Jazz Travels with Bill Hoffman
The venerable Montauk Club, a mansion overlooking Prospect Park in Brooklyn, was the site of the CD release party for Glenn Crytzer’s Ain’t It Grand? on Wednesday, May 9. A capacity crowd of listeners and dancers filled the hall. Fortunately for us listeners, the dance floor was at the back of the room, so our view of the band was not obstructed. That’s not a slam at the dancers; these people take their terpsichorean efforts seriously, and it shows.
Glenn has previously recorded with his Savoy 7 and a 13-piece big band (Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band). This latest effort features a 15-piece orchestra, with five reeds, three trumpets, three trombones, piano, drums, bass, and leader Glenn on guitar and banjo. In addition, Dandy Wellington and Hannah Gill joined on vocals. Most of the members were familiar to me, having seen them in other bands and in pick-up groups. Indeed, four of them—Mike Davis, Ricky Alexander, Jay Rattman and Joe McDonough—are part of Mike’s New Wonders, whose release I covered last month. Joe, however, was subbing for Ron Wilkins, a new member of the trombone section (and someone I have not yet heard). There have been a few changes in personnel since the recording session. The only absentee among the regulars was Glenn’s female vocalist, Hannah Gill, who was on the road. This was a retroactive disappointment to me after hearing her on the discs.
This party was actually the first of four consecutive Wednesday evening gigs in May at this venue, so the show ran a full three hours, not the usual 90-120 minutes of a typical release party. That residency will have ended by the time you read this, but you can visit Glenn’s website (GlennCrytzer.com) to get their current and future schedule.
The band was in great form; this was the first time I’d heard them in this configuration. I had not yet received the CD—it was in my mailbox when I got home “in the still of the night”—so I had no pre-conceived ideas of how they would sound.
The CDs contain a total of thirty songs, thirteen of them written and arranged by Glenn. He also did an original arrangement on “Marche Slav.” This amount of original music is remarkable. What has struck me before, and was repeated in spades here, is how much Glenn’s compositions sound like they were written in the late ’30s or ’40s. I am not alone in this perception. Will Friedwald, in his liner notes (which can—and should—be read, even if you don’t have the CDs, at AlbumNotes.GlennCrytzer.com), made the same observation, but in more erudite detail, as is his wont. If nothing else, Friedwald’s commentary is all the incentive you need to place your order. Quoting him: “Glenn Crytzer has, in fact, achieved something of a temporal miracle, in assembling 17 musicians and singers who have so perfectly absorbed the classic swing idiom that it’s like a language they can speak without any trace of a foreign accent.”
Not only do Glenn’s compositions evoke the Big Band era, their titles and lyrics do as well. On these discs are names like “The 408 Special,” “Steppin’ in Rhythm,” and “Up and At ’Em.” A tune by the latter name was recorded in the ’20s by such bands as the California Ramblers and Phil Spitalny. Finding two or more songs with the same name is not unknown. The content of songs can be copyrighted, but not the title. Recall, for instance, there are two songs titled “Once in a While”—the first recorded by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five in 1927, and the better known Tommy Dorsey hit of 1937. There are also two named “Sugar,” and three titled “Imagination.”
The hits of earlier bands that are included in this set are all authentic re-creations of the original. Perhaps the most striking performance of the evening was Jason Prover’s note-perfect reprise of Bunny Berigan’s solo on his theme, “I Can’t Get Started.” My research shows that that tune has not been recorded by any of Glenn’s bands—hint.
Please, now open your browser, type in GlennCrytzer.com, and order Ain’t It Grand. You’ll be happy you did. This is a truly authentic Swing Era band, and it was named “Best Group” in the 2017 NYC Jazz Awards. And check out Glenn’s other CDs while you’re at it.
Jazz Travels columnist Bill Hoffman is a retired management consultant and is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.