Without a doubt one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of being a part of the vintage subculture is the fact that I get to meet many fascinating folks who, while not necessarily bloggers themselves, are every bit as an integral a part of the scene as those who are.
Sometimes they're hot rod and classic car enthusiasts, other times they're vintage sellers who don't dabble too much online. Sometimes they're professional historians or genealogists who work focuses (at least in part) on the decades I hold most dear, and many are entertainers from all manner of fields, the music industry very much included.
It is in this latter camp that I first came to know, through the web, legendary American jazz band leader Glenn Crytzer (whose current group is called the Glenn Crytzer's Savoy Seven), who is also well acclaimed as a composer, guitarist, banjoist, and singer. Music is clearly in this man's veins and radiates out in each project that he throws his heart and soul into.
Earlier this year Glenn gave me a shout and invited me to listen to his newest album, Uptown Jump, which is a stellar modern creation that is almost hauntingly mid-century sounding in its authentic jazz/big band era-ness. I've listed to a fair bit of Glenn's previous works (Uptown Jump is his sixth album to date) and was always struck by the same thing, but perhaps no more so than with the eighteen tracks on this gleefully enjoyable offering.
This is the kind of album that deserves a place on your shelves (or digital music listing device of choice) every bit as much as anything ever dreamed up by the likes Harry James, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey or any of the other 1930s and 40s greats of the industry. For while Glenn's work shares much in common with that of the best of the best from decades past, one picks up a sense of deeply appealing originality instantly in his music and that makes you fall for it all the more.
There is a smooth richness and electric energy to the fantastic tunes that appears on Uptown Jump and it will have you moving passionately to the beat without even realizing it. This is vintage sounding big band swing and jazz at its purest, sweetest, and most sublime.
I hadn't even gotten halfway through the first track ("The Savoy Special") when I knew that I had to pick Glenn's brain and share the results here with all of you. Settle in, enjoy these twelve rapid fire questions with the man behind the (big band) music and then be sure to give Uptown Jump a listen yourself.
1. Your latest album, Uptown Jump, is a toe tapping, fantastic compilation of songs that channel the distinct sound of mid-century swing era music, but which were, impressively, I may add, composed, arranged and performed by yourself and your band mates. What was the main motivation behind creating a completely new roster of songs, instead of covering previous titles from the big band era?
In the last 10 or so years, a lot of young musicians have taken up the torch of performing swing music and traditional jazz, helping to revive music that was on the verge of dying out. But, one of the things I think that the scene today needs to stay vibrant is to bring new songs into the mix. There are tens of thousands of old songs that are amazing so it's not like we don't have ENOUGH songs, but I think that without creating new material, vintage jazz music becomes more of a museum piece rather than a viable art form.
Right now, you don't see much of people playing the tunes of their contemporaries. I hope that the idea of playing each other's tunes will grow on people in the next 10 years. I'd love to walk into a jam session and find people playing one of my tunes or a tune of one of my friends' right along side tunes by Gershwin or Jelly Roll Morton or Jimmy McHugh. When we start playing one another's music it opens the door for composers of today who write a great tune to have it become one of the "standards" and it gives instrumentalists the chance to create interpretations of something new, just as their predecessors did.
I'm planning a concert for next April with my 7 piece group that's going to be all original stuff from myself and other colleagues who are writing tunes. I'm hoping that this will bring some more focus to living song writers who are writing really good, swingin' tunes, and maybe even encourage other people to play some of our music.
2. Going forward, do you suspect that you'll create more completely original albums like this?
Yep. This is my 3rd go at a completely original record. Harlem Mad was my first, in 2009, and then we released an all original EP in 2013 called "Focus Pocus." I like doing it because it gives the band the chance to be the first players to record something and put it in the world. There's something special about that.
3. What are some of the biggest influences in the sound and soul, if you will, of your music?
Well, there are the obvious influences - the old dance bands and combos led by Basie, Goodman, Shaw, Ellington and their contemporaries. But the two other big influences are the the musicians I am writing for and the dancers in the audience.
It's my goal as a composer and an arranger to put players in musical situations that make them shine brighter as an instrumentalist than they would in a typical "head tune" situation. A head tune situation is what you hear in most jazz performances - the trumpet takes the melody, everybody takes a solo chorus or two and then they play the melody again to end the tune. That's 90% of jazz performances. In that situation each instrumentalist is going to get a long solo on which to express himself, but there's nothing really highlighting their unique abilities and there's a sameness to the form of every song.
In my composing and arranging, I'm thinking about ways that I can use each guy's unique talents, their personality and sound in the the service of creating a 3 minute musical journey, taking our listeners from point A to point B. Guys aren't going to get as long of solos in a situation like this, but I'm giving their solos a larger context that really makes them stand out and shine more than they would in a daisy chain of chorus after chorus. I'm also giving them the chance to use a wider range of colors in their sonic pallet because the arrangement is demanding a particular thing of them in a particular moment.
I'm also thinking a lot about the dancers in our audience - I've been dancing lindy hop myself for about 16 years and that's how I got into this music in the first place. There are different elements of the music that dancers react to: style, the flow of an arrangement, tempo, energy, etc. More advanced listeners are going to hear more of what's going on in each of those categories and be able to respond to it in their dancing. It's always my goal to make music that a dancer isn't going to outgrow by becoming a better listener. I try to make the music that you can have really fulfilling, interesting dances to, that you can connect with on a deeper level - where the style is right and the arrangements are interesting and the energy comes from inside the music.
4. For those who may not be familiar yet with your work, how long have you been a musician?
I've been a jazz musician for about 10 years. I started playing jazz banjo just for fun in 2005, and took up guitar in 2008. I started going it full-time in 2011. Prior to that, I studied classical cello and composition in college and conservatory. So I've been playing music all my life, but jazz I've taken on more recently.
5. Is being a musician your full time career at this point?
Answered above. :)
6. When you create a new song or album, do you picture a specific (hypothetical) target audience member in mind or do you like to create for the masses, so to speak, and then enjoy seeing who flocks to your work after it has been released?
My goal is always to make music that is interesting to listen to and perfect to dance to. My definition of what is "good" comes from a deep understanding of music and dancing rather than what is most marketable. After all if I were in the music business to become rich and famous I wouldn't be playing vintage jazz - so I don't really see any reason to sell out in a genre where the stakes are so low anyway!
So I guess my target audience is people who are really hip listeners - whether they're just there to listen or they're interpreting what they're listening to as dancers. They're really checking out what a tune has to say and how we're saying it as performers.
I consistently find that the people in the listening or dancing scene who are into what I'm doing are intelligent, insightful, interesting people. Our fans usually have really observant things to say about music, they often hip me to songs or other performers I might like to check out, or sometimes they tell me about totally interesting stuff, history, science, politics, etc. that has nothing to do with our music but that is fascinating. It's nice to be surrounded by people like that.
7. Your music heavily (and beautifully!) echos that of the jazz/swing/big band styles of the 1920s - 1940s. Is there a specific decade in particular that you feel drawn to from a music standpoint, and if so, which one?
Basically 20s through 40s is my thing, but I try not to mix and match eras within a tune. I think that the "generification", if you will, of vintage music is a really negative thing. I see this a lot in the dance scene where people will be doing 1940s Frankie Manningesque swing outs to some band playing really hot 1920s music. It just looks silly - the movement has nothing to do with the music, but people lump it together as a genre more and more and mix and match it. I think that's sad, because you lose all the interesting parts of the music that way.
So for me, I really try to nail a specific style, but to find my own voice within that style. I think "if I were alive in 1941, what would I be playing/writing?" Sure it'd be influenced by Duke, and Basie, and Goodman, but I wouldn't be running a tribute band to one of those guys, I'd be trying to do my own thing.
8. What are some of the ways in which living such a music filled life has enriched your world on a personal basis?
Well, as I mentioned above, I get to meet a lot of really interesting people. I get to travel, I get to explore my creativity on a daily basis.
It also takes a lot of self-discipline to have a non-traditional sort of job. You have to set your own goals and stick to them. You have to be your own worst critic. There's not a lot of safety net, and you have to deal with situations all the time that are unfair. Rejection is a way of life. This stuff wrecks some people, but if you can survive it it makes you a stronger person.
I think the most gratifying thing I get out of music, and probably the one that keeps me going when it is difficult, is that I get to do something that enriches other people's internal lives. If I can make your day better with music, then that's pretty great.
9. What's something interesting that you wish more folks knew about your music, that they might not (already) be aware of?
I'm not sure on this one. Have to think about it.
10. Are you touring to promote your your current album?
Nope. No touring planned. I was in a car accident about 2 years ago where I broke my wrist and shoulder on tour, spent several days in the hospital and couldn't play for 3 months. So, I'm not super keen to drive around for weeks on highways in a van and repeat my experience. We might head out to some specific areas for a week or so though. Some things in the works I can't talk about just yet!
11. Have you begun work on your next album or are you savouring the enjoyment of working with the tracks from this one at moment?
Just enjoying having this one knocked out! When the next one comes - who knows!?
12. And last not least, because this is a vintage style centered blog after all and I'm sure some of my readers will be curious about this point, do you wear vintage fashions often/all the time yourself, and what other areas (if applicable of your life) do you enjoy filling with vintage items?
In general if you show up to a vintage jazz gig in NYC mis-dressed nobody will take you seriously. Most recently I picked up a nice repro navy boating jacket with white piping for summer wear.
My next project will be getting a 3 piece, double breasted suit with a belted back made from some fabric I scored at the Boardwalk Empire fire sale a while back. Hopefully I can get that made this fall - I'm really looking forward to it.
♪ ♫ ♪
Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us here, Glenn. I know what a busy chap you are and I really appreciate that you wanted to share more about your work with my vintage adoring audience, many of whom are as wild for old school sounding tunes as you and I both are. I've had Uptown Jump on heavy rotation all summer long and find it as fresh and energizing each time I listen to it as when I first heard these catchy new eighteen songs.
Are you familiar with Mr. Crytzer's work? Have you listed to Uptown Jump yourself? Are you a fan of big band music, too? (If you're fairly new to the genre, this album really is a superb introduction to the kind of top-notch modern does vintage offerings that are on the scene these days!)
I swear, I've been thinking for a few months now about writing more often about old school music, as it's a huge love of mine, and I’m thrilled that this interview with Glenn gave me the chance to do just that. If you'd like to see further posts focused on vintage (and vintage sounding) tunes here in the future, please don't hesitate to leave a comment and let me know. It's definitely a topic that I'd be game to write about more often!