Men of Note are bowing out

Men of Note on stage at the Singletary Center for the Arts in 1993. Photo courtesy of Byron Romanowitz.Since 1966, the Men of Note have been staples of the Lexington music scene, bringing big-band sounds to some of the biggest rooms in the region and even a couple of gubernatorial inaugurations.

Tuesday night, the group will play its last notes with a performance as part of the weekly Jazz at Ecton Park series.

The grand finale will include the presentation of a ­Community Jazz Service Award by Mayor Jim Newberry and the ­Bluegrass Area Jazz ­Association.

Director Byron Romanowitz says the group’s passing is from natural causes.

“I’ve been kidding people, saying the market did it for us,” Romanowitz said in his Lexington home. Over the years, the group’s bookings declined steadily, and “we couldn’t find enough young people to keep it going,” he said.

He shows a chart of the group’s bookings to ­demonstrate the point. In the early 1990s, when Harry Connick Jr. made big band and standards cool again, Men of Note was ­getting more than two dozen ­bookings a year.

Recently though, there have been only a handful.

The group started as an ensemble of musicians who liked to play for fun. At the time, Romanowitz was not playing. He was launching his career as an architect, and “people didn’t want to entrust their million-dollar building to a guy they saw playing in the band on the weekends,” he says.

But by 1977, his career was established, and he joined the group, helping to move it in a more ­professional direction.

“It was a good band with some of the best players in town,” says Romanowitz, a saxophonist.

He and longtime ­trumpeter Wayne Collier, who joined in 1974, extol the virtues of big-band music, which they say requires 17 sharp musicians to play. Their lineup over the years included music professors, doctors, lawyers and people who went on to other careers but maintained a passion for music and friendships.

“As with any organization, without personal connections, it can get pretty mundane, unless you’re jumping out of airplanes,” Romanowitz says.

And as with many ­musicians, Romanowitz, ­Collier and other members of Men of Note will keep ­performing with other groups. Romanowitz has his own combo, and Collier, an lawyer by day, is active playing jazz and classical trumpet.

And Lexington still will have local big-band ­practitioners, including BAJA and the DiMartino/Osland Jazz Orchestra, to carry on the sounds.

Trumpeter Vince ­DiMartino and ­saxophonist Miles Osland have played in Men of Note, as have ­numerous other local ­notables. Even though there will continue to be big-band sounds in the area, Men of Note’s finale closes a chapter in local music history.

It’s a history they hope to pass on, specifically by ­donating their charts to the University of Kentucky library, including ones ­Romanowitz says are ­identical to charts for Count Basie and Harry James bands.

And they will take with them memories such as playing the historic ­Greenbrier Inn in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and the ­inaugurations of Govs. Martha Layne Collins and Wallace Wilkinson.

Says Collier: “Over the years, I have met all of these great people, played all of this great music and all these great gigs.”

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