Some of us find great value in bands that travel the country playing standard jazz to entertain and educate.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s big-band swing show came to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Friday night, and more than play the old stuff, they delivered modern arrangements and a hipster presence.
Part show, part concert, the nine guys on stage Friday night — all in vintage pinstriped or zoot suits — are the same guys that started 19 years ago.
So yes, they are tight, and their show is polished. And while they appear to work hard, it all comes too easy for them. Tightly scripted, there was no adventure, thus no surprises for us or them.
But there were good moments. We got mighty swing standards and cool originals, like the opener, “Smokey Joe,” followed by Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man.” The band recently put out an album of songs by Calloway (a Rochester native), and you can say Scotty Morris modeled the show after Calloway, as if we were in Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 1930s.
Morris’ first hero was Louis Armstrong — trumpeter Glen Marhevka gave us some Louie-type solos a few times — and later moved into Duke Ellington, Count Basie and the swing bands of that era. Ironically, the all-white Big Bad Voodoo Daddy from California celebrates the music of segregated, all-black bands.
The songs came at us one after another and started to sound the same. High energy, fast tempo, often overplaying the Great Hall — not everyone understands how to treat such an acoustically great room — the songs didn’t rise or fall, they just came at you with full force.
Morris strapped on the banjo and explained the difference between Dixieland jazz — “that’s’ who you buy your ice cream from” — and traditional jazz — “that’s who you buy your cigarettes from.” They went on to play “The Devil’s Dance,” jazz you buy your ice cream from.
About 45 minutes into the show, Morris said the band will stretch out a bit — finally — on “5-10-15 Times.” All we got was the same quick horn solos, but then the horns stepped aside and the rhythm section played as a trio for a few rounds. Again, no risks here, just some tricks to quickly reach a hollow crescendo.
Make no mistake, these guys can all play, but you feel they’ve done this same show 2,500 times (earlier, Morris said they had played 2,500 shows together).
My favorite of the night was “I Want to Be Like You,” made famous in the Disney movie “Jungle Book.” They followed and ended the show with their hit “Go Daddy-O,” another good one, but more of the same. Still, the crowd loved it, finally getting out of their seats.
Another crowd favorite was “You, Me and the Bottle Makes Three,” one of their more familiar tunes.
It’s expensive and hard work to bring this sized group on the road, which is why they are rare now. Jazz and blues is one of this country’s own arts, invented and built here, so we need bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to continue promoting this part of our heritage, in whatever spirit they choose.
Hopefully they continue for another 19 years, and maybe loosen up a bit, leave some room to chance, to improvisation. Preserving the songs is a good thing, preserving the spirit of the music is another.