George Gee Swing Orchestra’s new CD SWING MAKES YOU HAPPY on Rondette Jazz will have it’s official CD release party on Sunday, February 1, 2015, at one of NYC’s top jazz venues – Smalls Jazz Club, 183 W 10th St, New York, New York 10014. 4:30 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. Admission is $20.
Freddie Hendrix – Trumpet
John Dokes – Vocalist
Andy Gravish – Trumpet
Mike Hashim – Tenor Sax
Tony Lustig – Baritone Sax
David Gibson – Trombone
Steve Einerson – Piano
Marcus McLaurine – Bass
Willard Dyson – Drums
Hilary Gardner – Vocalist
Swing Makes You Happy is not only the title of the George Gee Swing Orchestra’s outstanding new album, it’s the motto by which they live. And they bring home that message in ebullient fashion on every one of the 19 tracks on this Rondette Jazz release – George’s eight album, but his first for Rondette.
George and his collaborator and musical director – the brilliant composer, arranger and trombonist David Gibson – share a common vision.
As George states “David and I are truly kindred spirits who agree that swing music is a living, growing and evolving art form.” The music here proves that over and over again. Although the orchestra is firmly entrenched in the deepest foundations of the swing tradition, the music is thoroughly contemporary and of the moment.
Much of this is due to the consummate talent of Gibson, who provides five originals and all of the arrangements, plus three excellent transcriptions from Chick Webb’s repertoire. Equal credit can go to the marvelous musicianship of the 9-piece ensemble that sounds like a group twice as large; and sometimes like a tight little band that cooks like the Jazz Messengers.
Immortal band leaders Charles Mingus and Randy Weston have been able to achieve an orchestral sound with units of only five or six horns. The key to that is a combination of dynamic arrangements and hornmen with big, bold sounds. Both of those elements are at play here. Gibson’s trombone anchors the brass section with trumpeters Freddie Hendrix and Andy Gravish. The powerful saxophone section consists of Ed Pazant, Michael Hashim and Tony Lustig on alto, tenor and baritone respectively; and a sterling rhythm section of Steve Einerson on piano, upright bassist Marcus McLaurine and Willard Dyson on drums completes the package.
As with the Mingus and Weston groups, all of the hornmen share in the soloing – as does pianist Einerson – and always totally within the structure of the music, never grandstanding or exhibiting their virtuosity for its own sake. Added to the mix are two wonderful vocalists, Hilary Gardner and John Dokes, both of whose participation is totally enmeshed within the structure of the music, despite their featured roles on nearly half the album.
Another point of shared perception between Gee and Gibson is their deep love and respect for Count Basie, who George is proud to call his mentor from the time he formed his big band in Pittsburgh in 1980. The orchestra does follow the classic blueprint of the Basie tradition – relentless swing, unfettered exuberance and perfect execution, with full emphasis upon the freshness of adventurous expression.
Included in the delightful repertoire are four items associated with Basie, three of which include vocalist Dokes. On I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water – with an appropriately Basie-ish jump-swing arrangement – Dokes’ robust baritone certainly invokes the jubilance of the legendary Joe Williams, with whom the song is so deeply connected. But there’s also a gospel-tinged quality contained that fuels the fire, adding a special luster to two songs more associated with Jimmy Rushing’s raucous blues holler, the deliciously grooved Baby Won’t You Please Come Home and the vigorously punchy Evenin’. His deeply expressive and profusely rhythmic treatment of Nature Boy is buoyed by an incandescent arrangement that surrounds him with a warm swirl of sumptuous colors. On the Frank Loesser classic If I Were A Bell, John is joined by Hilary for a stimulating duo as they exchange verses in this spirited unabashed swinger.Like Dokes, Hilary’s singing is beautifully resonant – crisp, articulate and flawless in phrasing and intonation. With a sensual voice that forges a space somewhere between Lady Day and Anita O’Day, her vivacious stylings smoke on the joyfully up-tempo Sweet Pumpkin, the rollicking That’s No Joke, and the sprightly syncopated You Say You Care. She conveys an evocatively sinuous quality on the final Basie item No Moon At All, with its bluesy groove and suspended angular horn voicings.
While the band is fully entwined on all the vocal pieces, shading and pushing the vocalists, while adding excitement with luminous ensemble work and sparkling solos, the five Gibson originals provide an expansive context for exploration. David’s writing is complex, adventurous and challenging, but always vitally rhythmic and fluid. The ensemble traverses the terrain with energy and agility, swinging the intricate lines with command and excitement. Comin’ Home (a dedication to Nelson Mandela) opens the album, clearly staking the territory the album will cover, combining the fiery radiance of a big band with the dexterity of a hard bop sextet. Dyson even takes a Blakey-like approach to the drums. The Blakey vibe is again present on The Road To Roscoe’s, a funky jaunt in the Moanin’ vernacular. The bluesy Hash Mash, with its ingenious harmonics, the explosive Bedrock and the viscerally swinging I Knows are built upon stirring arrangements profusely peppered with highly impressive solos. All of these pieces provide a fertile environment for the exciting, pungent alto of Pazant, the burly fluidity of Lustig’s bari, the gutty blues-drenched tenor of Hashim, the full-bodied resonance and dynamic articulate trumpets of Hendrix and Gravish, and the earthy, euphonious opulence of Gibson’s trombone. The rhythm section, exemplary throughout this entire album, offers the ideal canvas for the soloists while driving the music with passion and urgency.
There is a pair of showcase pieces for two of the musicians. The modern Sinatra classic It Was A Very Good Year is a feature for Michael Hashim, fully suitable for a tenor/organ joint, with the orchestra providing a tightly-knit Hammond B3-type coloring for Michael’s deeply soulful tenor. Herbie Hancock’s A Tribute to Someone is a stately ballad, a tour de force for Freddie Hendrix’s round-toned and resplendent Clifford Brown-ish lyricism – impassioned, yet serene.
But the overarching message of George Gee – the timelessness and immediacy of Swing – may best be exemplified by the three Chick Webb transcriptions. Lindy Hopper’s Delight, delightful indeed with its bouncy, potent swing; Midnight In A Madhouse, an all-cylinder excursion in edgy, but controlled frenzy; and the album’s closer, the smoldering, utterly captivating Blue Minor are revelations. Nearly 80 years after these pieces drove Chick’s nightly audiences at the Savoy Ballroom wild, this music is still immediate, urgent and sensationally vital. Played without a hint of nostalgia or even the vaguest whiff of parody, the George Gee Swing Orchestra offers them with total respect, as perfect examples of the music’s immortal profundity with an emphasis on the fun at the core of that word.
Click here to buy the CD.
For over 30 years now, George Gee has been delighting audiences all over the world, and will soon be celebrating his 18th year in residency at SWING46 Jazz and Supper Club in NYC’s Times Square. The driving force behind this remarkable ensemble, George expresses his role in humble terms “I try to create a canvas and environment where the very special artists with whom I surround myself can excel at their art.” David offers a finer perspective. “When I joined George’s band, it was evident that GG had a passion for the music and his audience. He’s employed his vision to create an organization that provides audiences with access to high quality music and musicians. He is all-at-once a CEO, community organizer and interlocutor steering his organization toward his swinging destination.” The splendid results are eminently clear.
With consistent personnel, some for more than 20 years, the George Gee Swing Orchestra also demonstrates the time-proven fact that the more a group performs together, the more transcendent the music becomes. As David Gibson states about this extraordinary recording “The results have exceeded the boundaries of my imagination” …. and now the listeners get to expand their own; and to dance to their hearts’ content!
And Appearing Regularly At The Rainbow Room In Rockefeller Center, next scheduled date of February 2nd – 6:30pm-10:30pm
Dec. 23: George Gee Swingin’ Big Band Holiday Party at Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club; AllThatJazz.com 4 Star Review for New CD SWING MAKES YOU HAPPY
May 23, 2014: Frankie’s Centennial Savoy Ball Features the George Gee 17-Piece Swing Orchestra, Live Argentine Tango and More at The Edison Ballroom
May 20, 2014: George Gee Swing Orchestra CD – “Swing Makes You Happy!” Party at Swing 46 Jazz & Supper Club
Photos: The George Gee Swing Orchestra at SWING46; Launches Indiegogo Campaign for New CD, Swing Makes You Happy
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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