Big Band Swing Slam at Copacabana

Daniel Kassell By

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Swing is Back! And the Copacabana was the Place, 560 West 34th Street at 11th Avenue, NYC on October 25th, 2003 for Broadway Musical Director Danny Holgate and a band of journeymen musicians who would “transform us back to the classic 1940's and ‘50's Night Club Era” according to Tiffany Wright, the evening’s hostess.

I recognized Zane Paul from the Cab Calloway Orchestra in the first tenor chair; Brad Shigata-trombone from George Gee’s Band; Brian Grice from Calloway Brooks’s recording band at Birdland; Al Gata-electric rhythm guitar (with Dizzy Gillespie’s early 70's) and Danny Holgate-piano whose credits include Bubbling Brown sugar, Eubie, Guys & Dolls revival and a recent Billy Holiday revue.

Opening with “Symphony Sid”, “Tuxedo Junction” and “String of Pearls” the rhythm got the dancers on the floor. A dark haired gal’s smile caught my eye, but before accepting my invite to dance protested that she had not danced to swing before but then Gisela did just fine interpolating her natural latin rhythm. Afterward a bevy of short skirted gals began serving rounds of hor d’oeuvres.

On “One Day at a Time”, a song by Johnny Brandon who staged tonight’s event, the Big Band got a chance to shine on it’s own before THE HIP CHICKS captured us all - first Gabrielle Lee with a powerful voice and delightful shrieks over Mr. Holgate’s piano then LaTanya Hall (Jackson) sang “Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t, My Baby”, making me believe that she was asking me! Zane Paul played a hip clarinet solo that generated the first applause for an instrumental solo. The next highlight, was a Brian Grice drum solo on another Brandon song “Percussion” but the tap dance team The Williams Brothers, both in tux and tap shoes, stole the show to “A-Train” accompanied by Ned Holder-trombone and Bob Magnuson-alto sax (from Mike Longo’s Band) with a stop- time tap sequence against the whole Swing Band! When is the last time that happened live on a New York stage? Now that they have our attention the tap duo mirror sings synchronized solos, time steps, shuffles then shows off with a medley of songs concluding with Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” including both Hip Chicks and the male singer.

Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”, the Band’s finale (Cab was Danny Holgate’s boss for 20 years), led by Brian Grice charging the rhythm section and LaTanya as Minnie distracting us in a scanty blue sequined flapper leotard costume.

The exceptionally well thought out program and band presentation bodes well for the return of Big Band Swing to the Copa.


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