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Swing! – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1999

Swing! – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1999

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“It was the most creative period of the century!” That’s Lynne Taylor-Corbett, director and choreographer of Swing!, on the subject of “swing.” “It represents the best of us . . . at our most joyful most hopeful.” “What is this thing called ‘swing’?” Louis Armstrong asked the question musically in 1939. This thing called Swing! is a celebration of the music and the movement inspired by Satchmo and his disciples. And it remains true to the music, avoiding the feel of a museum piece, with twenty-first century Lindy Hoppers joining their grandparents to declare, “This is our music!” The story behind both these things called “swing” began in a new century (the last one) with an African-American organizer of black musical talent, James Reese Europe, and white Broadway dance sensations Vernon and Irene Castle, who had a tremendous impact on how America danced, and even dressed. Their “Castle Walk” was an international success. In 1913 Mr. Europe began providing the music for their act, and together they introduced the world to the fox-trot. Not for the last time, diverse cultures joined forces for the common good of their art. The years that followed saw ballroom dancing and dance bands taking hold as one of America’s favorite forms of amusement. Leader Art Hickman, whose base was San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, was a popular West Coast attraction. Paul Whiteman, whose 1920 recording of “Whispering” sold more than two million copies, owned the East. In between were hundreds of little-known, largely unrecorded, local ensembles playing in ballrooms for millions of eager feet. Was it swing? Not yet Jazz? Well, they often called it by that name, but the expanding size of bands, and a reliance on printed orchestrations, kept improvisation at a minimum. But it was frequently exciting, and it set the stage for the swing powerhouses that were ahead. Some of the most truly swinging sounds of the 1920s could be found in the clubs and ballrooms of Harlem. More than 5,000 people were at the 1926 opening of the Savoy, on Lenox Avenue and 140th Street In the 1930s, this “Home of Happy Feet” was the place for dancers. Truckin’, the Suzy Q and the Lindy Hop all got their start on its dance floor. As Ann Hampton Callaway puts it, its walls held “the hippest dancers ever found.” Things were most certainly Stompin’ at the Savoy! Duke Ellington (whose “It Don’t Mean a Thing . . . ” introduces us, the theater audience, to Swing!) formed his first band in 1918. By the 1920s, he was directing a group at New York City’s Kentucky Club. In December, 1927, Ellington opened at the Cotton Club, where a network radio “wire” carried his band to a dancing nation. Add to that endless rounds of recording (including sessions under assumed names) plus the waxing of Ellington titles by other artists, and you begin to appreciate the impact of his music. A piece by sideman Barney Bigard, “Saratoga Swing,” along with contemporary non-Ducal works like “Swing Out” and “Louisiana Swing,” indicates that swing did mean a thing by the close of the 1920s. (Earlier musical enticements to “strut,” “shuffle” or “stomp” amounted to much the same swing thing.) Fletcher Henderson is considered the father of the modern swing orchestra. But additional credit must go to his saxophonist, Don Redman, whose arranging skills established a pattern Henderson himself followed. The concept of pitting brass and reed against each other in a “call and response” fashion, and the notion of orchestrating sections in the manner of a jazz soloist, were not initially nor exclusively the work of these two, but it was in Henderson’s band they were codified. Henderson’s home base was the Roseland Ballroom. In the fall of 1924 its patrons found their fox-trots leavened by the mighty tenor sax of Coleman Hawkins, the fleet reed work of Buster Bailey, and twenty-three-year-old cornetist Louis Armstrong, whom Henderson drafted from New Orleans’ King Oliver. One year later, Louis was fronting his own big band (actually, wife Lil’s) at Dreamland, on Chicago’s South Side. A brilliant stream of recordings followed. In later years, Armstrong-as-personality may have displaced Armstrong-the-artist, but without the fiery young Louis, there might never have been a Bunny Berigan, Harry James or Dizzy Gillespie. And chances are slim anyone would have wound up jumpin’, jivin’ and wailin’ to another New Orleans trumpeter, Louis Prima. Both Berigan and James ignited the brass section of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, but the biggest attraction was always Goodman, the “King of Swing” himself. A native of Chicago, this future royal was a professional musician by the age of thirteen. He made his first recordings (in the company of young trombonist Glenn Miller) at seventeen. By 1931, he was leading the orchestra for Broadway’s Free For All. In 1934, Goodman’s own band opened at impresario Billy Rose’s Music Hall. Beginning that December, the Goodman band was heard coast-to-coast on NBC’s Let’s Dance. Surviving broadcast recordings indicate a mix of pop tunes (“Pardon My Love”) and songs already considered standards (“I Got Rhythm”). Behind the scenes were arrangers Spud Murphy, Deane Kincaide and Fletcher Henderson. When Let’s Dance finished its run, Goodman went on the road. It’s an oft-told tale: small, unenthusiastic crowds met the band; the nadir being Elitch’s Garden in Detroit. Turnaround came at a one-nighter in Oakland. It happened that Let’s Dance reached California, and its young swing enthusiasts, on Saturday nights at 9:30. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have deejay Al Jarvis spinning the latest Goodman sides, either. The Benny Goodman Orchestra, with Gene Krupa at the drums, opened at the Palomar Ballroom on August 21, 1935. If you need a date for the start of the Swing Era, this would be it. The Goodman band returned East, stopping for a unprecedented six-month engagement at Chicago’s Congress Hotel. Success piled upon success, culminating in that January 16, 1938 phenomenon, the “Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome wasn’t with the Goodman band that night. But he was there at the end of 1938, when Benny played the Paramount. The fans were unrestrained at the sight of their King. The screams and applause were discordant, “like the Beatles on the Sullivan show,” Jerome recalls. “It scared the hell out of me!” Jerry never considered Goodman’s a dance band. When they played a one-nighter, the perimeter of the bandstand was “jammed twelve to fifteen feet with bodies! On the floor were some jitterbugs that were cooking.” The jitterbugs weren’t just cooking to Benny Goodman. Dancers’ favorites included Count Basie and Glenn Miller. Jerry Jerome: “Glenn was extremely close to the dancers, and very anxious to please them. Miller was always trying to play for the audience.” After all, Miller reasoned, “They’re paying the bills.” Miller chose his tempos masterfully. Ballads such as his theme, “Moonlight Serenade,” with its hallmark clarinet lead, gave even the clumsiest dancers delusions of Astaire-dom, His uptempo numbers drew inspiration from the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, the Harlem ensemble that followed Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway into the Cotton Club. Count Basie arrived in New York at the end of 1936, The Count had moved from Kansas City’s Reno Club to the Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago, where he replaced veteran leader Fletcher Henderson, New York would be tough. There were plenty of established bands, and most of the prime locations were controlled by a small group of managers. A Decca recording contract helped, and so did a 1937 engagement at the Savoy. Two Swing! numbers, “Shout and Feel It” and “Swing, Brother, Swing,” were heard on a June broadcast. The latter is graced by the presence of Billie Holiday, as is an October 1937 broadcast from the Meadowbrook. Basie’s was the first black band to play that New Jersey location. Six decades after Goodman, Miller and Basie helped launch the first Swing Era, we find ourselves in the midst of a new one, Although the music of the big bands never completely disappeared, the roots of the current crop of swingers goes back about ten years. In The Swing Book, author Degan Pener provides an illuminating timeline that traces neo-swing from the founding of Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to the release of Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” and 1993’s Swing Kids. (Swing!’s Ryan François was the film’s Assistant Choreographer,) Swing bands, clubs and record labels proliferated throughout the 90s-and so have the dancers, from the youngest “Swing Kid” to Lindy innovator Frankie Manning, whose eighty-fifth th birthday was marked by a bash at Roseland. And now, there is Swing! Paul Kelly pitched the idea of a Broadway entertainment, which would focus on swing dance and music to producer Marc Routh. They began to seek out the best of the neo-swing bands performing across the country, as well as the top competitive dancers specializing in the various styles of swing dancing. Director-Choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett, whose background ranges from ballet to film to music videos to Broadway, began to immerse herself in the music and dance forms. While on a talent scouting trip to Los Angeles she discovered the music of Casey MacGill, the leader of the Spirits of Rhythm, whose career pre-dates the swing revival by a decade. Says MacGill, “She called me, and we started to talk about my band and my music,” He came to New York in May, 1999, Three of MacGill’s songs are in the show, but initially he declined a performing role, By Labor Day, he’d changed his mind, “I managed to get aboard as the train was pulling out of the station.” MacGill echoes Taylor-Corbett’s sentiment that one of the show’s strengths is its “interesting mixture of a lot of different influences,” and praises orchestrator Harold Wheeler as “a miracle man!” Creating a show like Swing! requires the collaboration of a unique group of artists. An Ann Hampton Callaway type was penciled in by the conceivers even before they asked her if she was interested in participating in the project. Her contribution of the song Two And Four is a perfect introduction for co-star Laura Benanti, and her additional lyrics to Stompin’ At The Savoy aid in giving the show its historical context. Vocalist Everett Bradley’s original tunes Throw That Girl Around and Show Me What You’ve Got add to the show’s contemporary edge. And Production Supervisor Jerry Zaks has helped to add the final polish to the evening of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s veritable catalogue of swing styles, from traditional Lindy Hop to West Coast Swing to Latin Swing to Country Western Swing. Her associate choreographers, who include Scott Fowler, Rod McCune, and Lindy specialist Ryan François, helped to bring this broad range of styles to life, all of it served up on the solid musical foundation provided by Musical Director Jonathan Smith and Musical Supervisor Michael Rafter. Swing and Broadway have crossed paths before, “It seems like a perfect fit,” says Degan Pener, “Broadway has always been about song and dance.” In 1929, Duke Ellington came downtown to appear in Show Girl, starring Ruby Keeler. That same year found Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra in Great Day, a well-intentioned flop that had the virtue of leaving behind “More Than You Know.” More successful was Hot Chocolates, with a score by Fats Waller, and both Armstrong and twenty-one-year-old Cab Calloway singing “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Louis and the Benny Goodman Sextet appeared ten years later in Swingin’ The Dream. Duke Ellington harbored Broadway ambitions, but his Jump For Joy closed after a twelve-week Los Angeles run. His jazz version of The Beggar’s Opera, called Beggar’s Holiday, managed a four-month stay at the end of 1946. It wasn’t until Sophisticated Ladies, with Duke’s son, Mercer, directing the orchestra, that Ellington’s music found a lasting home on Broadway. And, speaking of Duke . . . It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing): It’s nice to hear this Ellington standard performed with its verse intact. With tenor uke in hand, Casey MacGill delivers it genially, and with a tinge of the blues. An outburst of scat brings in The Gotham City Gates, and we’re off to the races! Jumpin’ At The Woodside: The assault continues with a rock solid interpretation of this Basie war-horse. The Gates briefly revisit “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” On stage, ten unison dancers match the band’s energy note for note. Bounce Me Brother (With A Solid Four): Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates not only gave us “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” but this number, too. Like three Andrews Sisters in one, Ann Hampton Callaway really sells it. A special treat is Ann’s trading “trumpet” licks with brassman Douglas Oberhamer. Two And Four: A Callaway original. Casey gives Laura Benanti a quick lesson in swing rhythm, He has help from the band, Leader Jonathan Smith, a “quiet guy” according to Lynne Taylor-Corbett, deserves “all the credit in the world” for his topflight work. Hit Me With A Hot Note And Watch Me Bounce: Supplies proof that the lesson took. Throw That Girl Around/Show Me What You Got: Two songs co-authored by Everett Bradley. Some astonishing tossing is going on in a battle of West Coast versus Latin Swing. Dancers Beverly Durand and Maria Torres are both Swing Dance title holders. “I was really eager to get dancers from the competition circuit,” says Lynne Taylor-Corbett. “I wanted to theatricalize these acts, and place them in a context so that they would feel like the same fabric as the rest of the show.” Bli-Blip: Who needs words. Ann Hampton Callaway & Everett Bradley’s bebop courtship finds them never at a loss for scat. Harlem Nocturne: A two bass hit. Bassist Conrad Korsch finds a “human bass,” Caitlin Carter, behind his own. A steamy number, solid playing, and a fine example of Swing!’s clever interaction between band members and cast. Kitchen Mechanics’ Night Out: Like Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz:’ a song that alludes to Thursday as “the help’s” night off, Casey MacGill, dressed like Cab Callaway, tells the story of Savoy-bound Jenny Thomas and “her Harlem Fred Astaire,” Ryan François. Shout And Feel It: This Count Basie original was never recorded by Basie . . . or anyone else until now. Discographies list only a single 1937 live performance by Basie at the “Home of Happy Feet,” the Savoy Ballroom. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy: After a straight reading of “Reveille” from trumpeter Douglas Oberhamer, Everett Bradley offers a mute, and things get funky. This is a brilliant recasting of the Andrews Sisters’ classic, Bradley, attired in business suit and briefcase, calls in his Maxene and Laverne equivalents: a pair of similarly suited 9-to-5ers. THE USO: G.I. Jive: Laura Benanti, Geralyn Del Corso and Caitlin Carter join forces on a Johnny Mercer tune that was a hit for both the composer and Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five in 1944. The moods shifts with I’m Gonna Love You Tonight: Michael Gruber serenades Laura Benanti. Seeing this Casey MacGill original staged is MacGill’s “most fun moment” in the show. And Lynne Taylor-Corbett is proud of her contribution to the lyrics, “To be allowed to guide his work is a privilege . . . you couldn’t ordinarily do that.” I’ll Be Seeing You: A powerful song. A wartime hit for Bing-Crosby and Tommy Dorsey that actually goes back to a 1938 show, Right This Way. Dancers Scott Fowler and Carol Bentley are the two lovers separated by time and continent. Ann Hampton Callaway gives it a deep, soulful reading. Casey calls, “Last dance!” and it’s time for In The Mood. Even in the “dark ages” before the swing revival, this was the one number absolutely necessary to complete a wedding reception. The Gotham City Gates glide seamlessly into Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, complete with quintet vocal, then back to “Mood” and a scat chorus. Swing, Brother, Swing: Ann Hampton Callaway, Laura Benanti, Everett Bradley, Michael Gruber and Casey MacGill with a number that once rocked the Savoy. Their voices become another section of the band, as arranged by Manhattan Transfer vocal arranger and vocalize expert, Yaron Gershovsky. Very hip. Caravan: The band gets one for itself, Dan Hovey is up first, with electric guitar licks that are part Chet Atkins, part Charlie Christian, yet all-Hovey. Trumpeter Douglas Oberhamer must have the strongest chops on Broadway. The trombone and saxes have their say, too. This is a thrilling moment; a real band playing for kicks. Cry Me A River: A simple piece, but an absolute knockout. And funny. Laura Benanti, with a straight reading of the Julie London hit, is ultimately seduced by the persuasive “talking” trombone of Steve Armour. Armour has mastered the plunger mute style pioneered by the Ellington Orchestra, Blues In The Night: Ann Hampton Callaway’s strong vocal performance on another Johnny Mercer lyric is matched by the steamy on-stage dancing of Caitlin Carter and Edgar Godineaux. Boogie Woogie Country: A “magic” hat turns shlub (Robert Royston) into cowboy rug-cutter. Western Swing was an important tributary throughout the big band era, Bob Wills’s Texas Playboys, for instance, made their first records just weeks after Benny Goodman’s 1935 Palomar Ballroom debut. This selection also points out one of the strengths of Swing!, the inclusion of diverse performers. Michael Gruber is a Broadway veteran; Robert Royston and Laureen Baldovi, four-time world champion US Open Swing and Country Dance Invitational winners, are making their debuts. All Of Me/I Won’t Dance: The “Bli-Blippers” of Act I are at it again! Ann Hampton Callaway amends the lyrics, turning these two great standards into one delightful patter song. And Everett Bradley does get his dance, Stompin’ At The Savoy: The Chick Webb band was playing this one at the Savoy ballroom as far back as 1934. Once again, Ann Hampton Callaway skillfully adds new lyrics to an old favorite. And her love of Ella Fitzgerald, Webb’s one-time girl vocalist, is much in evidence. FINALE: Swing, Brother, Swing/Sing, Sing, Sing/It Don’t Mean A Thing: The Company pulls out all the stops! First, another visit to “Swing, Brother, Swing,” then onto Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” complete with a vocal interpretation of the “Christopher Columbus” interlude, and finally, back to “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” Through it all, Lindy Hop master Ryan François keeps the jitterbugs cookin’! “Some of these tunes were originally dances,” says Lynne Taylor-Corbett “But the vocal component is equally as strong.” – Rich Conaty Rich Conaty has been a part of New York radio since 1973. He is heard weekends on WFUV-FM as the host of “Swing Time” and “The Big Broadcast.”

Credits

Ann Hampton Callaway Everett Bradley Laura Benanti Laureen Baldovi Kristine Bendul Carol Bentley Caitlin Carter Geralyn Del Corso Desiree Duarte Beverly Durand Erin East Scott Fowler Ryan François Kevin Michael Gaudin Edgar Godineaux Aldrin Gonzalez Janine LaManna Rod McCune J.C. Montgomery Arte Phillips Robert Royston Carlos Sierra-Lopez Jenny Thomas Keith Lamelle Thomas Maria Torres with Casey MacGill and The Gotham City Gates and Michael Gruber The Gotham City Gates: Conductor: Jonathan Smith Associate Conductor: Douglas Oberhamer Piano/Keyboard: Jonathan Smith Guitars: Dan Hovey Bass: Conrad Korsch Drums/Percussion: Scott Neumann Woodwinds: Matt Hong, Lance Bryant Trumpet: Douglas Oberhamer Trombone: Steve Armour Ukelele: Casey MacGilll Music Coordinator: John Miller