by Jeremy Morrison
Local musician Jon Clark has spent his life steeped in two worlds: classical music and rock’n’roll. With his White Tie Rock Ensemble project, he is combining those worlds.
“The symphony is pretty much an 18th Century cover band,” Clark said. “With White Tie I want to be the symphonic version of rock’n’roll music.”
Clark, who teaches music in the public school system, grew up immersed in the local classical music scene and spent years playing with the Pensacola Symphony. And he’s always been in one rock band or another since his teenage years.
The musician sees more similarities between the genres than differences. The catalogs of each offer a rich pallet of sounds for musicians and audiences.
And apparently he’s not alone in this opinion. When White Tie performs Sept. 24 in Pensacola, it will be the group’s eighth consecutive sold-out show since the spring of 2015.
“People have been enjoying it,” Clark said.
This month the group will perform Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in its entirety. In the past they’ve delved into selections from artists including the Beatles, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen.
White Tie consists of a more traditional rock band, as well as a string quartet and, at times, the Emerald Coast Honors Orchestra. And like their symphony counterparts delving into Beethoven or Mozart, these musicians spend considerable time nailing the selected pieces down with precision and accuracy.
“It’s pretty close to the album,” Clark said of the group’s performances. “We’re real meticulous about getting all the sounds right.”
Clark credits the musicians in his group with being able to tackle pretty much anything and said he could see White Tie diving as deep into the world of rock as they cared to go.
“[Vocalist/guitarist] Mark Ellis is a dictionary of music, he knows every song known to man,” Clark said. “And, I mean Jerry Dawson on guitar? I’m not sure there’s anything he can’t play.”
Later this year the group takes a turn with the Rolling Stones and The Who. And Clark said maybe they’d eventually indulge his personal leanings and tackle the complexities of prog rock, with a performance featuring the works of groups such as Yes and Genesis.
In addition to playing a particular musical selection, White Tie performances also feature light shows and videos. During a performance of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” the group combined a bit of urban lore, screening “The Wizard of Oz,” which is said to sync up with the album.
A typical performance will focus on an artist, with the first set consisting of a selection of better known hits and the second set being devoted to a particular album. The Sept. 24 performance, however, will feature only “The Wall,” as the work represents a double-length album.
Eventually, Clark said he could see the group borrowing further from the framework of the symphonic world and scheduling a regular slate of shows each year.
“And White Tie does a season, like the symphony, and eventually we’d sell season tickets,” he explained. “I really want to use that model.”
Currently, a White Tie ticket can be a little tough to come by. This month’s performance of “The Wall” is sold out, but there are other shows scheduled for later this year with tickets still available. Selections will include music from The Rollings Stones, The Who and Wings.
For more information, visit www.whitetierockensemble.com