The Jazz.com Blog
December 02, 2008 · 2 comments
Since the decline of the big bands some sixty years ago, a few brave souls have bucked the trend and tried to keep large-scale swing alive. Some will even tell you that a swing revival is underway. But few are more ambitious than George Gee, who is planning to mount a huge big band extravaganza in a few days—a full show that will include dancers, strings, vocalists and a large jazz ensemble. Eugene Marlow has the details below in the first installment of a three-part article. T.G.
The so-called “Swing Era” may have technically ended with the conclusion of World War II in the mid-1940s and the nascence of bebop, courtesy of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. But don’t tell that to the various big (and moderate-sized) swing bands purveying their sounds around the country, particularly in the “Big Apple,” New York City.
Holding court in New York, or perhaps it should be said, holding “sway” in this resurgence of appreciation for the sounds of swing, is George Gee, a one-time “mentee” of Count Basie in his later years. While there are other swing bands in the city, both public and private, such as the “Sultans of Swing” at Birdland, and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, George Gee’s various iterations of the big-band swing sound have held forth at Swing 46 on Manhattan’s “Restaurant Row” for over 10 years. A one-time bass player, Gee might well be called the “King of Swing” in New York these days. Certainly he has the credentials to deserve the moniker.
Gee’s big news is that his big band, a staple most Tuesday nights at Swing 46, will now also appear at the Edison Ballroom on 47th and Broadway. The difference is Swing 46 is an intimate dance/supper club. The Edison Ballroom is a newly renovated, deco-style dance/supper club designed for a really, big show. I talked with George about his tenure at Swing 46, the evolving audience for swing dance music, and his forthcoming gig at the newly renovated Edison Ballroom:
“The Swing 46 phenomenon is getting stronger and stronger. I have been there for over 10 years and people still come out and dance, young or old, all races. Last night, besides the locals, there were people from Australia there, Spain, and Japan.
“While I was in Japan over the summer I was contacted by the management of the new Edison Ballroom, the former supper club on West 47th Street and Broadway. It is a gorgeous ballroom, art deco. It is part of the Edison Hotel. It’s been renovated. They kept a lot of the art deco with a couple of modern touches to it. It is mainly used for private parties right now. But the bottom line is that we are putting together a classic 1940s supper club big band floorshow and dancing type of atmosphere. And we are debuting it around the holiday season and New Year’s Eve.
“It is going to feature a 22-piece big band, myself as band-leader and ring leader, an Andrews Sisters vocal trio, plus a variety of other vocalists. Plus old school tap dancers in the style of Bill Robinson, Buster Brown, and Howard ‘Sandman’ Sims. And a six-member Lindy-hop dance team to perform with the orchestra and the floorshow.
“The management of the Edison Ballroom loves the idea. They are basically putting their money where their mouth is and putting in the time and investment to make this ultimate New York City big band show happen on Broadway, and in the only room possible that I think something like this can be pulled off. It is a classic big band ballroom from the 1930s and the 1940s. It is going to be really quite a spectacle.”
This is the end of part one of Eugene Marlow’s article on George Gee. For part two of this article, click here.