Perhaps it’s because I live in New York, but I had heard little about guitarist Jonathan Stout and his various swing ensembles until recently, but when I heard that Jonathan often employed pianist Chris Dawson and Hal Smith, when I read that he considers Allan Reuss his favorite rhythm guitarist . . . then I began to pay attention.
And, as Arthur Miller has Linda Loman say in DEATH OF A SALESMAN in quite a different context, “Attention must be paid.”
To be blunt, there are many orchestras and combos billing themselves as “Swing bands.” Most of them, although diligent, miss the point. Swing isn’t simply a matter of wearing the appropriate period clothing; it isn’t a matter of copying arrangements off the records or from the page. Ellington called it “bouncing bouyancy,” and he was of course right. It isn’t a matter of letting the tenor soloist wail in a post-bop manner for a number of choruses on A STRING OF PEARLS. To play Swing convincingly, it’s necessary to swing — and not everyone is born with that rhythmic / harmonic / melodic DNA. But the musicians who make up Jonathan Stout’s “Campus Five” know what it’s all about — not in some academic way, not by reproducing old records live. They feel it, and the evidence is right here.
The band appeared at the Cicada Club in Hollywood on May 17, 2009, for three long sets. Amazingly, these performances are accessible in their entirety on YouTube (which usually restricts civillians to ten minutes) and in High Definition. The band, for this occasion, is made up of Jim Ziegler, trumpet (and an engaging Southern-tinged vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK), Albert Alva on tenor sax and clarinet; Richard Geere on piano; Jonathan himself on acoustic and electric guitar; Wally Hersom on bass; and, for this occasion, Hal Smith on drums; Hilary Alexander is the sweetly genial girl singer.
Here’s the first set — including a number of variations on jazz classics, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and S’WONDERFUL; material made famous by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian, BENNY’S BUGLE and ROSE ROOM, the Lionel Hampton FLYIN’ HOME, and several charming vocals from Miss Alexander, including COW COW BOOGIE, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and Lester Young’s vocal feature, JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA.
The dancers enjoyed themselves: I did as well.
P.S. Ending the set is some rather tedious period banter between the master of ceremonies and the owner of the club, which some may wish to avoid.