Tag Archives: Jon Doyle

HAL SMITH’S “SWING CENTRAL” GETS IT: BIX FEST (August 3, 2017)

Even though it’s been in existence only a short time, SWING CENTRAL, the beloved brain-and-heart child of drummer and inspiration man Hal Smith, is one of my favorite bands. Here is what I wrote about it on the occasion of its debut CD, whose nifty cover is pictured below. 

I was not able to make it to hear / see / video SWING CENTRAL at the BixFest, but fortunately “jazzmanjoe” caught a set, with nice sound.

The members of this compact swinging ensemble are Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Dan Walton, piano / vocals; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / leader.  In this set, they play WAY DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; CHINA BOY; SWEET IS THE NIGHT; WHOLLY CATS; I WANT A LITTLE GIRL; BEAT ME, DADDY, EIGHT TO THE BAR; LESTER LEAPS IN.

A few words about the band and its delightful repertoire, or maybe more than a few.  From the top, borrowing Eddie Durham’s words about Ed Hall, “Hal Smith doesn’t know how to not swing,” which means to me that his beat is irrresistible. If you put on a CD (or “record”) in another room that started with eight bars of Hal’s hi-hat, I would a) know who it was before the passage was over; b) be smiling; c) put down whatever I was doing in the other room to come closer to the speaker to soak in the swing.  Hal also has a capacious imagination: he can most effectively put together a band devoted to Kid Ory, or the Watters-Scobey-Murphy world, but he really likes supercharged small groups that float and fly, and he’s got a long list of such groups with many wonderful recordings.  As he says on the video, he was moved to create SWING CENTRAL as a band that could play “Chicago style,” but was earnestly connected to the delicate heartfelt traceries of clarinetists Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, among others: which leads me to the bold statement that (aside from the one evocation of Charlie Christian on this set) NO OTHER BAND SOUNDS LIKE THIS.

Festival promoters, please take note.  SWING CENTRAL is the doctor-tested remedy for audiences shrinking because of dulling sameness.

A long pause for calm.

Pianist Dan Walton is a hidden gem.  Like the rest of this band, he never plays a formulaic or dull note or phrase.  He’s absorbed all the great styles and recordings, but — thank heavens — he isn’t on the planet to play them note-for-note unless requested.  His solo work is quiet but it rings in the mind; his ensemble playing is just the thing, and his boogie-woogie sounds real.  I’d like to hear a Dan Walton solo or duo CD, and hope that this idea can be realized soon.

Jamey Cummins.  In a landscape of guitarists who sound fraternally similar, young Mister J.C. stands out as a gifted inventor of long spinning lines, someone whose rhythm playing rocks.  He plays himself, and that’s a wonderful thing.

I got to meet the ebullient Steve Pikal on my recent Nashville trip, and he’s a wonderful creation: you can’t tell where he stops and where the music begins, or, put it this way, his unwavering good humor, expressed in a nearly perpetual smile, comes right through his string bass.  He loves Walter Page and Pops Foster and Milt Hinton and all the propulsive people in the great tradition, and you hear his love.

Jon Doyle is a great poet who might never have written a sonnet, but each chorus is a new effusion, whether tender or searing-hot.  He’s captured the whimsical souls of the musicians he admires, but what comes out of the end of that stick of grenadilla wood is entirely Doyle.  He’s not copying Lester, Pee Wee, or Frank; he is showing himself as someone who understands their beauties and has taken from them new ways to be himself.

You’ll notice that the tunes in this set (and when you buy the CD, the same applies) are often familiar — think of WAY DOWN YONDER and CHINA BOY (the latter more often mentioned than played) are in some hands “Dixieland classics,” but here they are springboards for elegant new improvisations.  But something remarkable: other bands can play Hot, and often at a higher volume, but SWING CENTRAL has its own special tenderness: not only Jon playing a ballad, but the subtle textures of the rhythm section, of Hal’s brushwork — of a band that knows that power isn’t volume, that the way to make an audience feel is not necessarily to whack it over the head in performance after performance. A quintet of swing poets, inspired by Milt Gabler and other lights in the darkness. May they prosper.

We’re so lucky that Hal had this idea, and that he and his friends made it happen.

May your happiness increase!

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THINKING OF BIX, TRAM, PRES, and PEE WEE: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL at CENTRAL MARKET (August 28, 2016)

swing-central

The response to my first posting with videos of Hal Smith’s Swing Central from August 28 of  this year has been so enthusiastic that I offer four more — with thematic connections to three of the greatest lyrical players of jazz: Bis Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell.  We know that Lester deeply admired the other three players, and it’s not hard to hear an emotional connection between Pee Wee and Pres when their clarinet explorations are the subject.  Four great poets who also swung deliciously.

Swing Central is made up of Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar. This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.

Before you plunge in, might I suggest that you be prepared to listen closely. This is a band that understands the pleasure of playing softly, of placing note after note and harmony upon harmony with great delicacy: yes, they can swing exuberantly (as in the final SUNDAY) but some of what follows is soft, tender, introspective — I think of Japanese paintings, where one brushstroke both is and has depths of implication.  Allow this music to reverberate — placidly yet definitely — as you listen.

And the fine videos are the work of Gary Feist of Yellow Dog Films.

FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C (an improvisation on I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN):

PEE WEE’S BLUES (with some real-life end-of-the-night tidying at the start, very atmospheric):

BLUE LESTER:

SUNDAY (that Jule Styne opus recorded by all four of these players):

I look forward to a happy future for this gratifying small orchestra, its music so pleasing.

May your happiness increase!

JUST DELICIOUS: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL!

swing-central

Please put everything else aside.  Stop multi-tasking for a few minutes.  I invite you to celebrate the birth of a great band: Hal Smith’s Swing Central:

That’s Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar.  This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  I’ll have more to say about the music — which really “needs no introduction” and “speaks for itself,” later, but I have asked Hal to tell us everything about the creation and gestation of this fine new ensemble.  (Interspersed with his narrative you’ll find other videos from the Central Market gig, like hand-drawn illustrations in a picture book.)

A word about Hal, though.  I’ve been listening to him on records and CDs for a long time (putting the needle back over and over to listen to the way he swings the band and takes solos that seem too short rather than “fountains of noise,” as Whitney Balliett called most drum solos) and I have heard him in person for the last five years.  He’s a splendid drummer — old-fashioned in the best ways — always dreaming of the bands who can really understand and embody the glories of the past.  And he’s always on a quest to put congenial talented people together to form bands: the Roadrunners, his own trios with Bobby Gordon, Albert Alva, James Evans, Ray Skjelbred, Chris Dawson, Kris Tokarski; his California Swing Cats and Rhythmakers, Hal’s Angels, the New El Dorado Jazz Band, the Jazz Chihuauas, the Down Home Jazz Band, and the Creole Sunshine Jazz Band.

Here’s Hal, himself:

In 2015, Dave Bennett and I wanted to put together a jazz quintet. I suggested Dan Walton and Jamey Cummins from Austin and Steve Pikal from the Twin Cities. Even though we had not all played together as a group, I was sure that everything would click.

Interlude: HELLO, FISHIES, by Jon Doyle:

The quintet did click, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in March, 2016. I secured another engagement for the group at the Capital City Jazz Festival in Madison, Wisconsin but Dave inadvertently double-booked himself that same weekend. Fortunately, the festival organizers were willing to keep the quintet in the lineup with JON DOYLE on clarinet.

Since everyone in the band plays SWING music and lives in the CENTRAL time zone, that was how the group wound up with the name.

Jon and I exchanged many e-mails regarding the repertoire and sound of the band. Since so many swing combos attempt to play in the style of Benny Goodman’s Trio, Quartet, etc. we agreed that a different song list and sound would be the way we would go.

Interlude:  SUNDAY

I have always admired Jon’s sound on clarinet, but he really caught my ear one time before a gig with Floyd Domino’s All-Stars. Jon was warming up by playing Lester Young’s introduction to the Kansas City Six’s “I Want A Little Girl.” Remembering that, I proposed that Swing Central play songs associated with Lester, then further suggested material recorded by Pee Wee Russell and Frank Chace. Jon agreed enthusiastically and began writing charts.

Interlude: JELLY ROLL

Jon was running late to our first set on Friday evening, and did not have time to go back for his tenor sax — so he played the entire set on clarinet. We kicked off with “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” and the audience responded with enthusiasm, which continued with every number. Jon’s totally unstaged animation and Steve Pikal’s contagious good spirit permeated the crowd. Jamey Cummins scored big with a swinging version of “Shivers.” Jon cued ensembles and solos and kept most performances to 78 rpm length, so with about 20 minutes left on the clock, I got Dan’s attention during a song, and mouthed, “Can you do a boogie woogie feature?” The rollicking version of “Roll ‘Em, Pete” he came up with had the crowd whistling and stomping. Our last song of the first set garnered a standing ovation, and each succeeding set ended the same way.

Fast-forward to August, 2016…I was going to be working with a Western Swing band in South Texas, and coincidentally Jon Doyle was planning to be in Austin also. Jamey and Dan would be in town, so I was able to book an appearance for the band at Central Market-Westgate. (Both Central Market locations in Austin offer a fantastic selection of groceries, an in-store café, and live music by local artists on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition to paying the musicians, the market provides a professional soundman and even feeds the band). However, the performance budget would not cover the cost of an airfare from the Twin Cities, so the great Austin bassist Josh Hoag filled in for Steve Pikal.

Gary Feist, of Yellow Dog Films, was available to videotape several performances.  He captured the band, the audience, and quite a few local dancers in high spirits.

For me, playing in a band like this makes the aches and pains of the music business worthwhile. Dan, Jamey and Josh are great friends as well as great musicians. All of us look to Jon Doyle for inspiration and he always delivers! Best of all, Jon has immersed himself in the recordings of Young, Russell and particularly Chace. He inhabits the styles without copying note for note, but there is no question regarding his influences. A mutual friend, upon hearing Jon’s clarinet work on an audio clip from this session (“I Must Have That Man”) remarked, “I think the torch has been passed!” It has, and is burning brightly!

I know that Hal is speaking with several jazz festival directors about appearances for SWING CENTRAL, and that they are getting together to record their debut CD in Chicago — all excellent news.  There are many other wonderful small jazz groups on the landscape, thank heavens, but this is a real band with its own conceptions.  You wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else; they are not locked in one tiny stylistic box, and my goodness, how they swing!

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL SWING: “TOO HOT FOR SOCKS,” by the JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET

Young Mister Doyle and his noble colleagues are the real item, as I celebrated a few days ago here.  And Jon has just issued a new CD, TOO HOT FOR SOCKS, a beauty from first to last.

DOYLE Too Hot

Some enlightened souls who have enjoyed the live videos they saw in that earlier blogpost will want to purchase the CD right away: that can be done here.  The more cautious can also visit this page to listen to samples from the CD.)

But TOO HOT FOR SOCKS can be what a dear friend of mine calls “a life-changing experience,” which is not all hyperbolic.

I have many gifted young musical friends born after Benny Goodman died (that would be 1986).  So they have grown up with recordings, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube — and often with third-generation evocations of the original mystical arts.  I write this not to diminish their efforts or to mock them. But often their connection to the original impetus and spiritual energy that is swing is mediated through famous recordings, which they copy for appreciative audiences.  Now, I’ve made enemies by preferring improvisation over recreation, so let me be clear: if I lived next door to a pianist who could play Teddy Wilson’s LIZA note-for-note, I would ask her to do it often.  The same is true for a quartet of brilliant neighbors who could “do” The Delta Four.

But I’m awed and delighted by musicians and groups who completely understand the intense easy glide of the great recordings and can write and play their own distinctive variations on the forms.  Such a group is or are the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

The personnel is David Jellema, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Mark Gonzales, trombone; J.D. Pendley, amplified guitar; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass; Jason Baczynski, drums. The disc was produced by Jonathan Doyle and Laura Glaess.  Jonathan wrote all the songs except KEEPIN’ TIME and GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, which are Laura Glaess compositions, and COMFORT ZONE, which is by Mark Gonzales. The disc is very recent — recorded on March 24, 2016 in Austin, Texas.  The very evocative cover art is by Amado Pena III.

All the songs are “originals,” but even I, who shrink from a CD completely made up of the leader’s compositions, am thoroughly comfortable with these songs. For Jon’s secret is that many of them are “contrafacts,” new melody lines built over familiar harmonies.  Think of MOTEN SWING (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY), the six thousand lines built over I GOT RHYTHM, and almost all of the repertoire of the Goodman Sextet.  If it was good enough for Charlie Christian, it should be good enough for us.  Sometimes the harmonies are immediately recognizable — rather like seeing your favorite actress in deep makeup and knowing who’s under there — and sometimes not.  I had to ask Jon about the title tune, which was driving me crazy — not in a Walter Donaldson way — and he generously unlocked the door by telling me it was built on JAPANESE SANDMAN.  I found myself so happily distracted and cheered by the ensemble’s new lines that I often didn’t recognize the familiar harmonic underpinnings, which is tribute to the compositions and the authentic warm way they are played.

I so admire this group’s sound. The ensemble voicings, whether unison lines or harmonized figures, are always pleasing. Some “modern / swing” groups are made up of musicians eager to get to the solos, so that there’s one chorus of ensemble, and then a long period of time — often thrilling — when each soloist plays, backed by the rhythm section and now and again some impromptu accompaniment from the other horns.

The Swingtet is in its own way old-fashioned: they understand how lovely an ensemble can sound.  (And I don’t mean “jam session” ensembles, but more often written lines that build energetic momentum — although the middle “layered” part of PRINCE HARLES happily fits the description.)  So the Swingtet pleases my ears: the opening of the title track, YOU CAN’T TAKE THOSE KISSES WITH YOU (what would Johnny Mercer have made of that?) is the simplest possible combination of single-note hits, arpeggiated chords, and other streamlined delights.  Yet it sounds magical, as if it were a Basie piano chorus scored for band.

The mention of Basie (to quote Jake Hanna, “You get too far from Basie and you’re just kidding yourself”) brings up two other notions.  One, there’s no piano on this disc.  That isn’t a problem, because the Swingtet exists in that sphere where the electric guitar has taken the piano’s place — it happens every Sunday night with the beloved EarRegulars in New York City — and the space is more than filled by a reassuringly swinging four-piece rhythm section, ticking away warmly rather than mechanically.  But the overall ambiance — think of Keynote Records sessions in 1944-46 or Basie small groups — is a wonderful balance between four individualistic soloists, each with a beautifully recognizable sound, and a lovely rhythm section.  Hear the glide this band creates within the first minute of KEEPIN’ TIME.

Did I mention dynamics, shadings, split choruses, background hums behind soloists, eloquent eight-bar passages, propulsive riffs, the wise use of mutes for the brass, wire brushes, acoustic string bass, open-and-closed hi-hat, and variety? You’ll hear all those and more.

Most of the fifteen compositions are medium and medium-uptempo, as you’d expect from a swing group that plays for dancers, and the Swingtet makes the most out of the subtle variations of that tempo range that the Ancestors did.  But several exceptions show that the band is much more than an instrumental unit producing originals with the right number of beats per minute.  A few of the songs appear to be simple riff-based creations, but each one has a surprise within.  Some of them take left and right turns, and I found myself saying, “Wait a minute.  That’s a new theme.”  At first, JUST A LITTLE RIGHT has the dreamy warming-up sweetness of a band in the studio, experimenting without knowing that the engineer has started to record (think of WAITIN’ FOR BENNY).

Perhaps my favorite piece (at this writing) is also the most distinctive — IF THE RIVER OVERFLOWS — a minor-key lament that still swings, beginning with a sideways nod to some Russians on the river.  Just when you think you’ve understood what will come next, the harmonies twist and turn.  I imagine Frank Newton smiling on this music.  And if I tried to describe STRANGE MACHINATIONS, I would need another page, but it’s as satisfying as a wonderfully-seasoned dish of homemade ethnic cooking.  As Stan Zenkoff pointed out to me, it has some relation to QUEER NOTIONS.  Thank you, Stan!

Although the Swingtet could wow an audience on Fifty-Second Street, they aren’t copying the classic recordings.  No one quotes anything, and what a blissful space that creates!  They aren’t a shirt-pocket full of repeater pencils. Rather, they sound like people who have so thoroughly internalized the great swing individualists that they can be themselves within — and beyond — the tradition.

I’ll stop here, but if my words have done their job, you will be listening to TOO HOT FOR SOCKS here — and buying a copy or copies.  I think this CD is a small but fiercely effective panacea for many modern ills.  (And, lest you think that this long blogpost is because of some odd secret indebtedness I have to Jon, the reverse is the truth: I’ve been bothering him for months now, “When will I get to listen to the new CD?”  And now, gleefully, it’s here.)

Thanks go to Hal Smith — who knows all one would want about swing — for telling me about Jon Doyle as far back as late 2011 (I checked my emails and it’s true) . . . thanks and blessings to the wondrous people who made the music on this disc and made the disc a reality.  And here is Jon’s website, where you can purchase his other musical efforts.

May your happiness increase!

BOUNCE, ROCK, and GROOVE: THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (2015)

Who's that young man in the grip of Music? Jonathan Doyle, for certain.

Who’s that young man in the grip of Music? Jonathan Doyle, for certain.

I first encountered Jonathan Doyle (tenor saxophone, clarinet, compositions, arrangements) through my friend, master percussionist Hal Smith — more about that later — which is a stellar recommendation.  I then encountered Jon as the lead horn in a San Diego Jazz Fest session with Ray Skjelbred (another gold star) and most recently with the Fat Babies at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  Somewhere in this delightful process of admiration, I heard and loved Jonathan’s CD, THE FED HOP, and we actually had a short friendly conversation at Evergreen.  His official biography can be found here.

Jonathan is not one of those highly-schooled fellows who “understands” swing from a safe distance.  Watch him on video for even eight bars, and you see that he is utterly immersed in it, his horn and his body in the grip of the most beautiful energies.  He also surrounds himself with like-minded souls who obviously live for this kind of lyrical groovy experience.  AND his compositions are quite wonderful: often subversively built on almost-familiar chord changes with titles that almost give the joke away.  For instance, I think I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK is a slow rock over the harmonies of ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, the results being satisfying and a well-executed in-joke.  This band harks back to the Keynote sessions, to Basie small groups (with Basie himself smiling at the sounds but not at the keyboard), Benny Carter lines, and more . . . but they’re not in town to copy, but to evoke.  And they do it splendidly.

The swing heroes for this particular session, captured slightly more than a year ago at the Sahara Lounge in Austin, Texas, are Jonathan, tenor sax; David Jellema, cornet; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Joshua Hoag, string bass; Jason Baczynski, drums.  The very expert videos are by Gary Feist of yellowdogvideo.com.

From left: Mark Gonzales, David Jellema, Joshua Hoag, Jonathan Doyle

From left: Mark Gonzales, David Jellema, Joshua Hoag, Jonathan Doyle

ESQUIRE BOUNCE:

Al Sears’ hit, CASTLE ROCK (a title that stands for something good, magnified):

Jon’s original, I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK:

Another original, STRANGE MACHINATIONS:

Some very good omens.  First, a close cousin of the band shown above has recorded a new CD, TOO HOT FOR SOCKS, which I will be writing about — enthusiastically, having heard some of it through digital magic.  You can hear it and Jon’s other recordings at his website and here.  He’s also on Facebook  here.  And — just to pile tantalizing bits of data one upon another –here is his YouTube channel, full of delights.  (So the young man may play like it’s 1946 but he certainly knows how to navigate this century with grace.)

Hal Smith (mentioned admiringly above) has a new band, SWING CENTRAL, which features Jon as the sole horn, exploring the best floating small-band swing with a focus on Lester Young, Charlie Christian, and Pee Wee Russell.  The other participants have been pianist Dan Walton, guitarist Jamey Cummins, and either Joshua Hoag or Steve Pikal on string bass.  They’ve played at the Capital City Jazz Fest in Madison, Wisconsin in April, and they just had a gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  Rumor has it that a few festival appearances are being discussed, as is a CD recording session.  And — no rumor — I will have some videos from Austin to share with you in the near future.  A band to look out for!

Keep grooving with Jonathan Doyle and friends, wherever you find them.

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

CREATING BEAUTY: THE THRIFT SET ORCHESTRA

Festival promoters, swing dance bookers, people who love good music, beautifully played, take note!

(If John Hammond were alive, this band would already have a contract with English Parlophone, be playing at Smalls Paradise, and be broadcasting over WEVD . . . but it’s 2014, and we have to make such things happen for ourselves):

KRAZY KAPERS (take 1):

and another set of KAPERS:

Who are these Swing miracle-workers?  Why, they are the Thrift Set Orchestra, a band based in Austin, Texas.  At their site, you can read the biographies of the individual musicians and learn more about the group. I don’t see a place where one can request an autographed picture of the TSO, but soon that will be necessary, as jazz and swing dance fans coast-to-coast get the message.

If the Thrift Set Orchestra looks familiar to you, it might be because I posted two versions of their THE MOOCHE in honor of the band and of Ellington’s birthday here.

What makes them so special? I have to put them in context. There are many other youthful jazz bands out there devoted to the music of the Swing Era (and by that I do not mean formulaic versions of IN THE MOOD for dancers), and they all serve a useful function.  But few of them play as convincingly and with as much inventiveness as the TSO.

Some bands execute transcriptions of the original arrangements and recorded solos splendidly (no harm done there); other bands offer their own improvisations (likewise); some bands woo audiences with energy and vintage clothing or snappy uniforms and Art Deco stands (visually appealing for those who like spectacle).

But for me the deepest question is always: “What does the music sound like if I close my eyes?  Does it please my deepest self?”

I know it might seem odd, but for me, the test for a new CD is the car — my Old New Car with a decent sound system.  Driving somewhere with a previously unheard disc in the player, I can’t read the liner notes or check who’s soloing on track six.  I can only listen. And my response to the TSO disc was nearly ecstatic. I played it once, then again. And in the next few days I played it every time I drove, even for a five-minute errand. Driving on a main street in a suburban business district, I made sure to lower my windows so that everyone could hear the TSO put their own stamp on NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, BLUE DRAG, or HELLO BABE. No one came over at a stop light to ask the source of this joy, but I am convinced that I did some good, even subliminally, by offering this swinging beauty to innocent bystanders. Spreading joy to children who have never read a book about improvisation.  “Mama, that man had music coming from his car!” “Hush, child! We’re going home right now.”

Back to the sounds. The TSO is a compact, energetic, and accurate jazz-swing orchestra, with players who can read and improvise in an idiomatic yet loose manner, and who can swing convincingly on their own solos. Their ensemble playing is authentic but not stiff, the solos inventive and personal. The band echoes Ellington and Bennie Moten, but it has its own Western Swing spiciness too.  The CD offers a pleasing mix of classic songs and originals, as well as less familiar Thirties evocations (not copies) of Freddy Taylor, Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Jean Goldkette, informal sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s featuring Bill Priestley on cornet. Guitarist / vocalist Albanie Faletta sings deliciously on BLUE DRAG, and trombonist Mark “Speedy” Gonsalez plays Roy Eldridge’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR marvelously as a feature for the lower-register horn, getting every note splendidly in place. David Jellema’s cornet shines throughout, nimbly evoking early Hackett, and he adds his clarinet to the ensemble when a trio is called for. The two-man sax section of Graulty and Doyle, switching horns, is absolutely a model — and their soloing is individual yet idiomatic in the best way.  Anchored by Hal Smith’s perfect drumming (you could listen to any of these tracks for the drumming alone and be refreshed), the rhythm section rocks — no pianists need apply.

The overall sound of the band is both light and intense, and there is no hint of pretension or stiffness. They don’t sound as if they can’t wait to get back to their post-Coltrane modal studies. The rhythm section is powerful but never obtrusive, and the horns glide from lyrical solos to speaking gutty truths through their horns (trombonist Mark could be our generation’s Snub Moseley, and we welcome him!).  The TSO, in addition, has the sound of a working band: people who are used to playing together and who enjoy each other’s musical company.

Had this CD had simply been expert recreations of recordings, I would have been far less enthusiastic.  Although eleven of the tracks here display some allegiance to recorded performances, each of them has small delicious surprises: brief horn solos where one wouldn’t expect them, a brief horns-only passage in SUNDAY; the welcome presence of a banjo on HELLO BABE; friendly adjustments, adaptations, and inventions: new touches that seem just right, something that Foots Thomas or Bill Challis would have liked just fine.  Witty musical ingenuity rather than idolatrous museum-quality reproduction is the result.

And in case you are someone with a record collection, muttering, “I’d rather hear the originals,” the TSO has some new originals to offer you, danceable melodies with memorable lines — most of them taking a single melodic phrase and moving it around in the best Waller style to create tunes that don’t leave your head.

The musicians are David Jellema, cornet, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, soprano, alto, clarinet; Lyon Graulty, tenor, clarinet, vocal; Albanie Faletta, guitar, vocal; Westen Borghesi, banjo, vocal; Ryan Gould, string bass, vocal; Hal Smith, drums, performing NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / SURE FINE / BLUE DRAG / SHAGTOWN JUBILEE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / SNOWBOUND IN A CABIN / SUNDAY / SUGAR / HELLO BABE / SWEET IS THE NIGHT / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / KRAZY KAPERS / HANG ON EVERY WORD / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM / THE MOOCHE.  Good sound from sessions recorded July 2013.

You can purchase the CD here for $15 plus $3 shipping.

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I predict a brilliant future for the TSO. I’m delighted they exist. We need them — a musical embodiment of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

And as for its band name — the Thrift Set Orchestra, here’s what its creator Jonathan Doyle told me: “The name came from a thought around the idea of the economy of size of the orchestra, or maybe about an economy of musical style. It might have been about recycled culture too, finding clothes and records in thrift stores and putting all of the styles from the different eras together as one pleases, embracing beautiful and interesting things from the past that have lost value in contemporary society.”

The TSO embodies a beautiful philosophy in their music.

May your happiness increase!