Swing music is alive and well as evidenced by the proliferation of Swing dance festivals and celebrations that take place all around the world. Now, on MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS, a band of top-notch, well-travelled, Swing-inspired musicians have come together to re-create the exciting sounds and rhythms of the Swing band era.
Although Swing music began developing in the late 1920s, Benny Goodman’s historic performance at the Palomar Theater is widely considered the beginning of the Swing Era, which lasted through the 1940’s. With big bands led by artists like Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, and Count Basie, jazz had reached its peak of popularity, and the music’s infectious rhythms spawned a dance movement that persists to this day. The Lindy Hop (named after Lindberg’s “hop” across the Atlantic, though of contested provenance) was the progenitor of many dance styles that were very popular among young people of the time.
As popular culture changed, Swing music was eclipsed in the 1950’s by other styles of music, and many of the dance halls and ballrooms that were once filled with exuberant young Swing dancers shut down. But the Swing feel had left its mark on music, and although interest waned, Swing dancing still had many adherents. There was a surge of interest in the music and dance in the 1980s, and today there are dozens of Swing events all over the U.S. and Europe. There is even interest in Swing in places as far away as Japan and Shanghai.
Bass player Michael Gamble has been involved with Swing music for many years. Gamble is a native and resident of Asheville, North Carolina, a small city with a thriving arts scene and a resilient jazz presence that has become a cultural hub for the region. Music has been central to Gamble his entire life. His father owned a small record label and recording studio, and his house was filled with musical instruments. Gamble, who at first studied piano and got his undergraduate degree in jazz studies, had an early fascination with keyboards because his next door neighbor was Robert Moog, the inventor of the eponymous Moog Synthesizer. Gamble’s love for Swing music began in college when he attended Swing dance classes. He soon switched his focus to the bass and became involved in the burgeoning Swing movement.
Today, Gamble runs Lindy Focus in Asheville. Lindy Focus is the largest celebration of Swing music and dance in the country. A five-day celebration, it features authentic big band music along with many of the world’s best dance instructors. MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS was recorded at the historic Isis Music Hall during a recent festival. This small but acoustically renovated theater built in 1937 provided the perfect setting to replicate the ambiance of the time. The recording was done live with no overdubbing, using state-of-the-art equipment and engineering techniques to faithfully capture the sound and feeling of a live band of the Swing Era.
According to Gamble, “Swing musicians often get to perform with other like-minded musicians from all around the country because we all travel to these large events, which unfortunately have become just about the only financially feasible way of assembling a big band. When we had our last Lindy Focus, all these fine musicians descended on Asheville, and I thought it was a great opportunity to get some of these players in the studio together. These musicians are real pros who’ve performed this music many, many times, which is why we were able to cut all tunes on the CD in just two days.” There are 18 tunes on the physical CD and 23 on the download.
Rather than trying to re-create the music in a more modern context, the Rhythm Serenaders stay true to the original idiom. The selections feature well-known arrangements and tunes by masters like Benny Goodman’s “Seven Come Eleven,” and his more obscure “Pick-A-Rib,” Duke Ellington’s “Bug in A Rug,” and Irving Berlin’s “He Ain’t Got Rhythm,” which was performed by Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday was also the inspiration for “Fine and Mellow,” “Back in Your Own Backyard,” and “What A Night, What A Moon, What A Boy!” And there are additional tunes by Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Ben Webster, and others that were big hits in their day.
Swing music is happy music. It was created as entertainment for the masses, and it’s almost impossible not to tap your feet to its catchy rhythms. With the advent of Swing in the 1930s, dances like the Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and others became a national craze that cemented the music in popular taste. With the release of MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS, Swing aficionados and anyone who enjoys the music’s timeless appeal can appreciate these superb musicians who have recreated the music’s sounds and excitement. Recorded with modern engineering techniques, the music speaks for itself with a clarity that patrons of ballrooms like the Savoy, the Alhambra, the Cotton Club, and the Palomar could only enjoy live.
MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS is available on iTunes and Amazon.