The Jazz.com Blog
December 10, 2008 · 0 comments
Eugene Marlow continues his account of one brave musician's plan to mount a large-scale big band extravaganza—with dancers, singers and lots of glitz—in the midst of present day New York. Forget the economic malaise and changing musical tastes. George Gee thinks swing is the answer. (For part one of this article, click here.) T.G.
I asked George Gee what the motivation was for his bold musical program for the Edison Ballroom? Why put together a 22-piece big band with vocal trio and tap dancers—a whole Swing Era type show in the new millennium?
“It is timely in a sense,” Gee replied. I have been in the business for 28 years, approaching three decades. And during those years, in the beginning especially, I had my doubts about whether people really loved this music and this dancing, the big band swing jazz. Ten years ago there was resurgence among the newer generation that discovered Lindy hop and big band music, and, mind you, some jump blues, like Louis Prima and Louis Jordan. And now it has kind of come back around to that classic big band sound of everyone from Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton, and Count Basie, and Glenn Miller—the classic big band sound.
“The Edison Ballroom demands a big band sound. It is not just the size of it, it is also the warmth and look of it, the feel of it. And the management of this new room thinks they have a goldmine creating a nightlife atmosphere venue with a big band.
“The big band we are putting together is going to be a 17-piece classic big band with a percussionist and a four-piece string section. I am very flattered and lucky that they realized that my approach to the big band, the music, and the show is entertainment. I am true to the music and the musicians. I really understand that when you have a 17- or a 22-piece big band on stage, it is showbiz, baby, it is show biz. And this floorshow we are creating is going to be a holiday theme special. It is going to be action-packed.
“There is going to be multimedia. We are utilizing clips and newsreels, and soundies from vintage movies. It is going to utilize the full lighting system and light show they have available at the venue. The whole cast with the dancers and the singers is 30-plus people. After the show there will be big band dancing to the classic big band sound.
“December 20th is opening night. It has a two-week run straight through January 3rd. We are not as of right now doing Christmas Day, December 25th. But we will be doing the big show of course on New Year’s Eve, December 31st.”
The owners of the Edison Ballroom were drawn to George Gee’s big band from the reputation he has built over many years, much of it word-of-mouth, together with an Internet presence. I asked George what closed the deal.
“One night the owners came down to Swing 46. We had a very jumping fun room. Grammy-nominated singer Carla Cook was in the house and the owner’s comment at the end of the night, which really touched me and made me realize I was jumping into a good project, was ‘Look at all these smiling, happy faces, George. That is what I want at the Edison Ballroom.’ Of course, making money is also important. But when people realize this is happy music, this is really swing and big band and dancing, it is really about putting a smile on your face. It’s that simple. And they seemed to comprehend that. It might not override the bottom line, but it is in the mix.
“Also, together with the floor show, they have a four-star kitchen cuisine. It is going to be a pretty high-ticket event geared towards the New York City night life and attracting the tourist trade.”
This is the end of part two of Eugene Marlow’s article on George Gee. For part three of this article, click here.