Over 500 jazz music enthusiasts gathered in McAllen Thursday night to watch the Dean Canty Band perform. A relaxing mood was set at Quinta Mazatlan with light from only a few lamps as the crowd sat in neat rows encased in greenery under a cloudy evening sky. With hot chocolate and the soulful music playing, the garden was alive with excitement.
Quinta Mazatlan, also known as the ‘Mansion with a Mission’ is the McAllen Wing of the World Birding Center under the management of the City of McAllen Parks & Recreation Department. The 20 acres of land include a historic home from the 1930’s, nature trails and gardens. By serving as a sanctuary for ecotourism and environmental education, its purpose it to preserve the adobe estate, as well as the native plants and animals of the Valley.
‘Big Band Christmas’ was a way for Quinta Mazatlan to show appreciation for the swing jazz music of the 1930s. Colleen Hook, manager of the garden, noted that this was the first event of its kind, since their focus is mostly on environmental activities.
“We just wanted to welcome everyone to the holiday season and wish them Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah with the big band sound,” she said. “There’s such an appreciation for the old classic music.”
A big band is a type of musical ensemble associated with the swing jazz era that consists of woodwind, rhythm and brass instruments, and can have anywhere between 12 to 25 players.
Some of the numbers performed by the 18 musicians included “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” in which Mr. and Mrs. Claus went around greeting the crowd, and “Santa Baby,” all accompanied to the voice of singer Ani Tharpe.
Tharpe, who is also a Brownsville ISD music teacher, began singing jazz at the University of Texas at Brownsville. She has been a part of the Dean Canty Band for the past five years.
“The main goal of our performance tonight was for people to enjoy jazz music,” she shared. “We had an excellent audience who really appreciated the music today and we are so happy with the performance. It was a successful evening.”
The band’s success can be attributed to the twice-monthly practices coordinated by Dean Canty, a prominent musician who plays the trumpet, writes arrangements, owns and conducts the band, performs solos and sings.
“This turned out great tonight. The people enjoyed the music and we had a great time playing. That’s what we like to do,” he said.
Canty began playing the trumpet in seventh grade, and after winning first division on his solo, was hooked on the horn. At age 77, he is still at it, with a larger goal in mind. Canty hopes to revive the big band music genre by exposing it through performances such as these. He just retired from teaching music at UTPA in 2011.
“I had a great 45 years there but it was time to retire and now I can have all my time to do this,” he said, waving towards the stage riddled with musicians and instruments.
Canty, who has played with Frank Sinatra, also imparted advice for aspiring musicians.
“Be as good as you can. Learn your trade, learn your craft. There are a lot of people that are unemployable because they think they have skills but they don’t,” he said. “Apply yourself while you’re there, build up your skills and be ready to join the world.”
The Dean Canty Band will perform next Thursday evening at Alfresco Weslaco, which is a monthly event in the Mid Valley town that features musicians, art and food from local vendors.
Quinta Mazatlan holds family-oriented events every Thursday, and invites the public to join. The historic site is located at 600 Sunset Drive in McAllen.