So you’re still trying to pretend you haven’t been swept up in the swing craze. That you don’t say, “I wish I could do that,” when the Gap khakis ad comes on. That you don’t know the words to Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive and Wail.” That you don’t think those black and white wingtips are pretty cool.
Even if you’ve escaped the tentacles of the swing trend, you shouldn’t miss the music.
The renaissance of swing dancing has sparked the formation of a whole new generation of groups that play the kind of horn-heavy, toe-tapping big band music that complements the Lindy, the jitterbug and the Charleston.
Groups like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra have exploded on the music scene with new twists on old favorites by Prima, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington.
The new arrivals haven’t just re-recorded the work of the old masters, however. They’ve infused their own sound, a sort of a `30s-meets-’90s spin, where everything old is new again.
New to the ’90s big band music revival is Colin James, a Canadian who has proved that blending old and new is a great combination. His newest album, Colin James and the Little Big Band II (Elektra Entertainment), combines swing classics like Prima’s “Oh Babe” and Cab Calloway’s “C’Mon with the C’Mon” with original songs like “Rocket to the Moon” and “Triple Shot.”
It’s a successful combination – the album is bright, fun and catchy. James has a strong voice, though it’s not as throaty and soulful as some of the original masters. His band plays with the kind of conviction that kept dancers swinging until the wee hours of the morning in the ’30s and ’40s.
James plays “jump blues,” a genre he says emerged “when the big band days were waning and rock `n’ roll was just emerging, from about ’49 to ’55, when bands were scaling down their horn sections and infusing it with rock, which wasn’t even called rock then.” The album is his second; Colin James and The Little Big Band I reached double platinum status in Canada.
Album No. 2 is fun – a description that is simple, but fitting for this collection of jazzed-up classics that capture the happy, friendly mood of swing. “Safronia B,” is the best track on the album, with strong horns, a catchy melody and the kind of nonsense lyrics that characterize so much of the genre.
James and the band do surprising justice to Ray Charles’ “Mary Anne,” without giving their listeners the awful feeling that Charles would shudder to hear it.
It’s an album that knows what it wants to be: a soundtrack for a night of dancing. Like Prima, Shaw, Ellington, Calloway and others before, James plays the music that makes swing happen.