The super-synchronized Big Band sound ruled American pop music in the 1940s. The only problem? Big Bands were too big (and too pricey) for smaller clubs and dance halls. Smaller “territory bands” arose to fill in the gap — ensembles of less than 10 musicians. These not-so-big bands had a big sound. (A decade later, rock 'n' rollers would follow in their musical footsteps.)
One contemporary territory band is still touring — The Swingaroos. Kimberly Hawkey is the sizzling lead vocalist. Assaf Gleizner plays the piano and arranges (and sometimes composes) the tunes. Bassist Nathan Yates Douglass, saxophonist/clarinetist Daniel Glaude, trombone player Steve Morley and drummer Uri Zelig bring it all together.
A different iteration of this ensemble last swung by the FST Cabaret in 2015. They’re back this summer, and putting swinging spin on Broadway showtunes.
The Swingaroos kicks off its first act with a Roaring Twenties rendition of Youmans and Caesar’s “Tea for Two.” The band quickly changes gear to its signature Swing, in arrangements of compositions by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; Jerome Kern; Oscar Hammerstein; Cole Porter; Irving Berlin; George and Ira Gershwin; Johnny Mercer; Harold Arlen and others.
Hawkey is a great singer, and knows how to turn up the heat on the torch songs. But every musician gets a turn to shine. They prove their virtuosity in blistering drum solos, soul-melting sax, machine-gun trumpet, blissful bass and lightspeed piano riffs.
In the second act, the band slides into an easy New Orleans groove — and edges closer to the 21st century, with sprung-rhythm arrangements of John Kander and Frank Ebb’s “Cabaret,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends” and the titular “Music of the Night” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The band also delivers a purely instrumental rendition of Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls”— the kind of musical strut you’d hear at a second line parade. “The 11 O’Clock Number” is the penultimate song — an original composition that Hawkey and Gleizner wrote in 2018. After finally reaching this century, the show tumbles all the way back to the dawn of the last one. George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway” is the final song — a golden oldie he penned in 1904.
The Swingaroos will put a smile on your face. Their sound is lush and dense; their tight arrangements come off like a well-oiled machine. Swing is supposed to sound that way. I realize that. But I dig who they are now, not their imitation of the past.
Hey, I wish they’d done a Swing arrangement of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK,” just for giggles. But that’s just me.
Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.