Tag Archives: Hilary Alexander

“SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND”: JONATHAN STOUT AND HIS CAMPUS FIVE

I did my own private Blindfold Test, and played a track from this new CD for a very severe jazz friend who prides himself on his love of authenticity, and he said, “Well, they’ve GOT IT!” which is how I feel about Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five.

Here’s a sample of how they sounded in 2016 at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:

The first piece of good news is that this group knows how to swing.  Perhaps “knows” is the wrong word, because I never believe that genuine swing feeling could be learned in a classroom.  They FEEL it, which is immediately apparent. Second, although some of the repertoire will be familiar, this isn’t a CD devoted to recreating the fabled discs in better fidelity; the group understands the great recorded artifacts but uses them as jumping-off places to stretch out, to offer their own creations.

I hear traces of the Goodman Trio on LIMEHOUSE BLUES, the 1937 Basie band on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE; Don Byas and Buck Clayton drop by here and there; as do Louis and Astaire; NAUGHTY SWEETIE owes some of its conception to Jimmie Noone, as SUNDAY does to Lester . . . but these versions are expressions of the blended personalities that make up a working band, and are thus precious for us in this century.

Jonathan’s two originals, MILL HOUSE STOMP and DANCE OF THE LINDY BLOSSOMS, work on their own as compositions with their own rhythmic energy. The former bridges the late Hampton Victors and 2 AM at Minton’s; the latter suggests EVENIN’, in mood more than chord changes.

Those familiar with the “modern swing dance scene,” however you define it, will recognize the musicians as energized and reliable: the leader on guitar; Jim Ziegler, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and clarinet (both of the horn players bringing a variety of selves to the project — but often I thought of Emmett Berry and Illinois Jacquet, players I am grateful to hear evoked — and a rhythm team of Chris Dawson (yes!) piano; Wally Hersom, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.  Jim takes the vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK, sincerely but with a light heart, and several of the other songs are charmingly sung by Hilary Alexander, who has an engaging primness and delicacy while swinging along.  “Special guests” for a few numbers are the splendid Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Marquis W. Howell, string bass.

The individual soloists are a pleasure: everyone has the right feeling, but I’d just like to single out the leader, because his guitar work is so much the uplifting center of this band.  Stout has obviously studied his Charlie Christian but his solos in that context sound whole, rather than a series of patented-Charlie-phrases learned from transcriptions strung together for thirty-two bars.  His chord work (in the ensemble) evokes Reuss, McDonough, and VanEps in marvelous ways — glimpses of a near-vanished swing landscape in 2017.

And here they are in 2017, once again at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:

When I had heard the CD once again this morning, for purposes of writing this post with the evidence in my ears, I put it on for a second and third time, with no diminution of pleasure.  Later, I’ll play it in my car with the windows open, to osmotically spread joy as I drive.  Look for a man in a Toyota: he’ll be smiling and nodding rhythmically, although both hands on the wheel in approved position.  Rhythm, as they say, will be spread.  Around.

May your happiness increase!

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“JONATHAN STOUT and his CAMPUS FIVE” SWING!

Perhaps it’s because I live in New York, but I had heard little about guitarist Jonathan Stout and his various swing ensembles until recently, but when I heard that Jonathan often employed pianist Chris Dawson and Hal Smith, when I read that he considers Allan Reuss his favorite rhythm guitarist . . . then I began to pay attention.

And, as Arthur Miller has Linda Loman say in DEATH OF A SALESMAN in quite a different context, “Attention must be paid.”

To be blunt, there are many orchestras and combos billing themselves as “Swing bands.”  Most of them, although diligent, miss the point.  Swing isn’t simply a matter of wearing the appropriate period clothing; it isn’t a matter of copying arrangements off the records or from the page.  Ellington called it “bouncing bouyancy,” and he was of course right.  It isn’t a matter of letting the tenor soloist wail in a post-bop manner for a number of choruses on A STRING OF PEARLS.  To play Swing convincingly, it’s necessary to swing — and not everyone is born with that rhythmic / harmonic / melodic DNA.  But the musicians who make up Jonathan Stout’s “Campus Five” know what it’s all about — not in some academic way, not by reproducing old records live.  They feel it, and the evidence is right here. 

The band appeared at the Cicada Club in Hollywood on May 17, 2009, for three long sets.  Amazingly, these performances are accessible in their entirety on YouTube (which usually restricts civillians to ten minutes) and in High Definition.  The band, for this occasion, is made up of  Jim Ziegler, trumpet (and an engaging Southern-tinged vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK), Albert Alva on tenor sax and clarinet; Richard Geere on piano; Jonathan himself on acoustic and electric guitar; Wally Hersom on bass; and, for this occasion, Hal Smith on drums; Hilary Alexander is the sweetly genial girl singer.

Here’s the first set — including a number of variations on jazz classics, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and S’WONDERFUL; material made famous by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian, BENNY’S BUGLE and ROSE ROOM, the Lionel Hampton FLYIN’ HOME, and several charming vocals from Miss Alexander, including COW COW BOOGIE, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and Lester Young’s vocal feature, JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA. 

The dancers enjoyed themselves: I did as well.    

P.S.  Ending the set is some rather tedious period banter between the master of ceremonies and the owner of the club, which some may wish to avoid.