by Rick Foster
ATTLEBORO, Ma. — As a noted big band era musician and arranger, multi-million album-selling orchestra and chorus leader and Grammy winner, the late Ray Conniff stands alone among musical greats who got their start in the Jewelry City.
Beloved by audiences from Rio to St. Petersburg, Russia, Conniff blazed a musical trail through the 1950s and 60s and received a Grammy Award for his version of “Somewhere My Love” (Lara’s Theme) from the movie blockbuster Dr. Zhivago. He also orchestrated hits for many of the postwar era’s brightest stars and played a major role in launching the career of Johnny Mathis.
Now, Conniff lovers will get a chance to celebrate what would have been the great bandleader’s 100th year with a free outdoor concert 2 p.m. Sunday, July 17 at Capron Park.
Back by popular demand this year will be trombonist-bandleader Dan Gabel and the Abletones Dectet playing big band hits associated with Conniff and his contemporaries. The knowledgeable Gabel will also flesh out the story of the young Conniff whose musical career started with a band made up of his Attleboro High School classmates and rose to the pinnacle of stardom.
Born in Attleboro in 1916, Conniff became a mainstay of the swing era playing with bands ranging from Bunny Berigan to Bob Crosby and Artie Shaw. After service in World War II, he became a noted arranger, orchestra leader and hit-maker who ultimately sold an incredible 70 million records as leader of his orchestra and chorus.
Dan Gabel and The Abletones have blazed their own trail to the height of musical excellence, having played for Gov. Charlie Baker’s inauguration, former Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as well as countless concerts, town commons and special occasions.
The once-a-year free Ray Conniff Memorial Concert is funded by a generous anonymous donation and held with the cooperation of the Attleboro Park Commission.