I’ve seen plenty of big bands at Birdland, mostly bluesy brassy blaring groups like Count Basie’s and Lionel Hampton’s, much of whose repertoire dates from 1940 or after. The mid-sized combo The Hot Sardines stays within the era of 1920s and 1930s, but does it with a saucy irreverence. Small big band Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, though, covers the same era as the Sardines, but with more scrupulous attention to stylistic accuracy. Oh they swing, for sure, but the arrangements are recreated in detail from actual recordings from that time. Think Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington’s very earliest recordings.
Giordano himself plays the bass line on a variety of instruments, including an aluminum standing bass, bass saxophone and tuba. He’s also quite the character, wisecracking all the way – but also being the best kind of “infotainment,” like, say, Mark Nadler, John Pizzarelli or Michael Feinstein. In between numbers, he goes into detail about who recorded what and when, and who did the arrangements. There is also a bit of theatricality to the band’s performance style, as when a phalanx of 4 clarinets swing wildly from side to side in precise unison.
They do requests, and composer Harry Warren figured prominently there, especially in a very “hot” swinging version of “42nd Street”, and Fletcher Handerson’s “Shanghai Shuffle”. There was a request from within the ensemble for Original Dixieland Jass Band’s “Indiana” which was one of the most hard-swinging moments of the night. Highly recommended.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.wordpress.com.