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Roy Gaines & His Orchestra: ­"Tuxedo Blues" Streets November 1

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Jazz, blues, R&B and soul—legendary guitarist/vocalist/composer Roy Gaines, who has made a name for himself as a versatile master craftsmen playing music beyond category in a career spanning over seven decades, brings his vast wealth of experience all together on Tuxedo Blues. Fronting a full size jazz orchestra, the likes of which is seldom heard these days, Gaines recalls the glory days of the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and Billie Eckstine, with a sound that is both contemporary and classic. Stepping out front in the first rate aggregation along with Gaines are his two Texas contemporaries, pianist Joe Sample and tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder (both of [Jazz] Crusaders fame), as well as the group's other fine soloists, reed man Jackie Kelso, trumpeter George Pandis and vibraphonist Onaje Murray.

Born Waskom, Texas, Roy Gaines started out playing piano in the style of Nat "King" Cole at an early age and then switched to the guitar when he was only 14. An unabashed admirer of fellow Texan, T-Bone Walker, Gaines met his idol as a youth and modeled his own playing after Walker 's groundbreaking style, later performing and recording with the pioneering electric bluesman. In the fifties, while moving between in LA, Houston and New York, he was a first call jazz and blues session man featured on various releases by Big Mama Thornton, Junior Parker, Bobby Blue Bland, Coleman Hawkins and Jimmy Rushing, the latter whose singing style is clearly a major influence on Gaines own virile, full bodied vocals. In 1958 he appeared with Billie Holiday on Jazz Party, the singer's last public appearance with pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Vinnie Burke. Later work found the guitarist backing everybody from Ray Charles and Chuck Willis to Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross & The Supremes.

Gaines work as a leader, beginning with two albums for RCA Victor's Groove subsidiary label 1956, on to the '80's critically acclaimed Gainelining and more recently Lucille Work for Me, Bluesman for Life and New Frontier Lover, has made him a highly regarded figure on the international blues scene, earning him a W.C. Handy Award (and two other nominations) and a Living Blues Award. But Gaines is just as much a jazz man, going back to the music's early days when he was featured on a John Hammond promoted tour that also featured Count Basie with Jimmy Rushing. Gaines' experience also includes much work with, producer Quincy Jones, playing regularly in the renaissance music man's studio orchestra on numerous television and film scores, including The Color Purple, appearing on screen playing the composer's “Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)," which is reprised here with the Gaines as the vocalist.

As KKJZ's Helen Borger's declares in her liner notes to the date, Tuxedo Blues dresses up the idiom with songs “neatly arranged for a swinging big band that could be performing in the elegant ballrooms of the most prestigious hotels." Opening up with Ollie Jones' classic “Send For Me" (a song once popularized by Gaines' early hero Nat King Cole), we hear immediately the classic sound of a tightly knit orchestra in the style popularized by Count Basie during jazz's Golden Era, with a sound so pristine that the band could be playing in the listener's own living room. Roy's powerful vocal here, virile and smooth, recalls the great Jimmy Rushing, contrasting nicely with his earthy guitar obbligato and solo, all wrapped up in the sizzling sound of the roaring orchestra arranged by John Stevens.

Gaines' own “Blues From Hell" —cowritten with his brother, Little Richard tenor man Grady Gaines and trumpet/arranger Joe Scott—is a topical civil rights anthem that opens with Roy's sophisticated blues drenched guitar sound backed by riffing horns on a swinging George Pandis arrangement. Roy's passionate vocal begins with the proclamation “Four hundred years of blood sweat and tears" and goes on to plea “How much longer must I wait to be free from trouble his hate?" while muted trumpets blend beautifully behind his down home Texas styled guitar solo.

Leslie Drayton's arrangement of Gaines' “Good Old Days" recalls the urbane modern sound of the Billy Eckstine Orchestra that was an incubator for bebop legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, with Roy's legato phrasing of his lyric (backed by a Freddie Green styled guitar rhythm) evocative of the sensuality of the great Mr. B himself. Joe Sample's piano and Gaines' guitar share the solo spotlight here, with George Pandis stepping out front for trumpet break before the Roy and the band closes things out.

Roy's “Rats In My Kitchen" (not to be confused with the Sleepy John Estes song of the same name) is a classic styled blues—lyrics rife with sexual innuendo—played over a easy flowing dance rhythm on a Benjamin Wright arrangement that is sure to get toes tapping with Sample's elegant piano once again showcased with Gaines' guitar and vocals.

“Thang Shaker" is another Gaines original, previously recorded by the composer as “I'm Your Thing Shaker" with Japanese guitarist Mitsuyoshi Azuma on the pair's Blues Guitar Battle. As made clear in its title, the sexuality of the lyric is fully unclothed here, unabashedly braggadocios in proclaiming the boudoir prowess of the song's protagonist and his admonition to “let your belly button roll." Roy 's chorded guitar work on this John Stevens band orchestration reveals a bona fide appreciation of the work of the modern jazz icon Wes Montgomery.

The classic “Inflation Blues," arranged by Leslie Drayton, addresses a subject perhaps even more topical today than it was when Louis Jordan first popularized the song in the 1940's. Roy's authoritative reading of the lyric “ Now listen Mister President and all you congressmen, too/ you got me all frustrated and I don't know what to do/ Try to make a dollar, can't even save a cent/ it takes all my money just to eat and pay the rent," is a voice of the people plea to an unresponsive system to rectify one of the major causes of giving us the blues.

The aforementioned “Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)" finds Roy and company reaching way back to the days of Louis Armstrong and Original Dixieland Jazz Band for some vintage New Orleans sounds, with guitarist Barry Zweig switching to banjo, altoist Jackie Kelso soloing on clarinet and Mike Daigeau playing a gutbucket trombone for a truly authentic feel.

The Gaines-Edward Frank collaboration, “Come Home," previously recorded by Roy on his Lucille Work For Me album, gets a lush treatment here with a Leslie Drayton arrangement reminiscent of the sensual soul of Gamble and Huff TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) productions of the sixties and seventies. Roy's amorous vocal is complemented attractively by Sample's romantic piano stylings, Onaje Murray's velvety vibes and his own George Benson inflected guitar.

“Reggae Woman," originally recorded by Nat King Cole as “Calypso Blues," is given a novel treatment in a rhythmically charged “jumpin' jive" type arrangement by John Stevens that features Sample's hard swinging piano and a countrified Gaines' solo that moves from Texas blues to Jamaican ska and Hawaiian slack guitar stylings, with Roy's hard hitting vocal wanting to take him back to Trinidad.

The orchestra shines on a smooth Leslie Drayton arrangement of the Michael Jackson hit “Rock With You" —the date's one instrumental track. With solos by Sample and Gaines, along with the impassioned Texas tenor of Wilton Felder, the song sings with a soulful sound that brings back memories of their days together with the Jazz Crusaders. As Roy says in his notes, this one is “sure to be a hit."

The band pulls out all the stops on George Pandis's wildly swinging arrangement of Bobby Troup's R&B classic “Route 66." Sample and Gaines take their turns on piano and guitar, with Felder and Jackie Kelso trading licks on tenor and alto, respectively, on this joyous two thousand mile excursion from Chicago to LA with a mandatory stop back home in Texas.

The date concludes with Gaines's “Outside Lookin' In," arranged by Drayton. The melancholy lament features a moving vocal by the composer and stirring instrumental solos by the three men from Texas—Felder, Sample and Gaines—along with vibraphonist Murray, on a touching tome that fades away to bring this great album to a very smooth finish.

Tuxedo Blues is indeed a special date for these times, hearkening back to the great days of big band jazz and blues via the personal vision of Roy Gaines for the future of the music. Classic and contemporary, with a crystal clear sound that brings out every nuance of the twelve extraordinary arrangements featuring some of the world's finest instrumentalists—who play every note with precision and passion—led by the remarkable man who seems on his way to Grammy glory (eligible in ten categories) for what is undoubtedly one of the best records to come around in a very long while.

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