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: 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.]

11 responses to “THE KINGS OF SWING: THE ANDERSON TWINS’ SEXTET (May 19, 2010)


  2. Bob Sparkman

    Really impressive!!!! Not only delightfully recreative, but so nice to hear “miniature” arrangements of the originals with loose and freewheeling improvising. These “kids” are really something!! Wish I could be there to hear the whole series.

  3. I’m over the hill with joy. And ACOUSTIC, Whow! (I thought nobody did that anymore.)
    Is it your wife giggling happily beside you?

  4. – and skilled camerawork on your new camera. Congratulations!

  5. Such a great review! And how nice to have the video clips. I was thrilled to be there for opening night and loved the relaxed atmosphere – it was as though we were in someone’s (very large!) living room, listening to extremely talented friends playing!

    I have to say, though, I don’t agree with your statement that the Swing Era isn’t coming back anytime soon. It’s here – just in a different form. I agree that you’re not going to see too many events with more than a dozen tuxedo-clad musicians … then again, you’re not going to see too many men attending these events wearing suits and hats and leather-soled shoes (as they wore too to baseball games), and women wearing gloves, their hair “done” and their purse matching their shoes. Times have changed. But swing dancing to bands is alive and well. Of course, you won’t find the swing dancers in a theater, or in a musical venue like Birdland – but when Benny and Artie and the likes played for dancers, they didn’t play in venues like those either.

    Bands still tour, and dancers travel substantial distances to “get their groove on” with hep cats of swing! Nowadays, band members are dressed in anything from dark suits to shorts. Bands are usually on the small size (bands of 4-8 musicians are a lot more common than those of 15-17). Dance venues in New York are generally a lot smaller, and there are far fewer available, thanks to the outdated but still enforceable cabaret laws. You will also find the bands playing outdoors in the summer. But similarly to what I’ve seen in photos, the dancers attending these dance events are a similar age to those who enjoyed Messrs Goodman, Shaw, et al. And their enthusiasm for the music and dance has not abated.

    The Anderson Twins (and other musicians in this show) play for a number of these “new” bands who are giving their all to keep swing music alive. And while I don’t agree with your statement that the Swing Era isn’t coming back anytime soon (I believe it’s here!), I wholeheartedly echo “the Kings of the Swing Era may be dead, but long live their successors”!

  6. Bob Sparkman

    Well said, Lynn R. !!

  7. Bob Sparkman

    By God, these arrangements sound better than the originals!!!! Heresy? Maybe, but, while I always respected Shaw and Goodman, the “big bands” always sounded a bit pretentious to me. Not here!

  8. The Swing Era may indeed be long past, but there are still lots of bands and musicians touring the country, playing the music of that era for appreciative audiences of listeners and dancers.

    My own little big band, the Solomon Douglas Swingtet, which plays instrumental music of the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, just finished a tour of eight consecutive one-nighters (Charleston SC, Durham NC, Norfolk VA, DC, Harrisburg PA, NYC, Albany, and Toronto), most of them to packed rooms of young lindy hoppers. It may be the case that things ain’t what they used to be, but things are more as they are now than they’ve ever been before!

  9. I play bass with the Solomon Douglas Swingtet (the commenter right before me), and I just wanted to put out there that we actually played most of our gigs acoustically, with only an amp for bass, guitar and piano! And it sounded and felt better than it ever has before with this band.

    If we find a room with proper acoustics (and a grand piano, if we’re lucky), then playing there for an appreciative crowd (usually made up of swing dancers) is the best thing we can get.

    The other thing I’d like to mention is that we strive to play classic music as if it were written today- not by shoving new idioms into old music, but rather by playing with the fire, energy and excitement of a group of guys playing new stuff together that has never been heard before. Which I think makes it significantly more compelling than trying to recreate it as if we were making a document for the museum of congress or something. (This is in spite of the fact that our arrangements are often taken verbatim from old recordings!)

  10. Great review and videos!

    While I agree that the original swing era is dead, there are still hundreds of fantastic swing jazz orchestras and bands around the world who are keeping the music and the tradition alive!

    In New York City alone, we have :

    The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra
    George Gee’s Swing Orchestra (and various permutations)
    Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks
    Michael Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra

    and many smaller bands and combos playing swinging jazz like :
    The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn
    The Cangelosi Cards
    Baby Soda Jazz Band
    Tin Can Blues Band

    The Swing Era is dead, long live the Swing Era!

  11. Love the videos! Thanks for this report and i also agree when you say that the original swing era is dead. Jazz is all around the world!

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