“To me jazz and swing are one and same: Jazz that swings and swingin’ jazz. We don’t like to do too many odd meters or time signatures. Even if there’s a bebop influence, it’s swing rooted. Jazz that’s finger-snappable and toe-tappable.” — George Gee
Bandleader George Gee believes that big band music is an original American art form that continues to evolve. Without question, the George Gee Jazz Orchestra sound is strongly centered in the original swing era, but the goal is not a strict re-creation. Rather, this band is a living, breathing artistic entity. He and his musicians pay homage to the roots of the classic big band sound, yet still add personal imprints to the music. Even familiar arrangements of “Take the A Train” and “All the Cats Join in” are given a fresh and modern swing feel.
Which brings us to another strength of the GGJO: Fluidly bridging the gap between the swing, bebop and modern eras. Many examples of this fusion can be found on the recording “John Dokes Sings, George Gee Swings,” prominently featuring frequent collaborator and vocalist John Dokes, creating a “danceable bebop” flavor. The theme for this collection is “Basie, Bird and Bacharach” and pays tribute to these jazz/pop greats – creating a somewhat unlikely musical alliance.
George has spent decades in nightclubs and festivals, performing the great works of the masters. George’s musical influences include Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakely and of course George’s idol and mentor Count Basie. He has developed close personal and professional relationships with Basie alumni and other jazz icons including Benny Powell, Clark Terry, Dr. Billy Taylor, Joe Williams, Al Grey, Jimmy Heath, Milt Jackson, Jon Faddis, Milt Hinton, Billy Eckstein, Hank Jones and Frank Wess. Another great influence on George and the George Gee Jazz sound was the late Frank Foster. This relationship led to a collaboration album, “Setting the Pace,” which broke through the esteemed Top 50 on the national jazz charts.
The band grew mightily from this experience and has branched out into original jazz compositions and performance arrangements, penned by Music Director and trombonist Dave Gibson. Read more about GGJO original compositions.
Gibson is an alumnus of many illustrious outfits including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band, NEA Jazz Master Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones and also as a featured trombonist and arranger with young jazz lion Roy Hargrove’s Big Band and many more.
When he composes music for the George Gee Jazz Orchestra, he says first and foremost, “It’s gotta be swingin’…. visceral. Jazz is the spontaneous creation going on, within the swing. The swing is how I frame the composition, from beginning to end: rhythmic approach, pacing, length of story.”
Unlike when playing expressly for a dancefloor full of lindy hoppers, who prefer songs to be shorter, audiences at jazz concerts and festivals appreciate the more extended displays of virtuosity by the soloists in the George Gee Jazz Orchestra. (Learn more about all the players.) During a jazz show, “there’s a lot more room for solos than when playing for dancers. We can let the cats blow more,” George says.
Likewise, audiences are encouraged to shout and feel it, too, right alongside the band!