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Big band night revives the '40s

Tom Manuel (L) and Andrew Giammalvo (R) prepare

Tom Manuel (L) and Andrew Giammalvo (R) prepare for a performance at the Dunton Inn in East Patchogue. Once a month Tommy James and the Black Tie Affair Orchestra draw a crowd to the intimate setting to play live big band jazz classics. (Sept. 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

With its wood-paneled walls, flat-screen TVs, beer posters and a lottery ticker, the Dunton Inn looks like a regular neighborhood bar.

But on the first Tuesday of every month, the East Patchogue haunt might as well be a time machine -- connecting patrons to an era when big band jazz tunes reigned supreme.

Big Band Night features a 17-piece band of professional musicians who cram into a narrow space to play the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Stan Kenton -- for free.

"When most people walk in, they don't know what to make of it," says Tom Manuel, who founded the jazz series nearly three years ago. "They've never seen it before. They've never heard it."

What to expect

Inspired by Sonny's Place, a former jazz venue in Seaford, as well as a Wednesday night jazz quartet at the Dunton Inn, Manuel set out to simply play "great music" and collaborate with "great musicians."

To that end, you'll probably never hear the same song twice. The band -- four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, piano, bass, drums and guitar -- plays from Manuel's collection of 10,000 jazz arrangements, including compositions that Riverhead musician Teddy Charles performed with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Band members also write music, Manuel says, including Rich DeRosa, who arranges for Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Pair this with the fact that the band doesn't rehearse (its highly trained musicians thrive on improv) and it all makes for a memorable experience.

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"The bottom line is it's just fun," Manuel says. "We're having a good time and laughing and rooting each other on. When people see that, they want to have fun."

Striking a chord

"A-one, a-two, a-one, two, three, four!" Manuel shouts at a recent performance, conducting from a chair. The band begins an upbeat Ellington melody as more than 70 people stand like double-parked cars at the bar or sit at the few tables. Some bob their heads or tap their toes. All applaud and cheer when the song ends.

That spirit carries on for more than two hours -- through a slow, emotional saxophone solo by Chris Donohue that actually brings one woman to tears and a vampy rendition of "Teach Me Tonight" by jazz vocalist Phyllis Tagg, who ends the song by saying coyly to a man in the front: "I would teach you if you like!"

Many audience members are drawn by the nostalgia factor.

"You open the door and it's, like, World War II era," says Kevin Ross, 59, of Brookhaven. "They're playing a kind of music that's not really popular anymore. They're keeping it alive."

Juanita Sonera, of Bayside, agrees. "I grew up with this music, so to see it still going -- that's really a tribute to the people who came before us," says Sonera, 60. "It's like soul food."

Ending on an upswing

As the night draws to a close with whistles and raucous applause, the connection between audience members and musicians is clear. On the way out, people exchange hugs, kisses and handshakes.

"This place is special," says trombone player Rod Borrie, 64, of Setauket.

Audience member Richard Mato, 69, appreciates the caliber of the performance.

"They're not playing for money," says Mato, a Hicksville native. "They play because they love it."

'Big Band Night'

WHEN | WHERE 8-10 p.m. Oct. 4, The Dunton Inn, 701 South Country Rd., East Patchogue. Continues first Tuesday of every month.

INFO 631-758-8940, tjallstars.com

ADMISSION Free

The Friday Jam with The Steve Watson Trio & Special Guests

WHEN | WHERE 8:30-11:30 p.m. Fridays at Bistro 72 in Hotel Indigo East End, 1830 W. Main St., Riverhead

INFO 631-369-3325, indigoeastend.com

ADMISSION Free

Other jazz nights

Expect to hear swinging jazz and impromptu appearances by a variety of guest performers.

Leon Petruzzi Jazz Orchestra

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m.-10 p.m., first and third Thursdays at Who-Ville, 339 Broadway, Bethpage.

INFO 516-931-9296, lpjo.info

ADMISSION Free

This 16-piece big band plays tunes by jazz greats like Buddy Rich and Thad Jones.

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