Settling the Score: Battle of the Bands
DCLX, April 21, 2012
Last year, for the 10th Anniversary of DCLX, we witnessed a true battle royale, featuring The Jonathan Stout Orchestra and Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band. This year, Glenn Crytzer is back from the west coast, and local big band, The Tom Cunningham Orchestra will take them on in a battle to the death on April 21, 2012 in the beautiful Glen Echo Ballroom.
Many of us remember the epicness of the battle last year—the floor pulsing up and down with 800 dancers reminiscent of the Savoy, and a full night of incredible live swing music…with no need for a DJ. I asked Jerry Almonte for some insight on this year’s battle to try and get a sense of what the match up would be like. I couldn’t be more excited. DCLX, here we come!
Abigail: Jerry, you have extensive knowledge about the Tom Cunningham Orchestra (TCO), having been a DC local for the past 13 years. Could you give sense of who TCO is and why DC should be pumped about them?
Jerry: TCO is DC’s band. Tom has been leading this band for 35 years, for swing dancers since the revival began in the 1980’s. The reason why DC had the rep of badass dancers who could bust to hard swinging music is because of Cunningham. TCO never babied anyone with their musical choices.
Abigail: The DCLX battle of the bands was crazy last year. What will TCO bring to the table?
Jerry: They’re not as sexy as Stout or Crytzer’s people but they’ve been there for DC every month of every year for a good long time. Their main advantage is that most of them have worked together for years and have a cohesion that Crytzer won’t be able to match.
Jerry: Glenn will bring an all star hot line up, but most of them will have never played with each other before, or certainly not as much as TCO. I interviewed the Boilermaker Jazz Band [who will also be playing at DCLX] a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things I learned is that having people who play with you on a regular basis matters. That’s why Paul Cosentino [of the Boilermakers] tries to minimize the use of subs. They affect the sound and chemistry of the band. Sure you can add a really good player, but they may throw off everyone else’s balance.
Abigail: What surprises can we look for in the battle?
Jerry: TCO has been working on arrangements suggested by dancers for dancers. They’ve been playing them for a while but since they mainly play locally, they will feel new to many locals and out of towners. Crytzer plays a lot of songs that DJ’s like to play at dances with similar arrangements. However, TCO will be able to match Crytzer song for song in that department.
TCO doesn’t play as “hot” as Glenn’s bands usually do …which may or may not be a good thing depending on what kind of crowd shows up.
Abigail: How so?
Jerry: TCO has a broader repertoire than Glenn who concentrates on 20′s and 30′s stuff. However, The Tom Cunningham Orchestra can go from Cotton Club Ellington to New Testament Basie.
Abigail: How many members are in TCO vs. Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band?
Jerry: TCO is a classic full big band. 16 musicians, not including vocalists (5 reeds, 3 trombones, 4 trumpets and full four piece rhythm section) which may be brought up to 20 depending on how many TCO decides to use. TCO will have an inside track on Crytzer because their regular clarinetist is Haley Shoenberg who played in Glenn’s band last year at DCLX and also with the Careless Lovers when they played at ILHC in 2011.
CBRB typically uses 12-14 people depending on circumstances.
[Editor’s note with insider knowledge from the DCLX committee: Halley Schoenberg will also be playing with Careless Lovers for the DCLX Saturday late night. TCO will be 20 including Tom Cunningham. Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band will be 14. Glenn has mentioned that he has an even hotter band this year than last.]
Abigail: How will TCO sound? I remember the sound last year being drastically different between the Jonathan Stout Orchestra and Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band.
Jerry: Oh, are you talking about Glenn’s sound set up? Glenn uses fewer microphones than most bands do to get a more ensemble sound. Plus he deprives his musicians of monitors so they have to play that much louder to hear themselves over the din of the band. You could hear the difference last year against the Jonathan Stout Orchestra because JSO sounded more relaxed in comparison. For example, Jonathan likes to throw a riff from Basie’s “The King” to break up Woodside and to rile up the crowd and the players. At DCLX last year, you can see him practically begging the band to push it during this chorus, but they’re not having it. They’re professionals. They do their job. They do it well, but they’re not paid to go crazy on command. In comparison Glenn was making his guys work to be heard which is what I think put them over the top. Even without any extra effort, TCO will still field at least three more horn players than CBRB. Regardless, TCO’s guys can and will crank it up, monitors or no monitors.
But, that only makes a difference when you’re up front. Once you get to the middle of the ballroom and beyond, the speakers take over and it doesn’t matter any more.
Abigail: True. With a full ballroom, at least 200 people were up front at any given moment, with everyone crowding the bandstand at the end…
Jerry: That’s where depriving his band of monitors helped Glenn get that much more out of his guys because everyone was up close to feel their energy. Glenn was using the same number of local musicians as JSO, but he squeezed that much more out of them using this tactic. However, TCO will not be lacking in the enthusiasm department.
Jerry: TCO has watched other bands play DCLX for years, even though it’s really their town. There’s a lot of incentive to blow Glenn off the stage. TCO knows the score, and they’re probably look to settle it this year.
Abigail: There aren’t as many Lindy events in DC as there used to be…
Jerry: Yeah work for these kinds of bands is scarce. Tom is a full-time musician. He doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat. That guy has a lot of pride riding on this one.
Abigail: It’ll be interesting to see, because I’m sure Glenn is coming in planning on defending his stellar performance from last year.
Jerry: There’s a lot of factors going into making this battle way more interesting than the last one. In many ways, Glenn represents the kind of young musician that’s been pushing out more established ones like Tom Cunningham. Tom has been leading a big band longer than Glenn has been alive, but Glenn gets hired at all the events. Do you think no one notices that? Especially other musicians? Glenn may have won last year’s battle, he still has a lot to prove. He’s coming from an isolated place and DCLX may be his last, best opportunity on the East Coast to show people what he’s about.Then there’s Tom Cunningham, the veteran who wants to show the kids that he can still pack some heat.
This won’t just be a battle. It’ll be a war.
Thanks to Jerry and Abigail for those insights to the upcoming battle of the bands at DCLX 2012. To experience The Tom Cunningham Orchestra battling Glenn Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band, register at http://dclx.net/register/. Your ticket includes guaranteed entry to the Battle, but also dances featuring the incredible music of Craig Gildner’s Blue Crescent Syncopators, Brooks Tegler’s Joy of Sax, the Careless Lovers, and the Boilermakers Jazz Band. Lordy—that’s a great line up! See you in April.
If you would like to continue reading other great stuff from the noted Lindy blogger and DJ, Jerry Almonte, check out his blog, Wandering and Pondering.