Flying into orbit: Casablanca Jazz Quartet’s ‘Moon Jazz’ a tribute to the space race

  • Casablanca Jazz Quartet will be performing "Moon Jazz" at Gertrude's Jazz Bar on July 14. (Casablanca Jazz Quartet/Courtesy Photo)

KAILUA-KONA — Going to the moon might not be a tangible dream for most people on Earth, but they can still celebrate the achievements of those that did decades ago.

On Saturday, Casablanca Jazz Quartet will be performing their Moon Jazz show at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar from 5-7:30 p.m. The program tells the story of the space race and Apollo 11 through music from that era, and honors the dedication of the people who made that dream of going to the moon a reality.

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“The kinds of tunes we play are ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ ‘Moonglow’ and ‘Moondance,’ but also ‘Night and Day’ and other music that is associated with the time frame that goes along with the story,” Casablanca trombone player Sue Garrod said.

Casablanca is made up of Garrod, Larry Seyer on guitar and vocals, Joe Gargiulo on drums and Scott Jeffrey on bass. Garrod’s passion for engineering and music is the driving force behind Moon Jazz. The story and music will honor major milestones in science up to World War II and the space race in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“The reason we do these shows is, to tell these very technical stories with a music background, is to make it more accessible to people and to also have certain elements that are very memorable,” Garrod said.

Some of the other songs included will be moon- and star-themed, including “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Stardust” and “Moon River,” plus other jazz standards to celebrate the key historical events that led to the success of Apollo 11.

“The NASA programs really got started in the the early ‘60s, so we have music that kind of cements key elements of that whole historical progression,” Garrod said.

Garrod is a Purdue University graduate, where Apollo 11 mission commander and first man to walk on the moon Neil Armstrong also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. Armstrong, who passed away in 2012, was a musician himself, having played baritone in the Purdue marching band and was proficient at piano, sousaphone and the ukulele. Armstrong also plays a special part in Casablanca’s show.

“It actually started with my brass quintet when we were preparing a moon tribute to the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11,” Garrod said. “I had never met Neil Armstrong, but I knew that he was a member of the Purdue band and I had done a lot of reading and researching about him, and he was the classic musician-engineer combination. He was the first musician on the moon. And I decided to contact the Purdue president, and request that I be able to somehow get in touch with Neil, for him to write the audience introduction to our brass musical tribute.”

Garrod said Armstrong responded with an audience introduction that has been used for Garrod’s moon shows since, including Saturday’s show with Casablanca. And with the 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing coming up on July 20, the show this weekend is perfect for those who want to remember that incredible event.

“It’s one of those moments. There’s some events in our lives that everyone remembers where they were,” Jeffrey said. “And this was one of those moments.”

Even for audience members who have seen the show before, or remember the moon landing, there might still something Casablanca can teach them.

“The other thing that has been interesting is that every year a little bit more information becomes available, because it’s either dug out of an archive or it’s become declassified,” Jeffrey said. “So every time we do this show, there’s more cool information. It’s going to be the most interesting moon show ever because it gets better every year.”

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Casablanca wants the Moon Jazz show to be a way for people to never forget “the most difficult achievement ever accomplished,” the moon landing, and the many years and people it took to accomplish it.

“The program is definitely for a history buff, people who still have moon fever and people who still think about where they were and who they were with when it happened,” Garrod said. “It was just an epic time.”

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