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Sunday, October 15, 2017

It’s the Way That You Do It

LISTEN TO THE OPENING TRACK on “Uptown Jump,” a recording by guitarist Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven. It’s a tune titled “The Savoy Special,” and I defy you to find it any less enjoyable – and virtuosic – than a small-group recording from the likes of Basie or Lunceford. The tune itself is catchy, the rhythm never flags, the solos grab you right away, and there’s an easygoing insouciance about it that’s only the province of players completely at home with their material.

Glenn Crytzer | Photo by Lynn Redmile
But you won’t recognize the tune, because it’s a Crytzer original. It sounds absolutely 1930s because it’s catchy, it swings like mad, and it’s recorded with the peculiar warmth of a session from that time thanks to Crytzer’s fanatical attention to microphones and acoustics and the lost art of audio simplicity. And it holds that in common with the 17 other tunes on the album, all of them Crytzer originals. (I wrote about the album here.)

He’s planning to do it again, but on a more ambitious scale. “Ain’t It Grand” will be a two-disc set by the 14-piece Glenn Crytzer Orchestra, of which one disc will be originals, the other a set of vintage Big Band tunes – and all of the arrangements will be tailored by Crytzer for his band. “In order to write this album for these guys,” he says, “I’m going to have to find stuff that I can tailor to their voices in an interesting way. I’m pretty excited about having this enormously expanded color palette to work with.”

His band plays every Monday at Kola House, 408 W 15th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea area, which gives him the opportunity to refine and coalesce the ensemble. “Taking all of these individual players and making them into one fantastic sound is what’s exciting about writing for this band. Doing the classic stuff is great, it’s fun to do. I just posted a video from a recent gig, where we played ‘Clementine from New Orleans,’ a Jean Goldkette tune from ‘27 that had Bix on it and Eddie Lang – and I’ll tell you what. I’m listening back to it and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah. That’s pretty good.’”

To fund the album, Crytzer is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign (it ends Nov. 2) to raise $20,000. As you’d expect, there’s an impressive range of incentives, including, for a $1,000 donation, the chance to choose one of the classic songs that he’ll record. Which means that programming remains up in the air until such songs are selected, because Crytzer has definite ideas about programming.

He recently returned to blog-writing (on a page titled “My Jazz Can Beat Up Your Jazz”), and a recent post covers that topic. Among the necessities he names are “a mix of tempos and lots of tunes in the sweet spot for dancers, a balance of vocals and instrumentals ... a balance of ‘pop tunes’ (like ‘All of Me’) and ‘riff tunes’ (like ‘Flyin' Home’) and through-composed instrumentals (like ‘Original Dixieland One Step’ or ‘Downtown Slump’), a balance of major-key tunes vs. minor-key tunes ... a selection of grooves (hard driving, laid back, sultry, silly, etc),” and “a distribution of solos/leads to various members of the group.”

Big Band Monday | Photo by Neal Siegal
What does it take to be in a band like his? “It’s a combination of things,” he explains. “You’ve got to be able to read your ass off to play in this band. The 20s, 30s, 40s stuff – it’s tough reading, and everything is really exposed. Another thing is playing the style. Not just in the solos, but in the way that you phrase in the ensemble. It’s good to find people who have a voice. In my trumpet section, I’ve got this lead player, Sam Hoyt, he’s got his own vintage sound. He knows what everybody else did, but he plays his own way. Mike Davis, who plays second, is the improvisor. He has incredible stuff with mutes going on. That’s why he’s in the hot chair. And then I’ve got Jason Prover, who has all this power, he’s got high notes, he’s got this looser style, kind of the way Louis lays up over stuff a little bit – he’s in the getaway chair. So here I’ve got these three great trumpets, they can all play together, they all read their asses off, they all follow Sam’s phrasing, and then when you get solos out of these guys, you get Bubber Miley out of Mike, Roy Eldridge or Bunny Berigan out of Jason – we get all these different colors. So I think getting guys in the band who have a voice, but who also have a voice coming out of the era, is the game.”

Crytzer began as a cellist, and studied that instrument and classical composition at Florida State University, then went on to get his Master’s at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He’s won several awards for his compositions, including the prestigious BMI award in 2005. What he wasn’t doing, at first, was listening to jazz. “I got into swing dancing when I was in school, which is how I got into this music. When I was doing my Master’s, I wanted to do some music just for fun. My Master’s was getting real not fun and I was starting to hate music. So I took up the tenor banjo, which has the same strings as a cello but up an octave, like as a viola. I did it for fun, but I got more and more into it, so I took up tenor guitar, and eventually switched full time to guitar.”

And his focus remains on what’s considered classic jazz – music from the ‘20s through the ‘40s. “Modern jazz – I mean 1950 and beyond jazz – doesn’t do anything for me. I feel like it goes into a direction of being esoteric without having anything behind it – getting either overly academic or super commercial.”

He notes a parallel between the development of jazz and the development of classical music. “If look at where classical music was, say, 120 years ago – people were rediscovering the classics. People were wanting to play Bach. But when you hear Casals playing the Cello Suites, he plays it like it’s Brahms. And then there was this period of about 50 or 60 years before you started getting early music groups playing it as Bach might have intended.”

He’s now a comparatively younger player in a music scene that seeks to capture the essence of classic jazz, “And I think that’s a thing that’s developing now. For a long time, the mainstream jazz world hasn’t really respected early jazz, but there have been a few people through the years who have been saying, ‘This is art music, this is real music,’ people like Vince Giordano who’ve been keeping the tradition going. If you can let people see that you’re doing artistic and interesting work, I think there’ll be room in the mainstream jazz world as this develops.”

Glenn at the Django
Like most musicians, he maintains a busy schedule of steady work and freelance gigs. Alongside his Big Band Mondays is a regular Sunday-evening session at a bar called Blacktail on Pier A, near Battery Park. “It’s about as far down at the end of Manhattan as you can get without being in the water,” he says. “I lead a quartet with a vocalist, piano, and bass, like a King Cole trio thing.”

He brings an admirable – and necessary – persistence to what seems to be a non-stop schedule of performing, writing, and arranging. “I feel like I’m at a precipice,” he says, “at a point where there’s a transition about to happen, where I’m going to go from struggling to stable. A couple of things need to happen. This album needs to get funded, and we need to get some good marketing. This a lot bigger than my previous albums, and it’s a lot more rare, in its way. It’s chugging away. We’re doing our best. I’m really excited about it.”

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