While some of the students of Vilnius University were having their attempt at jazz in Coffee Shop “Neringa” which opened in 1960, and before the legendary J. Tiškus formed just as legendary big band in Kaunas in 1955, Šiauliai already had three big bands which played their music in concerts and embellished the programs of festivities and festivals in 1954. Unfortunately, as we all know, jazz was a foreign body for the Soviets in the second half of the 20th century, just like it was foreign to Nazis in the first half. The tradition was broken yet it never left the memory of true enthusiasts. The musicians of the Šiauliai Seniors Big Band played as amateurs sponsored by business for seven years and a half until the Šiauliai Big Band was established.
Having gathered the needed forces, this happened in 2002. A trumpeter Romualdas Sabaliauskas and a conductor Romualdas Jankus founded the Šiauliai Big Band. They invited the best musicians of Šiauliai to the Orchestra so as to revive the old big band traditions in the City. The official date of founding the Šiauliai Big Band (the Šiauliai Seniors Big Band at that time) is 22 November 2002. The first performance of the Big Band – a New Year’s Eve concert in the hall on the third floor of the Cultural Centre. Ever since its establishment the Big Band was in its full composition of 17 musicians.
Romualdas Jankus acted as Conductor and Arts Director. Jaroslavas Cechanovičius joined the team and became Chief Arts Director and Conductor in 2006. The Big Band gained the status of a professional jazz orchestra in 2009. The collective used to have many concerts. The programs were prepared together with Lithuanian jazz soloists and performers such as R. Ščiogolovaitė, N. Malūnavičiūtė, K. Svolkinaitė, S. Jakubėnaitė, I. Dirgėlaitė, M. Liubinaitė, R. Švilpaitė, I. Jurgelevičiūtė, V. Malinauskas, S. Januška, “London Bridge Band” (Great Britain), “Žvaigždžių kvartetas”, “Retro”, “Jazz Singers”, and other famous vocalists and instrumentalists. The Orchestra participated in Riga, Liepaja, Minsk jazz festivals, it is a constant participant in Birštonas Jazz Festival, and has toured Sweden.
Raitis Ašmanis (Latvia) became the leader of the Šiauliai Big Band in 2015. A hardworking and charismatic conductor prepared a variety of concert programs together with the collective, some of which include: “Frankui Sinatrai – 100!” in collaboration with a vocalist Daumants Kalninš (Latvia) and “Lindyhop.lt” dancers, “Ellai Fitzgerald – 100” in collaboration with a vocalist Cecile Verny (Germany), a program together with Algirdas Šuminskas, the king of rock and roll, a program “Lotynų Amerikos ritmai” in collaboration with soloists from the USA (Bobby Chavez, Kostantin Jemelianov, Lawrence Gillespie), a singer Aija Vitolina and salsa dancers from Latvia, as well as many more.
The core of the Šiauliai Big Band is formed by the alumni of Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy and Jazz Department of Klaipėda University. Well-known jazz celebrities perform in the collective: saxophonists – J. Kuraitis, K. Sova, D. Praspaliauskis, trombonists - V. Surdokas, S. Sasnauskas, a trumpeter D. Levencovas, and others. Currently a part of the Šiauliai Big Band musicians is the strongest in Lithuania. The collective is especially proud of one of the best groups of saxophonists in the country. A true ornament of the Orchestra - P. Jaraminas, a former citizen of Šiauliai and one of the most famous jazz pianists in Lithuania. And the unique part is that together with the Šiauliai Chamber Orchestra they form up an only symphonic jazz collective in Lithuania.
Having acquired the status of a professional jazz orchestra, the collective of Šiauliai City Municipality has ambitious goals ahead of it. The most significant of them – to advocate the pieces of Lithuanian authors for a big band. Shortly after forming the Šiauliai Big Band there was an idea to organise an international big band festival “Big Band Festival Šiauliai” which invited many professional big bands not only from Lithuania but from the entire Europe and the States. ‘
Viktoras Gerulaitis, Musicologist