We should begin by stating the obvious — The Big Band Sound, which has been performing in and around New York’s Hudson River Valley since 1975, is an amateur endeavor. On Live and Swingin’!
the BBS recreates in its fashion many of the familiar songs from the Swing Era, blending a few more recent works (Sammy Nestico’s “Fun Time” and “Ya Gotta Try,” Don Sebesky’s “The Swinger,” Lennie Niehaus / Bill Holman’s “Theme and Variations,” the Sinatra favorite “Fly Me to the Moon”), most everything designed for dancing and listening, as used to be the case when big bands were king of the hill. There’s an audience here, and it sounds like the large economy size; ample background chatter and apparently no effort made to keep the noise level down. On the contrary, everyone seems to be enjoying thoroughly the Big Band Sound, which in a perfect world is as it should be. As is sometimes the case with live recordings, balance is problematic — drummer Mark Pozza seems often to be hammering on bricks instead of skins (Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” is especially clamorous), while, on the other hand, Bill Ashby’s piano sounds thin and anemic. Brass and reeds do the best they can, but there are a number of audible “clams” and difficulties with intonation and precision that set them apart from those who play on a daily basis. The recording itself doesn’t do them any favors either. Solos are for the most part brief and cautious, and the vocalists (Mike Amarello on “Marie” and “Summer Wind,” and especially Leslie Bellini on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Fly Me to the Moon”) are barely tolerable. There’s an amorphous group vocal by the band as well, on the Johnny Long hit “Shanty in Old Shanty Town.” Although no one would ever confuse The Big Band Sound with the bands of yesteryear whose music they are emulating, the ensemble is out there in the trenches doing its utmost to keep this marvelous genre alive and swinging, and one can only appreciate and applaud the endeavor even as he acknowledges its all–too–conspicuous blemishes. Director Dave Cole’s Big Band Sound means to entertain, which it does, and if the performance is less than perfect, at least it is striving to achieve its purpose, and this country could benefit greatly if many more like–minded ensembles were to pick up the gauntlet and keep on swingin’ as well as they know how simply for the sheer pleasure of helping other people unwind and enjoy themselves, as the big bands did in the good old days.
Track listing: Strike Up the Band; Marie; Satin Doll; By Myself; It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Jump, Jive and Wail; Leap Frog; Shanty Town; Fun Time; Sing, Sing, Sing; In the Mood; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Ya Gotta Try; Summer Wind; Swing, Swing, Swing; Two O’Clock Jump; Fly Me to the Moon; The Swinger; Theme and Variations; Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy; Sweet Georgia Brown (73:25).