In this century, ensembles devoted to the music so popular in the Twenties and Thirties have several choices as far as repertoire. One is plain: take the most-loved songs, those most closely associated with the idiom, and whether the band’s approach is reverent or extravagant, the songs are waiting. ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, MILENBERG JOYS, and so on. Audience recognition comes along with this repertoire, although so does the possibility of comparison. And there is the possibility of over-familiarity, although as Doctor Johnson said, “When a man is tired of TIGER RAG, he is tired of life.” Or words to that effect.
The second choice requires more digging: going back into the Twenties and Thirties repertoire for songs both beautiful and possibly obscure: TWO TIMES, CROCODILE CRADLE, CAFE CAPERS, CLOUDY, WHEN YOU LEAVE ME ALONE TO PINE, and a thousand others. One might have to take a minute to instruct an audience, and some audiences weary quickly of the necessity of listening closely, but this broadens the repertoire. (There are fascinating treasures to be found here . . . read on.)
A third choice (and there might be a fourth and fifth) is to compose new songs with all the delightful flavor of the era being celebrated. When this is done superficially, the results are forgettable; when it’s done well, it’s delightful on several levels. Gordon Au has succeeded here, and now Greg Ruby is doing a lovely job of merging 2016 and the Twenties. Greg is a fine acoustic guitarist, creating memorable solos and gently driving any band with great rhythm playing. And here’s his debut CD as a leader of the Rhythm Runners.
It might be too unsubtle at this point to write, simply, BUY IT, so I will offer more evidence.
The evidence is here, in a very pleasing March 2016 KPLU-FM interview and performance by the Rhythm Runners who are Greg, guitar / arrangements / compositions; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Cassidy Holden, string bass; Julian MacDonough, drums.
If those names are familiar, you have been doing your JAZZ LIVES homework. If not, there’s always remediation.
Listen and be delighted. (The only thing missing in this audio gift is the name of the host, who is certainly hip and knowledgeable. Bravo to him and to the band.)
And you can hear more sound samples from the actual (beautifully-recorded) CD Sound samples: here.
That would be enough to please me: a great band playing new songs that sound comfortably “vintage” with no hint of artifice or superficiality. But there’s more. If you hail from any place that isn’t Seattle, I’d guess you’ve never heard of Franklin D. Waldron, multi-instrumentalist and the early teacher of Quincy Jones and Buddy Catlett, among others. Waldron, legendary and obscure, never recorded: record companies didn’t know there were musicians in Seattle worth the trip until the Forties. Below is a photograph of Waldron, on cornet, circa 1915, with the Wang Doodle Orchestra (courtesy of the Black Heritage Society.)
Greg explains in the interview how he’d come to learn about Waldron, and about SYNCOPATED CLASSIC, Waldron’s 1924 book of original compositions for saxophonists — and how he ended up with a copy of that book. If this is sounding a little like someone’s dissertation, be not alarmed — for three of the songs on the CD are Greg’s reimaginings of Waldron lines for band, and they are quite refreshing. Greg plans to do more with the Waldron book, and I look forward to the musical results: hot lively compositions from 1924 that have instant validity and (in Greg’s hands) delicious energy. Here‘s more about the Waldron project.
That’s all you need to know. The CD is joyous, with world-class players and swinging originals; it truly expresses “relentless joy,” a coinage of Greg’s (at 29:45).
Greg, when and if you come to New York City again, do let me know. I’d be honored to salute you in person. And for the rest of you, check Greg’s site to find out when and where his groups are playing.
May your happiness increase!