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The Glenn Crytzer Orchestra: Ain't It Grand?

Jack Bowers By

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As Karen Carpenter once sang, it's "yesterday once more"—at least it is whenever and wherever the gregarious Glenn Crytzer Orchestra springs into action. Crytzer's ensemble not only revitalizes songs from the long-ago Swing Era of the 1920s, '30s and '40s, its high-stepping two-CD set, Ain't It Grand?, even sounds as though it were recorded in those halcyon days of vinyl, shellac, gramophones and 78rpm records, even though the truth, shall we say, is rather more contemporary, as in New York City 2018. In this case the antiquated, boxy yet entirely appropriate sound isn't accidental; it was endorsed on purpose.

The fact is that Crytzer, who recast his allegiance from classical music to swing in his mid-twenties, is not yet forty; many of the songs that he and his fifteen-piece orchestra perform are more than twice as old as he, some by the proverbial country mile. On the other hand, Crytzer composed about a dozen songs for the session and they too sound like they could have been written for the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Glen Gray, Jimmie Lunceford, Andy Kirk or later Swing Era bands: Shaw, Barnet, Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, Miller, Basie, Herman and so on. Clearly, he has bought into the notion that "old" isn't necessarily "bad," as has his backward-leaning yet industrious ensemble.

In fact, Crytzer's manic "408 Special," which opens Disc 1, is such a free-spirited throwback that it would have fit quite snugly into the library of most of the aforementioned ensembles, as would any other of his earnest salutes to yesteryear. Swing Era stalwarts whose compositions are nestled alongside Crytzer's include Basie, Lunceford, Goodman, Shaw, Duke Ellington, Sy Oliver, Jerry Gray and Lucky Millinder. There's even a place on Disc 2 for Peter Tchaikovsky, Crytzer's remodeled arrangement of the maestro's "Marche Slav." One small glitch: Crytzer is credited on Disc 2 with having designed the clever play on words, "Massachusetts," a song that was actually written long before he was born. Besides composing and arranging, Crytzer is listed as playing guitar and banjo as well as singing, although it's not clear where he does that, as the orchestra employs two other vocalists, Hannah Gill and Dandy Wellington (whose very name suggests "Swing Era") and no credits are given. Gill especially sounds like a credible Swing Era holdover.

When appraising music from any genre or era, one's basic questions must be, is it faithful to its source and performed with expertise and awareness? In this case, the answers are yes and yes. Thanks to Crytzer and his studious teammates, the spirit and substance of the Swing Era lives on. For those who bemoan its demise, cherish its upbeat and outgoing temperament or simply like to dance, this is a good thing. Or as Crytzer himself would no doubt say, Ain't It Grand?

Track Listing: Disc 1: The 408 Special; Black Beauty; Just Like a Broken Record; Up and at ‘Em; Ain’t It Grand?; When I Get Low I Get High; A String of Pearls; Blue Jay; Steppin’ in Rhythm; Who’s Yehoodi?; A Woman Needs a Man; Jive at Five; I’m Nuts About Screwy Music; Thank You for the Moments; Well, Git It! Disc 2: Rhythm Is Our Business; The Glory of Love; Jubilee Stomp; Who Needs Spring?; Shorty’s Got to Go; Solo Flight; Marche Slav; I Get Ideas; The Ugly Duckling; The Little Orange Man; The Mooche; Massachusetts; Swing My Soul; Bear Foot Blues; Traffic Jam.

Personnel: Glenn Crytzer: director, arranger, guitar, banjo, vocals; Sam Hoyt: trumpet; Mike Davis: trumpet; Jason Prover: trumpet; Rob Edwards: trombone; Joe McDonough: trombone; Jim Fryer: trombone; Jay Rattman: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Mark Lopeman: alto, tenor sax, clarinet; Marc Schwartz: alto, tenor sax, clarinet; Matt Kozar: tenor sax, clarinet; Henry “Ricky” Alexander: alto, baritone sax, clarinet; Bob Reich: piano; Ian Hutchison: bass; Andrew Millar: drums; Hannah Gill: vocals; Dandy Wellington: vocals.

Title: Ain't It Grand? | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced

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