Even for those who are as fortunate and entitled as I am, this world can seem like a tough place. In the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with men and women about various remedies: prescriptions for anti-depressants, brisk walks in the sunshine and yoga, finding the truth in Jesus, living a Buddhist or a Judaic life, Louis Armstrong, hugging, coffee, and more.
All of this is true, and not invented for the purposes of a nifty opening paragraph. If something works for you, I would be a mean-spirited fool to mock it. I find the most evident manifestations of beauty, of joy, of love, in music.
I write to call your attention to a wondrous new CD by Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, titled GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET. I know that title may seem to some a plain encouragement to dancers — feel the groove, get up on the floor (but watch your floorcraft!) and Swing. But for me it means so much more.
First of all, any band that uses a song by the Blessed Alexander Hill to announce themselves is already deep in righteousness. Hill gave himself to the music wholly and is thus a minor deity in my world, and the song says (better than I will do it here) that your ills can be cured by embracing rhythmic music.
The new CD not only says this truth; it embodies it. Had you been able to peek in my window a few hours ago while I was playing it again to write this blogpost, you would have seen me grinning and clapping my hands to the music. It’s that joyous and that right. For those who want to skip to the punchline, you can purchase the disc — in a number of ways — here. Of course, the ideal way would be to be present at a Rhythm Serenaders’ gig (even, if like me, you flunked ballroom dancing) and buy copies from the band / the leader. Here is the band’s schedule, so you can see if they are coming to a nicely polished wooden floor near you.
As a relevant digression, here is what I wrote about the Serenaders’ first CD.
“Why is Michael so excited about yet another ____________ CD?” some of you might be muttering to yourselves. This one sounds deeply genuine, a very honest evocation of, say, 1935-45. The band knows the original 78s but isn’t copying them in every aspect. The (flexible) tempos seem right, never stiff or too far forward into the beat. The band isn’t in a hurry to get to the end of the number. The arrangements cheer and inspire; they aren’t little prisons. The music breathes, is alive, is human — created by real musicians who live in the twenty-first century but who venerate the music of the great Ancestors with every cell of their bodies. The band can play as hot as you’d want, but they have a tender side (MEMORIES OF YOU) which I cherish as well. The band has a wonderful rhythm section, delicious ensemble playing, fine soloists, and one of my favorite singers, Laura Windley, whose voice is like the pleasure I take from my first bite into a splendid local apple: just the right mix of crisp, tart, sweet.
And ths CD passes the JAZZ LIVES test: when I come to the last song, I start it up again.
Now for some details: the musicians are Michael Gamble, string bass, arrangements, leader; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Keenan McKenzie, reeds; James Posedel, piano; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Russ Wilson, drums; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Josh Collazo, drums; Gordon Au, trumpet; Jason DeCristofaro, vibraphone; Laura Windley, vocal; Lucian Cobb, trombone; David Wilken, trombone. (Not everyone plays on every track, but you’ll have to buy the CD to figure out who’s on the stand at any given time.)
The songs: GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ON THE ALAMO / IT’S TOO HOT FOR WORDS / NAPPIN’ JOHN / GOT A PEBBLE IN MY SHOE / WHOA, BABE! / OH, LADY BE GOOD! / RIGAMAROLE / HOW COULD YOU? / DOWN HOME JUMP / DON’T MEDDLE IN MY MOOD / BREAKFAST FEUD / MISS BROWN TO YOU / DON’T BE THAT WAY / MEMORIES OF YOU. (Scholars will note the homage to Teddy, Billie, Benny, Ella, Chick, and Charlie . . . but also to Willie Bryant, Lionel, Cootie, Basie. Gamble knows his Swing.)
And here’s what Michael Gamble has to say about the CD — modest and perceptive:
For the second record, I wanted to showcase a hotter, older repertoire than the first, and to particularly hone in on songs that would’ve been known to dancers of the mid-to-late thirties: An imaginary “must-have” collection of greatest hits for lovers of the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, Slow Drag, Shag; all the Peabody and One Step dancers, Savoy Ballroom regulars as well as followers of the Tin Pan Alley hit factories. Stomp tunes such as “Rigamarole” (by bandleader, early jazz disc jockey, and so-called “Mayor of Harlem” Willie Bryant) – a blazing tempo hop-across-the-coals for Jitterbugs of all stripes. Riff-fests like “Down Home Jump” and “Whoa, Babe!” (recorded by pioneering jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton) that served no higher purpose than to pull people onto the dance floor as if hypnotized by that infectious sound.
The other thing I tried to do was to serve up a sweet sample of some of the most beautiful songwriting from that time period, using as a jumping-off point the repertoire Benny Goodman seemed to hold onto over the years as his “cool down” pieces and small group features for himself. Tunes like “On the Alamo” and “Memories of You” are elegant demonstrations of the nostalgic sound that become popular as the Great Depression was winding down. The sentimental-but-smart elocution Laura Windley brings to the band pays respect to vocal performances by Kay Starr, Helen Ward, and of course Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, each of whose work is lovingly represented here.
Nothing more needs to be said, except this exhortation: Buy this CD. Whatever your mood, it will improve it.
May your happiness increase!