Here’s a generous helping of Nouveau Swing from drummer Megan West’s California–based big band, which at least partly recoups in enthusiasm what it lacks in other areas, specifically precision. West, who has been playing drums since age twelve, formed her first band as long ago as 1975 and put the present group together last year. She steps aside on three numbers — “Honeysuckle Rose,” “It’s a Blue World,” “St. Louis Blues March” — to allow friend and mentor Jack Sperling to man the kit, and the two of them cross swords on Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing.” Returning to our comment about precision, allowances must be made for the fact that the album was recorded in about three hours in front of a group of invited guests, which may account for the abrupt entrances and exits and annoying fade–outs that mar the session. The band does swing, at least moderately, much of the time, but the ensemble is at times more shaky than solid while soloists as a whole are no better than passable. They’re unlisted, which is no cause for concern. As a drummer West gets the job done (she’s at her flag–waving best on Bobby Sherwood’s “Elk’s Parade”) but even though she’s the leader she hasn’t much chance elsewhere to hoist the colors, aside from planting an extra kick on Sammy Nestico’s “Hayburner.” West commits one tactical error with some ill–advised and rather inept scatting on “Honeysuckle Rose.” If one believes that any Tom, Dick or Megan can scat, West’s lame effort clearly contravenes any such notion. I had to listen twice to make sure it was as bad as I first thought. It was. But West is a pretty good drummer, and her swingin’ big band swings as hard as it can and as often as the music allows (there’s only so much any band can do to spruce up the likes of “Adios,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “It’s a Blue World,” “Sleepy Lagoon” and “Song of India”). The album warrants a passing grade, but not by much — and only for those who treasure the Swing Era and can’t soak up enough of its music. West’s ensemble is probably better when seen as well as heard. As noted at her web site, the band in concert “is a sight to behold, with the swinging of horns, the waving of the derby hats (mutes), the vocals and impressions of Megan West, the enthusiasm of the young, talented musicians and the unbelievable drumming of its ‘girl’ leader.” Unluckily for the band, such entertaining visual aids are of no use on an album. That’s a shame; they could have used the help.
Contact:Megan West Big Band, PMB #174, 1717 E. Vista Chino Road, Suite 7, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
Track Listing: Theme
Personnel: Megan West, drums, vocals; Danny House, Albert Alva, alto sax, clarinet; Jeff Driskill, Mark Visher, tenor sax, clarinet; Jim Youngstom, baritone sax, clarinet; Stan Watkins, Kye Palmer, Don Clark, trumpet; Bruce Otto, Jim Boltinghouse, Ron Dickinson, trombone; Quinn Johnson, piano; Bill Saitta, bass. Guest artist
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.