Billy Novick’s Blue Syncopators • Jazz Age Music – The Syncopated Times
Most readers of The syncopated times are familiar with alto clarinet/saxophonist Billy Novick from his long association with New England’s New Black Eagle Jazz Band, which, until the deaths of three of its key members, was one of the finest traditional formations from this country. He also spent many years in a duo with the excellent guitarist Guy Van Duser (able to emulate an entire band – melody, chords, bass and counterpoint accompaniment all at once – on his single instrument) performing mostly jazzy material with steps, rags and other esotericism.
Also a composer and arranger, Novick was hired several years ago to create much of the music for a ballet version of Gatsby the magnificent, adapted from the famous 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. That’s what it’s all about, new arrangements of classic 1920s jazz material as well as original compositions that generally fit that idiom.
Including Novick, the Blue Syncopators are an eight-piece jazz playback band (with improvised solos) consisting of reed player John Clark and two other members of his Wolverines Jazz Band (pianist Ross Petot, tuba player Stu Gunn ), banjoist John Wheatley, trumpeter Mike Peipman and tombonist Dan Fox. Added to this are singers Louise Grasmere and Dane Vanmater.
Dane Vanmater (heard on four selections) is the kind of non-jazz singer who could have been at home on the Lawrence Welk Show. He does a ballroom “Sheik Of Araby” and a “We’re Going Calling On The Kaiser”, but by far his best moments come with Irving Berlin’s ballad “What’ll I Do”, especially during moving cover with subtle accompaniment. by Louise Grasmere. She, on the other hand, is excellent during her several tracks, displaying blues cries of “Shake That Thing” (with outstanding tickle accompaniment from pianist Petot’s stride), “St. Louis Blues,” and classic blues “He can be your man (but he comes to me sometimes).” On other tracks, she pops up unexpectedly with quasi-contemporary (and exciting) soulful scat bits and screams. She also has the ability to well sing (and authentically), “Ain’t We Got Fun”.
Even with the vocals, there’s plenty of room for the horns to do their thing. Instrumental selections include ‘The Charleston’, ‘Yellow Dog Blues’ and ‘Jazz Me Blues’, as well as some of the originals. From ragtime (“Swipesy Cakewalk” by Scott Joplin) to quasi-Ellington “Exotic” (co-composed on this track only by Paul Lenart), Novick’s arrangements are always interesting and faithful to their idioms. One of his talents as an arranger is the ability to use two clarinets in harmony, either in emotive blues or in subtle, appealing contexts. All the soloists are experts, but Ross Petot’s pianist needs to be highlighted.
This writer has never been in a ballet. Never been interested. If “The Great Gatsby” ever appears near him with this music, he leaves.
Available from Billy Novick, 16 Fletcher Ave., Lexington, MA, 02420. $15 + $6 shipping. Is it worth it.
jazz age music
Billy Novick’s blue syncopators