Some of the greatest names music has known came to the fore during this time, and their songs are faithfully reproduced here by the Brendan Fitzgerald Jazz Ensemble.
The musicians and band leaders Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and Glenn Miller are represented, while the sublimely talented Charmaine Jones and emerging talent Ben Gatehouse perform respectful tributes to singers including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and more in a style true to the era.
The seven-piece ensemble features a four-piece brass frontline, anchored by Fitzgerald on keyboard, Quinton Dunn on double bass and Satomi Ohnishi on drums.
Apart from nailing Krupa as well as anyone, Ohnishi also wrote all the musical arrangements – no mean feat considering the variety of styles unique to each band featured and the fact that most consisted of 14 to 16 players. The brass and reed players play multiple instruments with great aplomb in both solos and ensemble work.
Fitzgerald wrote the script for the show with actor Steve Gration, who plays the role of narrator George T Simon, the leading music critic of the day. It is through the character of Simon that the audience learns much of the history of the times. The Great Depression, racial discrimination (and swing’s role in attempting to break down race barriers), the rise of Nazi Germany and the escapism provided by the great bands are all covered.
German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ laughable attempt to use German swing musicians as a propaganda tool is dealt with, and we are also taken on a journey through Japanese and Australian swing.
After an evening a great songs – including “A Tisket, a Tasket”, “Misbehaving” and “All of Me”, to name a few – the tragic death of Glenn Miller in a plane crash over the English Channel leads us to the fitting finale, “In the Mood”.
It was followed by a well-deserved encore in which Jones and Gatehouse belted out a fantastic “Body and Soul” based on the Tony Bennett/Amy Winehouse arrangement.
This great show deserves to be seen by a wider audience than just swing fans and will reward anyone who appreciates quality music presented by excellent musicians.
Swing will be presented again at the Salisbury Institute on February 21; Arkaba Top Room on March 6 and 10, and the Brighton Theatre on March 12.
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