With well over 200 years of combined professional experience, The Blue Lightning Jazz Band breathes new life into the music of the Roaring 20s era. Playing such favorites as Sweet Georgia Brown, St. Louis Blues, After You’ve Gone, Up A Lazy River, Basin Street Blues, Dark Eyes, Baby Face, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, I’m Confessin’, Bye Bye Blackbird, Somebody Stole My Gal, Alexander’s Ragtime Band and many many more. Audiences of all ages will delight in the joyful and uplifting renditions by these seasoned pros.
Rich Willey has toured with jazz great Maynard Ferguson and The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and recorded with the Mel Tormé Big Band. Bill Reichenbach has played on over 1000 albums and on the soundtrack of over 900 movies as well as tours with Elvis Presley. Walt Kross toured for ten years with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was the music director on the Delta Queen Riverboat for 16 years. Russ Wilson has toured with Jimmy Thackery and has led bands large and small in the Western Carolina region for over twenty years.
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Fun-loving trumpeter and tuba player Rich Willey leads the Blue Lightning Jazz Band, well-armed with over a half-century of professional experience. Born and raised in Florida, he spent three years as a U.S. Army Bandsman before going to North Texas State University. He moved to Philadelphia, playing in jazz small groups and big bands as a bass trumpet and valve trombonist. He later moved to New York, playing and recording with the Mel Tormé Big Band among many others. Rich went back to school in 1996 and got a degree in music education from the University of South Florida, then a masters in Jazz Performance/Trumpet at the Manhattan School of Music. Since then he has toured with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau and The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and has learned from the best in the business. When not playing music, Rich wrestles alligators and designs solar-powered snowplows.
Russ Wilson is a popular local bandleader and a native of Hendersonville NC. His singing and drumming are impeccable (he plays tenor banjo pretty well, too) and he has toured the country as a favorite artist for only the very best swing dance societies. His forty-something year professional playing background includes jazz, rock, country, gospel, blues, R&B and symphonic music, but he is the most at home playing and singing the music of the early twentieth century, the perfect vocalist and tenor banjo player for The Blue Lightning Jazz Band. Russ, who considers himself an “amateur historian,” has amassed a collection of over 5000 records (33s, 45s, 78s), 8000 orchestrations dating from the turn of the century to the 1960s, and also owns an impressive collection of early twentieth century phonographs. Russ recently returned from his fourteenth successful climb to the summit of Mount Everest and is in training to run the Boston Marathon.
Master trombone and tuba player Bill Reichenbach, from Takoma Park MD, is a graduate of Eastman School of Music. After touring with the Buddy Rich Big Band, he moved to Los Angeles in 1975 and was a featured soloist with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band and the Don Menza Big Band and Sextet. Bill recorded and toured with Jaco Pastorius and the Word of Mouth Big Band and also toured with Elvis Presley. Active in the L.A. studios since 1975, Bill has played on over 900 motion pictures and more than 1000 records. Bill has also been an arranger and composer for TV, records, films and commercials and has recently “retired” to Fletcher NC where he is about to kick everybody’s ass playing trombone and tuba with The Blue Lightning Jazz Band. Bill appears on bass trombone on Rich’s 2019 CD, Rich Willey’s Boptism Big Band: Down & Dirty, and for fun likes to spend his afternoons tightrope walking over the Grand Canyon and Tallulah Gorge.
Multi-reedman Walt Kross of Trenton NJ studied at Indiana University School of Music before touring with Motown singer Eddie Kendricks. After moving to Atlantic City NJ Walt played for the top acts in the casino orchestras for twelve years before spending ten years on the road playing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra followed by sixteen years playing on riverboats up and down the Mississippi River. Walt “retired” in Hendersonville a decade ago and has been a steady member of The Asheville Jazz Orchestra and Russ Wilson’s Famous Orchestra, putting his sixty plus years of professional playing experience to good use. Walt’s hobbies include bullfighting and hang gliding. He also moonlights as a diesel mechanic.
Blue Lightning Jazz Band on YouTube