As far as I can see, the Swing Era isn’t coming back any time soon. Gone are the days when sixteen or seventeen tuxedo-clad musicians (seated neatly behind their individual music stands bearing the bandleader’s initials) played dances, toured the country in a bus for one-night stands. 1938 and 9 don’t seem to be returning. Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman have been gone for some time.
But their music isn’t dead and isn’t gone.
The Anderson Twins proved that last night at 59 E 59 (a New York City theatre located at 59 East 59th Street: http://www.59e59.org.) in two sets devoted to the music Artie and Benny and their bands made in their prime.
The Anderson twins are Pete (on clarinet, tenor, and bass clarinet) and Will (clarinet, alto, and flute). Pete is on the left in the videos below. Both are expert musicians — although they young, they are deeply immersed in this music, able to improvise nimbly in it rather than just copying the notes. And they’re also engaging, low-key bandleaders as well as first-rate arrangers, responsible for the wonderful charts we heard. which kept the flavor of the big bands without seeming cut-down or compressed.
At this concert (with no microphones: how rare and wonderful!), the other players were Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Ehud Asherie (piano), Clovis Nicolas (string bass), and Steve Little (drums). The premise of this week of concerts was to consider who the real King of Swing was — which one of the rather neurotic, talented Jewish clarinet players from immigrant backgrounds was the reining musical monarch.
Of course, Will and Pete like each other too much to make it into a dysfunctional musical family onstage: the atmosphere was congenial, and the boys didn’t vie for the limelight. And it was very sweet to know that their parents were in the audience: we chatted with Will, Pete, and their mother and father after the concert: gentle, unaffected people.
The series of concerts runs from May 18-23 and again from May 25-30. The second week’s performances focus on Shaw’s music and to the vocalists who sang with the band — hence the appearance of the charming Daryl Sherman in Week Two, who will sing some of the music associated with Billie Holiday’s brief stint with the band and Helen Forrest’s longer one. Daryl is a contemporary singer who actually worked with an “Artie Shaw band” supervised by the Master himself — and I am sure she will have good stories. Incidentally, the second week of concerts celebrates Shaw’s centennial, an occasion for celebration.
The boys promise that there will be new repertoire throughout the run of the concerts, so that’s good reason for going more than once. Various musicians will fill the chairs: Charlie Caranicas and Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Steve Ash (piano), and Kevin Dorn (drums).
Last night, we arrived late and missed AVALON, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, STARDUST, CARIOCA, MOONGLOW, STEALIN’ APPLES. Marianne Mangan (there happily with husband Bob Levin) told us that STARDUST followed the iconic Shaw Victor recording, but that there had been a good deal of impromptu jamming otherwise.
Here are seven performances from last night’s concert, beginning with an excerpt from the Sextet’s extended exploration of CONCERTO FOR CLARINET, Artie’s “answer” to Benny’s SING SING SING:
FRENESI was a huge hit for Artie and his band, and this nifty arrangement (with Will on flute and Pete on bass clarinet) not only summons up the Shaw band, but also echoes the Alec Wilder Octet, always a good thing:
BEGIN THE BEGUINE, more evidence of Artie Shaw’s affinity for Cole Porter, became the ironic apex of his career. No one expected it would be a massive popular hit, and he came to hate it and the people who demanded that he play it. Here the Andersons offer a bouncy, entirely unironic reading of the song. Too bad there was no room for dancing:
GOOD-BYE (a treat to hear it before the end of a concert!) was the Goodman band’s closing theme, a melancholy song by Gordon Jenkins. Goodman fanciers are used to hearing it in fragments, as the broadcast fades away, but the Andersons are generous listeners and players, and offered this beautifully textured and complete arrangement:
When Goodman planned the program for his January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, one of the organizing ideas was “Twenty Years of Jazz,” beginning with the ODJB and going up to “the present.” Of course there had to be a tribute to Louis, and Harry James was asked (or asked to?) to perform Louis’s astounding solo on SHINE (or S-H-I-N-E, if you prefer). Here Jon-Erik plays his own version of the classic explosion, with encouragement from his colleagues:
It might say a good deal about Artie’s approach to his audiences that he didn’t open his shows with something pretty, accessible. Rather he gave his jitterbugging fans a good dose of their darkest urges and fears in NIGHTMARE:
The evening concluded with a romping LADY BE GOOD — in an arrangement that owed a good deal to the Shaw band, to Eddie Durham’s chart of EVERY TUB for the 1938 Count Basie band, and to Lester Young — although Benny had his own good time playing the Gershwin standard in every conceivable context:
The Kings of the Swing Era may be dead, but long live their successors!
[Just so no one makes our mistake of arriving late, there are no shows on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday, the show starts at 7. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, it’s moved to 8, and there’s a Sunday matinee at 3.]