22 Jul
Royal Garden Swing Orchestra at Mother's Tavern

Royal Garden Swing Orchestra at Mother’s Tavern

Under the energetic direction of Dr. Warren Balfour, The Royal Garden Swing Orchestra (RGSO) has been performing their upbeat big band sound from the swing-era and beyond since 1985 when they first played at the Santa Ynez Winery [now Kalyra Winery] in Santa Barbara County. The ten piece band is comprised of the energetic brass, saxophones and rhythm section. Warren characterized the type of music RGSO plays as “swing band; standards, old and new; a more contemporary big band.” They also play Latin and Brazilian music including Tito Puente and Antonio Carlos Jobim, with over 200 arrangements in their repertoire. All are professional musicians with many storied early training and experiences. Besides directing RGSO, Warren plays trumpet and flugelhorn.

Warren is a native Angeleno who became interested in playing music when a band performed at his school assembly. After his parents gave him a cornet, he began taking private lessons. As were many musicians of his era, he initially was trained as a classic trumpet player. He had the good fortune and talent to train with several historic trumpeters. One mentor was Jane Sager, a historic jazz trumpeter, band leader and educator; she taught jazz greats Chet Baker, Herb Albert, and others. Another formative instructor was Irving Bush, who played with many great jazz groups and who was Nat “King” Cole’s first trumpet player. Irving Bush was author of the influential Artistic Trumpet Technique and Study.

Warren’s diligence in practicing was rewarded when he was hired as a professional musician to play in the Pepperdine University Orchestra starting when he was in the 11th grade. That orchestra consisted of a combination of professional and student musicians. As an undergraduate, he studied at Los Angeles City College, California State Universities in Los Angeles and Long Beach. An ingrained lesson from his university professor, William Pfund, was “Beautiful sound is the greatest measure of correctness,” a mantra by which Warren still lives.

Warren has performed with such legendary artists as Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Roger Williams, Donald O’Conner, Bobby Vinton, Diane Schuur, Toni Tennile, The Temptations and Manhattan Transfer. While he relished the opportunity to perform with these great artists, early on he recognized that a performance career “wasn’t stable enough” for family life; he mentioned that he married right after high school. Instead he decided to pursue a career in teaching music. He eventually received his doctorate in Music Education-Jazz Pedagogy which he completed in 1989.

Warren started out teaching at a John Muir Junior High School in 1962. After a performance by the school’s 100 piece orchestra, Warren was approached and complimented for the orchestra’s outstanding performance by Nobel Prize winner, Willard Libby. Libby, who helped develop radiocarbon dating, helped Warren get a music teaching position at the then prestigious Palos Verdes High School. After 10 years, Warren took a job as an instructor at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California, where he eventually became Director of Jazz Studies. Warren directed nine major European concert tours with Cuesta College Jazz Ensemble and Vocal Jazz Ensemble, which included performances at Den Hague in the Netherlands and at the famous jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland. As Director of Jazz Studies at Cuesta, Warren arranged workshops and “in residence” with such jazz greats as Wynton Marsalis, Stan Getz, David Benoit, Joe Pass, Anita O’Day, and the Woody Herman Big Band. After 30 years, he retired; he is presently Professor Emeritus at Cuesta College. He proudly pointed to five of the RGSO band members who currently teach at Cuesta, with tenor saxophonist, Ron McCarley, the current Director. Due to his love of teaching, Warren is now back on staff at Cuesta as the Applied Trumpet Instructor.

RGSO: Dr. Warren Balfour lower right

RGSO: Dr. Warren Balfour lower right

Warren remains active helping young musicians by acting as an adjudicator and clinician at major jazz festivals throughout the western United States. He has guest directed the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association Honor Jazz Band, the All-Arizona State Honor Jazz Band, the Bay Section CMEA Honor High School Jazz Ensemble, and the Nevada State High School Honor Jazz ensemble in Reno. Warren shared a moving experience when recently adjudicating the Braille Institute’s Johnny Mercer’s Children’s Choir. The Choir is dedicated to helping blind and visually-impaired children age six to 18 to learn vocal music and performance techniques, gain confidence and overcome isolation. Warren recalled how he and the other judges shed tears during their poignant performance.

When asked to share about fun or interesting memories of his career, Warren initially joked, “None that you can print.” He then shared that when RGSO performed for the late Jane Russell’s surprise 80th birthday, she and other famous attendees gave enthusiastic accolades to the band. British-born American big band singer, Beryl Davis, who was then performing on cruises, told Warren she wished she could take the band with her for her performances. On another occasion, after performing at a wedding in Edna Valley, Harry Smith from CBS praised RGSO for their “high driving” jazz.

RGSO used to play big band swing music once or twice a month to energetic dancers of all ages at Mother’s Tavern until it was sold. Currently RGSO plays once a month on Saturday afternoon, starting at 2:00 p.m. at D’Anbino Vineyard and Cellars tasting room, which is near the train station in Paso Robles. There is no charge for admission, but a small fee if one wants to wine taste. They also play other special events such as at Hearst Castle. More details about their upcoming performances can be found on or Also on the RGSO website are details of each of the other band member’s impressive training and performance bios.


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