Combining the swing of Count Basie, the beat of Buddy Johnson, the New Orleans lilt of Fats Domino, and the passion of Dinah Washington, the J Street Jumpers are one of the East Coast’s most popular swing bands. They’ve garnered the respect of the Washington music industry as well, evidenced in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 by Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) Wammie Awards wins: Best Big Band – Swing Duo/Group, Best Big Band – Swing Recording and Best Jazz. Their 1998 release, Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby, was on The Washington Post’s list of favorite local CDs of the year.
Founded in the early ’90s by saxophonist Charlie Hubel, the J Street Jumpers have spent most of the last decade honing their chops in clubs, halls, and ballrooms in the mid-Atlantic. They performed for President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House at the annual dinner in honor of the Governors of the States and Territories. The band has also wowed crowds at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.
Over the past 20 years jump and swing bands have come and gone, and not very many of them made it at any professional level. And one of the major reasons for this failure is that they all forgot one major lesson: during the 1940’s and early 1950’s much of the greatest blues and rhythm and blues music was created by jazz musicians. Or as Slim Gaillard might say, “they were tutti fruitti instead of low down, groovy and oroonie!”
Now you take a group like the J Street Jumpers, named for a street in Washington, D.C., that does not exist, and they’re not going to be crooning morosely, or wiggling around in cream colored suits, waving funny batons, like some so called “swing” bands. Nor are they making a serenade to a cartoon with sound effects. No, they do not perform “commercial”, watered down, processed-cheeze, swing music. This is the real deal: jazz + blues + dirt + vocal soul.
So the moment you hear them you can tell that this important historical and musical lesson has not been lost on the J Street Jumpers. Contrary to what you may have heard on TV, blues and jazz music are not fully differentiated species. While they were never fully separated “at birth”, blues and jazz came together for a long concupiscent embrace as early as the late 1920’s, and did the slow drag and the ballin’ the jack together for close to three decades, producing, along the way, Kansas City jump and swing, the Boogie Woogie craze and the most rhythmic and lubricious proponents of early rhythm & blues and rock’n’roll, like Eddie Vinson, Roy Brown, Louis Jordan, Hot Lips Page, and Wynonie Harris. Further minglings of blues and jazz in the 1940’s produced ferocious tenor sax and guitar players, whose nightly jams and invocations of the hoodoo and the “jus’ grew”—thank you Ishmael Reed—wore out dancing shoes, and trousers’ knees as well as twisting all kinds of undies into indecent knots.
In short, during the 1930’s, 40’s and early 50’s, BLUES + JAZZ = A House Party that satisfied every physical, sensual, intellectual, and spiritual appetite known to American men and women. And it still can, if you put on this here CD and get ready, as Fats Waller would say, “to start jumpin’!”
And does it get off to a good start, with a nod to the great Hot Lips Page orchestras of the mid 1940’s! And they go even further back, with a wonderful vocal version of the Basie ballad, “Blue And Sentimental” with Carmen Velarde’s vocals more than covering for Helen Humes. And they even get decidedly modern with their version of a latter day Dinah Washington peach, “Destination Moon.” Ms. Velarde also shows her range on three other Dinah gems, including the absolute tour de force, “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.” And let me tell you, this version is just as much as a cure for the ‘blue-blues’ as Washington’s original. And she, as well as the band, follow that with a beautifully melancholy rendition of the Ella & Buddy Johnson tune, “‘Till My Baby Comes Home!”
The hard blues and boogie is shown off by their versions of “I Want You, I Need You” and “Boogie Woogie King,” both featuring the driving vocals of Arthur Gerstein. The brilliantly bouncy instrumental, courtesy of Buddy Johnson, “Dr. Jive Jives,” shows off all four horns, as well as the beautiful, thick, fat and luscious arrangements that come from the pen of altoist Don Lerman. Joined by Charlie Hubel (tenor/baritone sax), Vince McCool (trumpet) and Steve Shaw (trombone), this is a horn section that makes you want to raise your window high! The bluesy dirt and pulse is provided by a rhythm section as good as any: Jeff Lodson on drums, Adam Friedman on thunderous gut-string-upright bass, and the red top, Rusty Bogart on electric guitar. These three assure that everything swings, bounces and buzzard lopes with the appropriate smear of fatback and kidney stew. Mr. Bogart is also up to splendid jazz tricks, like his ‘Herb Ellis plays Ike Turner’ licks that announce the beginning of “That’s All,” which concludes the show.
And by the time you’ve gotten to the end of the CD, unless you’re going to pull out your best, hippest 40’s collection, and groove to that, you might as well just hit ‘play’ again and really dig just how deep and dirty this bunch of jumpers gets! — Paul Yamada 04/23/03
Paul Yamada has been researching and writing about american popular culture for over 30 years; he had many blues and jazz reviews in Blues Revue, and has some wonderful essays posted at rocksbackpages.com. He now lives in Chicago and is threatening to publish a dissident and alternative view of “Chicago Blues” between the two record bans.
Charlie Hubel: Tenor & Baritone Saxophones
Don Lerman: Alto & Baritone Saxophones
Vince McCool: Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Steve Shaw: Trombone
Rusty Bogart: Guitar
Adam Friedman: Bass
Arthur Gerstein: Piano and Vocals (tracks 5 & 12)
Jeff Lodsun: Drums
Carmen Velarde: Vocals
Produced by Pete Ragusa
Recorded & Mixed at Cue Studios, Falls Church, VA
Engineer: Chris Murphy
Recorded at Wally Cleaver’s Studio, Fredericksburg, VA
Engineer: Peter Bonta
Mastered at Severn Studios, Crownsville, MD
Engineer: David Earl
Arrangements adapted by Don Lerman
Art Direction & Design by Dick Bangham & Linda Gibbon, Rip Bang Pictures
Photo by Bret Littlehales