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Is age just a number? Cleveland TOPS Swingband Inspires Seniors, Celebrates Classic Big Band

Age isn’t taboo for the Cleveland TOPS Swingband. In fact, it’s embraced. TOPS is an acronym for “Tough Old Professionals,” which describes the 19-member band of talented musicians dedicated to performing "classic big band music, for seniors, by seniors."

Even with an average member age of 74, this group isn't slowing down anytime soon. 2013 brings a number of events including a slate of 35 free-to-the-public concerts around Cuyahoga County and a performance at the 2013 National Senior Games, which come to Cleveland July 19 through August 1.

The idea of a "by seniors for seniors" swingband emerged from a 2003 performance at the East Cleveland A. M. McGregor home. Former resident and professional musician Vince Patti gathered a seventeen-piece band of mostly retired professional musicians to play a big band concert there.

The concept was an immediate success and the musicians were inspired to create more opportunities to bring together a band of "pros" to celebrate fine big band music. The Cleveland TOPS Swingband was officially founded in 2005 by Dick Wooley and Joe Trzcinski.

"The group has about 1,200 years of combined experience," said Larry Patch Paciorek, managing director and CFO. Patch works and performs alongside music director Jim Wonnacott and marketing director Ron Davis, who manage the band’s day-to-day activities. On the group’s webpage, biographies of the band members highlight professional experience, family and hobbies and unashamedly, age.

The band now has about 19 members, but utilizes a roster of 20-25 "super subs" to keep up with their demanding performance schedule. "With all of the performances we do, there is bound to be a doctor's appointment scheduled during one of them," Patch said, with a laugh.

Through its "Keeping Seniors Swinging" program—which is funded in part through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture's Project Support program—the group travels to various senior and community centers to perform at no cost to the audience. Patch said, "With funds from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, we can bring a performance to a group of seniors whether or not they can afford it."

An October 2012 performances at the Cleveland Public Library for Grantmakers in Aging put the band in front of an engaged group of grantmakers from across the United States. "People from all over the country came up to us and said they wished that they had something like this in their city," Patch said. Soon after that performance, the band received a note from Dr. John Feather, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, complimenting the band on their performance.

Growing popularity and recognition has earned the group new performance opportunities, including a concert during the 2013 National Senior Games. TOPS looks forward to the performance as a chance to gain exposure and further their goal of serving people who remember and love the familiar repertoire of classic big band music.

"The most rewarding part of what we do is the heartwarming feeling that you get when performing," Patch said. "The music motivates some people to tap their feet and sing along, while others may have tears in their eyes, which can really get to you."

With enthusiastic fans and community support, these pros intend to keep spreading the joy of big band music to Cuyahoga County and beyond.

For more information, visit www.topsswingband.com.


Check out Cleveland TOPS Swingband at these upcoming performances:

Thursday, February 28: Stratford Commons, 7000 Cochran Rd, Glenwillow. 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 13: Crestmont North, 13330 Detroit Ave, Lakewood 44107. 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 20: Cardinal Village, 171 Graham Rd, Cuyahoga Falls 44233. 1 to 2 p.m.

Wednesday, April 10: Famicos Notre Dame. 1 to 2 p.m.

Tuesday, April 16: Mt. Saint Joseph, Euclid. 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 24: Musician Towers, Cleveland Heights. 1 to 2 p.m.

All performances are free and open to the public.

February 15, 2013

By Jake Sinatra. Photos by Sam Hubish.