Photograph by Jessica Keener
On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.
But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege). One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties. In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize. “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture. “Cork,” said Joyce. “I know that,” said O’Connor. “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce. “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”
That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station. “Where are we?” “Grand.” “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.
The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band. The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already. At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience. Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.
Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:
Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:
Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:
BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:
Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:
With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:
Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:
BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST:
The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special. Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.
And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.
May your happiness increase!