This week's concert appearance by the Equinox Orchestra has all the earmarks of a triumphant homecoming.
The Savannah-based Big Band, 18 members strong, played a string of country-wide tour dates over the summer, and capped things with an early-August appearance at the prestigious Chautauqua Institution in New York.
How prestigious? "We were sandwiched between 'Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion' and the Beach Boys," says saxophonist/bandleader Jeremy Davis.
Davis started Equinox — indeed, the full name is "Jeremy Davis and the Fabulous Equinox Orchestra" —in 2008. His design and desire was to create a contemporary makeover of the classic, sleek Big Band, with all the musical and visual touchstones of the '40s era.
But Equinox doesn't merely rehash the Great American Songbook for yet another nostalgia ride through Tuxedo Junction. The playlist — commissioned by several top arrangers — includes contemporary music, too. "We try to make 'em all swing," Davis says. "Make 'em all have something special."
From the beginning, Davis' co-pilot has been trombonist Clay Johnson, his boyhood chum from West Monroe, La. The affable Johnson doubles as Equinox's vocalist — and he and Davis have an undeniably winning, come-fly-with-me onstage chemistry.
Offers Davis: "A guy came up to us after a show and said 'The songs were great; the arrangements were great. But I felt like I made two new best friends.' And for me, that is what it's about."
At the Charles H. Morris Center on Friday night (Aug. 30), the guys intend to premiere some new material, as well as play a horn-case full of their favorite swing tunes.
The show, which will be structured like an old-fashioned television broadcast, will be streamed live (via multiple cameras) on the band's official website, equinoxorchestra.com.
The dance floor will be positioned a little to the side of the stage. There's a reason for that.
"A lot of people just love to dance to this kind of stuff," Davis explains. "In the past, we haven't always made that available.
"Our show is very interactive. In my mind, it's the Rat Pack at the Sands Hotel in Vegas, whatever year it was when they were shooting Ocean's 11, where they did shows every night. The audience is literally right here, you know what I mean? There's so much vibe that comes through that exchange. We deal with the audience. We talk to them. They are an active part. And when you put a dance floor right there, all that goes away.
"That's why we put the crowd right up next to the stage. They're going to be right in our business; they're going to see our eyes. We're going to have this conversation.
"And you can dance over here. We've set it up to where I think we can make it all work."
Next for the Equinox gang is the return of the "Mad Monday" shows at in the Westin Habor Resort ballroom; the event went into mothballs while the band was on tour. Now that everybody's home, Davis hopes to resume the Westin residencies in September.
He wants to make each one different, less of a "show" and with a focus on new and untried arrangements. "Sometimes they work and sometimes they fall flat," he laughs. "But that's part of the beauty of it, because the audience knows it's on the fly. They know these guys are sight-reading the charts."
However it pans out, Davis, Johnson and the other musicians know they're into something good.
"It's one thing to be a success at home in Louisiana, where I'm from," Davis says. "But when you take the show out, and you go up the east coast, through the Midwest, through Colorado and back down through the southland, and you see all kinds of different people all having the same reaction to the show, that's what's so gratifying for us."