One of my favourite contemporary swing musicians, a fabulous clarinetist from the Netherlands, is Bernard Berkhout.
Bernard used to play with small groups, but after reading the book “Swingin' the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture” by Lewis A. Erenberg [Amazon.de | Amazon.com], he realized the historical importance of his musical hero Benny Goodman and he was so inspired, that he started his own big band.
That was in 2008.
The big band album was in the air since more than a year, but we had to be patient, until it was finally released in July 2011. It was well worth the wait!
I have to confess, I'm not a huge fan of contemporary big bands. In my opinion, most of them are boring, uninspired, too clean and I often miss a certain amount of “dirt” in the music, if you know what I mean.
But here we have something completely different.
From the very first tone, I was impressed by the sound. The orchestra plays with such a fresh and relaxed but hard swinging drive, there is so much joy in the music, that you can't sit still!
And Bernard himself is proving again, that he is THE master on clarinet. His solos are top notch! I have no idea how one can play an instrument with such a virtuosity :).
Not to forget to mention all the other musicians who have done an incredible great job.
Music For Dancers
No wonder! The local Lindy Hop community in the Netherlands was involved from the beginning of the project. As Bernard writes in the 24-page (!) booklet coming with the CD, two of the Lindy Hoppers stand out:
“Dancer and swing DJ Robert Cullen became my sounding board, my musical conscience and co-producer. Dancer and clarinetist Frans van Dommelen was extremely generous in approaching his many contacts in the world of dance, and he was ever-present and supportive no matter how far away from home we performed or rehearsed. Both of them participated in long discussions about repertoire, length and tempos.”
The result is an album for dancers.
The music is based entirely on the ideas and arrangements of Benny Goodman. The length of the songs is in the range between 3:00 and 4:49 minutes. As usual for this kind of CDs, the bpm are listed: the tempos vary between 114 and 232 bpm. There are songs for any dance level!
- Roll ‘Em – 192 bpm – 3:48
- Minnie The Moochers Wedding Day – 200 bpm – 3:51
- Jersey Bounce – 126 bpm – 3:26
- St. Louis Blues – 130 bpm – 4:10
- He Ain’t Got Rhythm – 166 bpm – 4:49
- I Would Do Most Anything For You – 192 bpm – 3:27
- House Hop – 216 bpm – 3:44
- Swingtime In The Rockies – 230 bpm – 3:01
- Estrelita – 132 bpm – 3:30
- Sing Me A Swing Song (And Let Me Dance) – 180 bpm – 3:08
- Down South Camp Meeting – 216 bpm – 4:15
- Happy As The Day Is Long – 232 bpm – 3:54
- You Turned The Tables On Me – 114 bpm – 3:00
- Let’s Dance – 220 bpm – 3:31
Numbers 5, 10, 12 and 13 feature singer Leah Kline (awesome voice!), the rest are instrumental numbers.
This album is by far the best contemporary big band recording I've ever heard! There are always downsides, but honestly, I can't find one.
I highly recommend “Let's Dance” and I'm convinced we will hear songs from the recording very often on the dance floor.
Buy “Let's Dance”!
- Hey Mister Jesse Podcast #67 – July 2011: Interview with Bernard Berkhout and Robert Cullen about the creation process and production of the recording.
- “Recording technique recommended for a new big band album” Thread on swingdjs.com where Robert Cullen was researching which recording technique would be preferred by Swing DJs (try with a search, original link doesn't exist anymore)
- Bernard Berkhout's Website