George Gee, as energetic and enthusiastic a bandleader as you are likely to meet, has at least two bands under his baton, the larger Swing Orchestra and the Jump, Jive and Wailers, which is actually a tentet. And he may have three, if the Swing Orchestra isn’t a renamed version of Gee’s Make Believe Ballroom Orchestra, which recorded at least two albums a few years back. Whatever the case, the Wailers are a throwback to the jump/swing/proto-R&B groups of the ‘40s and ‘50s led by such showmen as Louis Prima, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, Erskine Hawkins and others, and as such are aimed at pleasing a (relatively) younger audience.
On Buddha Boogie, recorded in 1999 but still available, the Wailers come out swinging hard on tenor saxophonist Lance Bryant’s “Buzzin’, Baby!” (on which he and trumpeter Walt Szymanski are the soloists). Gee reprises Lionel Hampton’s vocal on “Hamp’s Boogie,” Bryant is the vocalist on his own groover, “She’s Never Satisfied,” and guest singer Carla Cook teams with Szymanski on Lieber/Stoller’s suggestive “You’re the Boss.” Bryant wrote two more sociable swingers, “Duckin’ and Divin’” and “Foo-La-Di-Oo Wee Dot,” and is the vocalist on both.
The Wailers salute the legendary Lightnin’ Hopkins with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and Big Joe Turner with “Roll ‘Em Pete” (again, vocals by Bryant), Count Basie with Frank Foster’s “Basie Boogie,” Sy Oliver with the blazing “Well Git It!” (on which Szymanski sits in for Ziggy Elman), Jan Savitt with “720 in the Books.” Szymanski is the vocalist on “The Continental” and solos with Bryant and trumpeter Steve Wiseman on Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still.”
Whatever one’s opinion of the Swing Revival, it can’t be denied that Gee hires only first-class musicians, and the Wailers are among the best at what they do. As most of them double in Gee’s larger Swing Orchestra, the jazz solos are also topnotch, with Bryant, Szymanski, Wiseman, baritone Alex Harding, clarinetist Ed Pazant and pianist Rick Germanson among the standouts. Those who are fond of lively and well-played swing should warm quickly to Buddha Boogie.