So I guess I’ll start off my blog with a review of a dance I attended last night, hosted by The Jam Cellar in the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park last night with The Brooks Tegler Big Band. (Disclaimer: I am an occasional contributor to the Jam Cellar blog and their general shenanigans)
DC is blessed to have two big bands dedicated to the authentic sounds of the Swing Era. Most bands that play for dancers tend to the more modern New Testament Basie sound or play mostly Rat Pack covers.
But DC’s two main big bands, the other being The Tom Cunningham Orchestra, specialize in music from the Swing Era played in the way it was meant to be played with a solid driving 4/4 rhythm. Brooks Tegler himself is an ardent disciple of Gene Krupa.
Even if you never heard of him before you walked into the ballroom last night you would have been instantly struck by his love and knowledge of this era of music with his introduction. His theme for the evening was 1909, focusing on music by notable musicians born in that year including Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gene Krupa, and Benny Goodman among others.
The band and the ballroom were both hot. That’s expected of the ballroom just about any time of year, but this is one of the times where the onstage talent matched the heat of the room.
The pace of the first set was particularly brutal with the band playing versions of “Cottontail”, “The Kid From Red Bank”, “Down South Camp Meeting”, and ending with “Carioca”. But it was hard to complain when the musicianship was in top form.
The soloists were excellent especially in the reed section which included Scott Silbert, Marty Nau, Anita Thomas, Joe Midiri, and Don Lerman. Silbert was especially "on" as he took on the mantles of Lester Young and Ben Webster in the Basie and Ellington pieces. Joe Midiri also did a great job taking on the roles of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw in the small group and big band numbers.
The second and third sets were each kicked off by some small group combos centered around Joe Midiri on clarinet and Paul Midiri on vibraphones anchored by Brooks on drums. They alternated between Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman selections joined by various combinations of Robert Redd on piano, Craig Gildner on guitar, Don Lerman on sax, and a bassist whose name I did not catch. They even ended their third set small combo selections with a larger group recreating the Ellington small group version of “Good Queen Bess.”
Most of the songs were instrumentals as there was no dedicated singer on hand. Brooks usually carries two and will sometimes sing himself. However the song selection for the evening only called for a handful of vocals which were handled mostly by saxophonist Anita Thomas. She did an admirable job with the Anita O’Day and Helen Forrest songs including a wonderful version of the ballad “Where or When” with the small group in the third set. Trombonist Jim Jensen sang on one other song.
The energy was high throughout the small group and big band numbers. I noticed that the band took less time than usual to get ready for each song, which is usually an issue with Brooks' big band sorties in the past.
Brooks was assisted by a radio announcer he brought in from Pennsylvania. I didn’t catch his name, but he did a good job of introducing each song, even coming up with some random tidbits to kill time during some last minute shuffling in the third set. He did a great introduction to a small group song--I think it was “Seven Come Eleven”--as they played through the introduction which added a nice 30’s radio atmosphere to the song
Not everything as fast for the evening as the big band did an excellent version of “In A Mellow Tone,” and moderately tempo’d versions of “Wrappin It Up” and “Temptation” in the second set.
However, the band killed their version of Count Basie’s blazing fast“Mutton Leg” which plays off of the same themes as his earlier hit, “Every Tub.”
The encore of the evening, after a furious "Avenue C" was a pretty version of Artie Shaw's "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise."
I particularly appreciated the contributions of Craig Gildner on guitar and piano. Mostly because I could hear the guitar this time around which isn’t always the case with the way big bands are mic’d at Glen Echo. I remember a different Brooks Tegalr Big Band gig at Glen Echo with Tom Mitchell on guitar where, if I wasn’t standing in front of him, I would have never known he was playing because the sound system wasn’t picking him up at all. Hearing that solid 4/4 chunk, chunk of a rhythm guitar makes a huge difference for Lindy Hoppers.
Overall, a great night of music. Can’t wait until the next Brooks Tegler Big Band gig, but The Brooks Tegler Quartet will be playing again in DC at The International Lindy Hop Championships on Friday night, August 28th.
(Another disclaimer: I work for ILHC, doing stuff)