With many well-known newspeople and columnists getting into trouble these days by making up events and, subsequently, making fact-checkers the most reliable people in journalism, I hereby declare that the following story is true, as related to me by a Louisville musician. I'm just going to "Dear Abby" it by substituting fake names for real ones. I don't want to directly name names, which could put this fine journal of music and fun at risk. Plus my first and only attempt to wrap a true story in some silly bit of fiction backfired and got a musician angry with me. What made him angrier was that I refused to apologize for it. I tend to be hardheaded that way. Anyway, on to our story.
Marcellus was the frontman for a jazz quintet looking for a new gig. The group had a reputation in town for their professionalism and unique world-beat sound. They also had a CD that sold well, and they were preparing to enter the studio to create their follow-up to it. Marcellus heard that a club named the Ale and Bail, close to the Hall of Justice (hey, stop groaning - I'm making this up as I go), had just released a jazz act from their contract because they simply weren't pulling anybody in to hear them.
"We've always pulled in some pretty high numbers almost every place we've played," Marcellus told club-owner Steve. "And more ‘n more people are hearing about us."
"Yeah, I've caught you a few times," Steve said, "and I like what I hear. But tell me, do you guys play anyswing?"
Marcellus was silent for half a heartbeat, then started to choke back a laugh. "No," he said and quickly ended the call.
Already on its way down slowly, like a flaming flake of skin from theHindenberg, the swing fad is last-gasping itself in a few clubs around town. Dance studios are still offering lessons, the songs still get airplay, the CDs are still on the racks. The famous Gap commercial, with dozens of khaki-clad young folk jitterbugging mightily to Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, and Wail," still runs on TV, but less frequently. Royal Crown Revue performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival in July. Word is that two Louisville jazz musicians are trying to put a swing band together. And one local jazz supporter said she had hoped the resurgence of swing might turn some of its young fans on to jazz. But it has already here-and-goned itself to lead to any subtle conversions. If it's not dead yet Jim, it's slowly turning up its toes.
Truth to tell, the music wasn't bad at all: horn arrangements as tight and fast as Al Unser hugging the turns at Indy, sassy lyrics sometimes cut with 1990s sensibilities (no "Nothing can be finer / Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina" here), and just good, clean fun. But it was. . .well, afad, a nostalgic extension of the snap-brim fedora, martini-and-El-Blackbileo-cigar subculture, which itself is more saturating nostalgia. I once went to a show at Headliners Music Hall where the rockabilly quartet Crown Electric was to open for a swing band named League of Decency. Most of the men in the crowd were dressed in two-toned shoes, pleated baggy trousers, suspenders, and ties wide enough to flip pancakes. I thought I had walked into a casting call forThe Sting.
Swing won't lead people to listen to jazz unless jazz has already caught their ears. So let's pack the reet pleats and the two-tones back into grandfather's (or great-grandfather's) steamer trunk. It was a gas, daddy-o, but now we're beat to the socks. Time to grab some ozone.
Look for new CD from BeebleBrox this month.Dominant Domain is the seventh release from the Bloomington-based quintet, consisting of Monika Herzig, her husband Peter Kienle, Tom Clark, Jack Helsley, and Paul Surowiak, and featuring special guest saxophonist Bob Berg. It follows last year'sIndianapolis Intergalactic Spaceport. I understand that the liner notes forDominant are among the reasons you should get a copy. An "aw-shucks" modesty prevents me from mentioning who wrote them.
The next Louisville Jazz Society concert will be November 16 at the Comedy Caravan. The guest will be Randy Brecker and his band at. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. sharp. Tickets are available at the door for $15.00 regular admission, and $12.00 for LJS members.