Solomon Douglas and The US Army Blues in DC Dec. 5 & 6

Another fine weekend of live swing music here in DC is in the books.

On Saturday, The Washington Swing Dance Committee hosted The Solomon Douglas Swingtet at Glen Echo Park.

The knock on Solomon over the years has been that his bands could be very inconsistent.  This was usually due to having an inconsistent line up of musicians from gig to gig.  He would typically travel alone and recruit local musicians from each city.  Often times first meeting, rehearsing and playing with them all in one day.

The upside to this process is that he has been able identify, assemble, and tour with a solid line up of musicians that  can handle the diverse array of music that he wants to play for Lindy Hoppers around the country.  Tunes that can range from the 1929 Jelly Roll Morton “New Orleans Bump”  to Sonny Rollins’ “Alfie’s Theme” from 1966.

Here’s a clip of the band playing Jive at Five from earlier in their tour.

There was a discussion on the Balboa Nation message board a few years ago that included a short exchange with band leaders Jonathan Stout (Campus Five) and Paul Cosentino (The Boilermaker Jazz Band) where they discussed how hard it is to find people who play can jazz in the more vintage style that is preferred by Lindy Hoppers.  So it’s impressive to see that Solomon has assembled players from across the United States from Rochester, NY to FortWorth, TX to Seattle, Washington.

The payoff is a band that figuratively as well as literally plays off of the same page.  And they  sound good doing it.  I’m not sure how long they’ve been together, but they swung as hard as a unit as they did in their solo’s.  They did sound like they’ve been together awhile from the way they were interacting with each other; from egging their band mates on when they weren’t playing to the reed section doing mini-choreographies with their instruments taking a cue from Jimmie Lunceford.

They were downright raucous during ”Cottontail” with tenor saxophonist Pete Peterson channeling his inner Ben Webster.  That dude was having a grand old time up there and even took his act around the ballroom during “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.”  You can’t fake that kind of enthusiasm.  You don’t just hear it, you can feel it when it’s real.

Here’s a clip of Pete playing “Avalon” with a different group.

I’d like to talk about all the band members because I didn’t hear a bad solo all night, as well as several outstanding ones, but I didn’t get all of their names.  I do want to mention Alcedric Todd on trumpet who took some hot solo’s during the Ellington standards “The Mooche” and “Black & Tan Fantasy.”

Like I said, I appreciated the variety in arrangements from song to song in terms of style from Fletcher Henderson’s “Just Blues” to the rousing finale of Basie’s theme song “One O’Clock Jump.”  You usually don’t get that kind of variety at a dance unless it’s coming from a DJ.

If I have one criticism, it’s that it felt that there were too many dramatic tempo shifts from song to song going from very fast one song to very slow the next.  That’s something I learned not to do as a DJ since that leaves beginner/intermediate dancers out of their element for two songs in a row.  In this case it wasn’t as bad with a live band playing, but it still felt like it happened too often for the crowd at Glen Echo.

My other issue is more of nitpick in that Solomon wheeled out a few show stoppers a little too early including “Casa Loma Stomp,” “Cottontail,” and “The Big Apple Contest Song” all in the first set.  Those are songs that would have been better appreciated in later sets especially considering the perpetual lateness of most Lindy Hoppers.  I think the Big Apples song especially would have had a better reception later in the evening with more people around who would have known what to do with it.  Still a great night of music overall

Even though I’ve heard of past criticisms of the bands that Solomon has put together in other cities, he’s always sounded strong here in DC.  I think that is because he would often draw from the same pool of players that populate the various military bands based here.

I saw one of those bands yesterday.  The US Army Blues shared a bill with the Washington Lee High School Jazz Band, performing selections from Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite.

Here’s a clip from a 2008 performance at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.

Apparently members of the US Army Band are working with the kids at Washington Lee High School.  I’m glad that’s happening because it’s important to nuture potential jazz talent out there.  It reminded me of a documentary I saw earlier this year entitled “Chops” as was part of the Smithsonian’s Jazz Appreciation Month festivities.

Check out this trailer of that movie which can now be downloaded from ITunes.

It’s a great look at the development of a group of jazz students from Florida as they prepare to compete at the Lincoln Center’s annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival.

The US Army Blues and all of the military bands, jazz and otherwise, play free concerts throughout the country, but spend most of their time here in DC.  Check out my previous post about this year’s Joint Service Jazz concert to find links to all of those bands, and find out when they’re playing next.

Solomon continues to tour with this band.  Check out his website for future dates.  He’s also spreading the rumor that they will be recording sometime in the near future and hoping to release a new CD sometime within the next year.

I’ll like to leave you with this nice jazz sentiment that I found on Pete Peterson’s MySpace blog.

If Jazz is a conversation taking place between musicians, it uses a language of notes instead of words.
There are several dialects within the language of Jazz, but jazz musicians from all over the world can get together and understand each other almost instantly.

If Jazz is a religion, its preachers are musicians and audiences are its congregation. Its scriptures are the standards from out of the Real Book, its sermons are improvised solos based on those scriptures.

If Jazz is a Lady, she’s beautiful, intelligent, and witty. Her eyes tell untold, wordless stories of joy, pain, sadness, gladness, fun, seriousness, love, hate, and every other emotion that’s ever been part of the human condition.

If Jazz is a story, it’s a story told and retold by the players, passed down through generations. Each generation learns the story from their elders, adds their own chapter, and passes it on.

Jazz musicians have as many ways to express emotions through music as eskimos have words for snow. Jazz is at once both a window to the player’s soul and a way of connecting that player to everyone listening. Jazz can mean different things to different people but Jazz is the soundtrack of the human condition.

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