In Conversation with South Philly Big Band Founder Chris Oatts

By Erin Busch, Director of Music Ministry

In advance of our December 11th concert at 12pm, I sat down with South Philly Big Band founder and bandleader, Chris Oatts, to learn a bit more about how this project began.

Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from and what’s your musical background?

My name is Chris Oatts and I am originally from Des Moines, Iowa. There are many musicians in my family. My dad is a trumpeter, my uncle is a saxophonist and my grandfather played saxophone (I currently play his horn). I started playing saxophone in fourth grade and the rest is history. I couldn’t stop and I won’t stop!! I grew up hearing jazz around the house and live from my Dad’s big band that would play every Monday night, so when I started learning to play jazz later on, it came naturally. I currently live in Philadelphia and perform, compose and teach music.

What inspired you to start the South Philly Big Band?

As I mentioned, my dad directed a big band and so did his father before him. When my dad passed down their enormous collection of sheet music, it seemed wrong to not have a band to play all of it.

How has the project grown since then?

Since the group began, members of the band have been composing new compositions and we have continued to perform locally in and around Philadelphia. We have performed several concerts featuring notable jazz musicians Ignacio Berroa, Gary Smulyan and Walt Weiskopf, and have even recorded a Christmas EP entitled SPBBXMAS (you can listen / purchase here).

What’s your favorite piece that you’ll play in the UUCWC Sanctuary concert?

The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker is always a highlight of the holiday season for me. It’s amazing what the band was able to do by transforming the classic Tchaikovsky movements into jazz while keeping their original themes and character.

Chris and I hope to see you at the concert on Sunday, December 11th at 12pm! The suggested donation for tickets is $5-$20. The concert will follow our children’s pageant service that morning, and our wonderful staff will provide a substantial coffee hour downstairs so you can eat your fill between the service and the concert.