by Alix Cohen
There’s nothing like a stage of middle-aged, yellow-suited musicians to give one pause. Erupting into 1935’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” (Fred E. Ahlert/ Joe Young) however, The Jive Aces, making their debut at Birdland Theater immediately showcase not only infectious high spirits, but skilled musicianship steeped in 1930s-50s genres. “Write that letter, man!” the band calls out.
Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack the Knife” finds vocalist Ian Clarkson kinetically grooving. The Energizer Bunny would be left in dust by high wattage antics of this vivacious, deeply engaged performer.
Ken Smith (bassist) rocks back and forth, cleanly withdrawing and applying his hand, epitomizing Gorge and Ira Gershwin’s “Slap That Bass.” Alex Douglas (trombone) literally swings his slide, leaning back, feet spread, while John Fordham (sax) bends way forward and Vince Hurley rebounds off the piano bench. (I can’t see drummer, Peter Howell) This is an animated group.
“He’s a Tramp” (Peggy Lee) is performed by “chanteuse for the evening,” Annmarie Rosano of the singing group America’s Sweethearts. She fits right in. The vocalist looks terrific, has a come-hither voice, and sparkles with personality. Every sentiment shows on her expressive face. A mid-tempo “Too Darn Hot” (Cole Porter) arrives with sizzle as well as beat; hips wriggle, shoulders rotate, an arm extends, fingers snap. One long, final note circles the room like a boomerang.
“This is a very sad song,” is met with “Awww,” by the involved audience. Rosano and Clarkson duet “Just a Gigolo” (adapted by Irving Caesar) Gigolo, gigolo, gigolo…echoes the band. Parroting and call/response are buoyantly employed throughout. I ain’t got nobody… they sing in unison. Clarkson raises a knee, pivots, turns. Rosano follows. I’m so sad and lonely… is gleefully gargled.
Later, the chanteuse delivers a fast, hot, gospel “Saved” (Lavern Baker)…I used to smoke, drink, and dance the hoochie-coo…I used to lie and cheat, whoa yeah…Both moves and attitude seem to come naturally. Eyebrows form a point. Syncopated horns cut loose. Drums anchor rhythm.
L, is for the way you look at me/O, is for the only one I see/V, is very very, extraordinary … (“L-O-V-E” –Bert Kaempfert/Milt Gabler) Clarkson leaves the stage kneeling before a canoodling couple on the club floor, getting them up to dance-they’re good, moving through the audience, finally taking a partner himself. Collectively we tap, bob, clap, and bounce. The singer’s prized, yellow ukulele is disinterred for “Bring Me Sunshine” (Arthur Kent/ Sylvia Dee.) Bass enters low and humming. Rosano’s ballad voice is warm and smiley. We end with a wah, wah, wah.
Cabaret familiar Christina Bianco lends her robust vocal to an up-tempo/jitterbug “That Old Black Magic” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer.) Step, shift, step, shift. “Flame! Burning desire!” the men call out. Every time your lips meet mine-BABY! Bianco makes it look easy. Horn players hop.
Good natured schmaltz peeks in with Harry Warren/Jack Brooks’ “That’s Amore” replete with Graziela Clarkson’s genial accordion. Fordham’s sax exuberantly soars- boy can this musician fly! Both horns, in fact, know how to ride on straight eighths, swing out, and boogie-woogie. Trombonist Douglas dances between playing. A man who understands serious fun.
Suddenly Smith’s bass has opportunity to shine with a dynamic arrangement of “Dark Eyes,” better known as “Ochi Chyornye.” Deft hands work double time with territorial surety and a knowing wink.
For Jon Hendricks/Louis Jordan’s jump blues, “I Want You to Be My Baby,” Rosano revs up a mouthful of perfectly enunciated lyrics in performance worthy of a Stephen Sondheim tongue twister. Not a stitch is dropped…I want- I want you, I want you to be, I want you to be my baby…evokes more call/response.
The iconic “Sing, Sing” (Louis Prima) starts with a smidgen of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentle- men” and includes rousing, Cab Calloway Hi-De-Hos. Here, Howell’s drums might just as well be those of Gene Krupa for the power and finesse exhibited. We close with Prima’s “Jump, Jive, and Wail” during which Clarkson gets the entire club on its feet to leap and shimmy when cued. “Let me hear you say yeah!” “Yeah!” You betcha. This is a flat-out, no-holes- barred good time.
Caveats: 1. Charlie Chaplin’s beautiful “Smile” begins with solo ukulele, thrum, thrum brushes and accordion. Though a sax solo is terrific, the number loses its essence by swelling to something so fast and loose. 2. Pianist Vince Hurley, emulating Jerry Lee Louis, is a visual comedian but the weak link where musicianship is concerned.
There are two CDs and vinyl! https://www.jiveaces.com/
Photos by Steve Friedman
The Jive Aces
Guest Vocals- Annemarie Rosano, Christina Bianco
Sax- John Fordham, Trombone-Alex Douglas, Drums-Peter Howell, Bass- Ken Smith
Piano- Vince Hurley, Accordion-Grazia Clarkson
Last show December 18, 2018
Birdland Theater 315 West 44th Street NYC
Venue Calendar: https://www.birdlandjazz.com/calendar/