A. times wrote "Rudy Vallee was the first crooner and Jeff Gilbert is the last crooner."

    Jeff won the Crosby Croon-alike contest in San Francisco in 1989 and 1990. In 1988, Jeff began appearing with the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra.