A new band is bursting onto the scene with a blast of shimmering horns. While their sound may be new to Cedar Rapids live music venues, the songs have been around for decades. Brass Transit Authority, also known as BTA., pays tribute to two of the greatest horn-rock bands of all time, Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears.
BTA was the brainchild of two long-time friends and area musicians, both adjunct music instructors at Kirkwood Community College. Dennis McPartland, a percussion instructor, and Dennis Pedde, who teaches brass instruments, were nostalgic for the big sounds of the horn-rock ensembles of the sixties and seventies. After Pedde found some old charts of Chicago music, he began reminiscing about a band he was in during college, which played many of those songs.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we try to do this? No one around here is playing Chicago music,’” McPartland recalls.
The two men started talking with other area musicians about the idea. All agreed a horn band would be a great alternative for area music lovers. McPartland and Pedde recruited seven of those musicians to join BTA.
A rhythm section comprised of McPartland on drums, Rob Wallace on lead vocals, Pat Smith on guitar, Chris Bird on bass, and Denny Redmond on keyboard joins with a horn section including Pedde on trumpet, Saul Lubaroff on saxophone and flute, Greg Young on trumpet, and Matt Driscoll on trombone.
The band started practicing in June 2012 and performed publicly for the first time in August with one, eight-song set at Parlor City.
“The place went berserk,” McPartland says of that first show.
The band has expanded its repertoire to around 30 songs, including selections from Van Morrison, Phil Collins and Billy Joel, among others, although their focus remains Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears. Wallace describes the playlist as crowd-pleasing songs.
“People can dance to (our music),” Wallace says. “It will have a lot of memories.”
McPartland says the members of BTA all play in different ensembles in the area, including the Eastern Iowa Brass Band, the Fez, the Daugherty McPartland Group and others. Several also teach music.
A few challenges come with being a nine-piece band, especially given individual band members’ many professional and musical commitments.
“I just knew it was going to be difficult trying to get everybody’s schedules together but so far we’ve made it work,” says Wallace, who works in the human service field and performs regularly with the Mike and Rob Show.
The horn and rhythm sections often practice separately. The full group practices together every week or two.
Another issue is finding area venues that have room for a band their size.
“It’s a challenge to get nine people into a club,” says Wallace, who does most of the band’s booking. “It can be a tight squeeze.”
BTA played its first full gig at a private party at Elmcrest Country Club earlier this month. Their first show will be at the Chrome Horse Saloon in Cedar Rapids on Saturday.
The band’s long-term plans include playing outdoor music festivals next summer. They also would like to add some original songs to the mix and eventually do some recording. In the mean time, they are happy playing for people who may never have seen a horn band before.
“We’re going to have fun with the music and do something a little different in this area,” McPartland says.