Interview with George Gee, Big Band Leader
I caught up with George Gee, the big band leader, recently at Club 412 in New York City (412 Eighth Avenue, www.youshouldbedancing.net)
Robert Abrams:What inspires you about Swing music?
George Gee:It goes back to the roots of swing music. Swing music is happy music. In a way it was most popular in a time when happiness was a much needed comfort. Swing and big band music filled that niche in USA history. Kind of funny, as popular as it is these days, we could sure use happiness today, happy Swing needs to be played by happy people. I like to think I have a happy group of cats who get together to play happy music to dance to and listen to. I could have answered it by saying I like to be happy. I will quantify that, I like to make people happy too.
RA:What are your favorite three songs and why?
GG:I am going to get a lot of controversy for saying this. I truly enjoy In The Mood because it has withstood the test of time with its popularity to this day. It still represents the trademark of that classic big band sound. I lot of people think it is kind of square or unhip, but I truly believe hip is what you make it.
I would have to include my idol Count Basie in there. To pick just one song by Count Basie would be too tough. I guess with that in mind I am forced to say, I would have to say across the board I like the Count Basie style.
RA:What about the Count Basie style do you like?
GG:No matter what happens, as long as you are swinging everything will be okay.
My third choice, I am such a big fan of boogie woogie, a Mary Lou Williams tune called Roll'em. It is one of those instances where a big band hit was written by a hip boogie woogie pianist from Pittsburgh PA: Mary Lou Williams. Boogie Woogie always seem to make dancers want to move automatically.
RA:How would you characterize Boogie Woogie?
GG:Classic 8 to the bar left hand bass clef rhythm off set by right hand treble splanks. This is a kind of Count Basie term, he would always splank the notes (slap your wrist up and down quickly a few times). To this day that boogie woogie feel is played by jazz, blues, rock, rockabilly, it is omnipresent in dance music.
RA:Who do you admire?
GG:The man that really inspired me to be come a big band leader at a time when being a big band leader wasn't the coolest thing to do, was Count Basie himself. A chance meeting backstage in 1979 set me on a course that has enabled me to be a full time professional big band man for 25 years. 2005 is my 25th anniversary in the big band business. I am rather proud of that.
RA:What do you like about playing here at Club 412?
GG:The whole band and I love the intimacy of the room and having the dancers right up by the band stand. Because we really feed off of the energy of what is happening on the dance floor, and we hope it is a visa versa where the dancers feed off the energy of having the band right there on the dance floor.
RA:What do you hope to accomplish next?
GG:That is a question people have been asking me for the last 25 years. To this day 25 years later I have the same answer, I don't know. The fact that I have been doing big band for 25 years after people constantly telling me it was a fruitless effort, I can sit here and be very proud of what I have accomplished with the music, so I hope I will be able to continue to do so going where the path leads me.
RA:Do you have CDs that are coming out soon?
GG:Our recent CD Setting the Pace, the music of Frank Foster, topped the national jazz charts last November at number 10 based on radio air play. Based on the success of this CD, Frank Foster and I are busy collaborating on number 2.
RA:Is there anything you would like to add?
GG:There are so many things I want to add, but let me narrow it down. When I asked Count Basie what the magic of being a swinging big band leader was, what could he recommend to me 25 years ago as a novice big band leader, he looked me straight in the eye and told me that there are going to be many nights where you are going to want to give up the big band business, and at that moment remember that Count Basie told you to persevere end quote. I asked is that all? In all this time I have had to reach back and remember those words, it didn't just apply to being a big band leader, but it applied to everything in life. That Basie cat was a pretty sharp cat.
George Gee and his band at You Should Be Dancing
Photo courtesy of Robert Abrams
Swing makes George Gee happy
Photo courtesy of Robert Abrams
For more information about George Gee, please go towww.georgegee.com.