Swing - and happy feet - are paramount at Roy Gerson’s new gig...


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Roy Gerson
Pianist Roy Gerson, who moved from his native New York a couple of years ago, has brought a refreshing 1940s bite of the Big Apple to Southwest Florida. His new eight-member Swingtet is one month into its Friday night residency at Society Restaurant and Lounge in Fort Myers’ bustling Bell Tower Shops plaza. His concept for this band’s fun evenings is re-creating the Manhattan supper club atmosphere back in the day – where you could hear top jazz musicians playing a wide variety of swing, Latin and even pop music for dining, listening and dancing. Yes, at Roy’s Swingtet gigs, dancing is not only permitted, it is encouraged – either next to your table or right in front of the band.

On Friday, July 26, Gerson’s fine band included his wife, Corrine Manning, on vocals, Don Mopsick on bass, Tony Vigilante on drums, Frank Portolese on guitar, Dan Miller and Randy Sandke on trumpet, and Herb Bruce on trombone. The horn line shifts a bit from week to week, depending which are musicians are available.

The evening’s repertoire was all over the musical map, but oh did it swing.

There were some Swing-era staples: (“Lady Be Good,” “Caravan,” “Perdido,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the classic Louis Jordan hit “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” There were several varied New Orleans-based tunes: “Bourbon Street,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” and “Iko Iko.” The Latin fare ranged from cha cha to the Mexicana-flavored rock hit “Tequila” and “Quando, Quando, Quando,” which originated as a bossa nova-styled Italian pop song. The evening also featured the bossa classic “Girl from Ipanema.”

There were beautiful musical moments. Sandke, another recent transplant from New York, was featured on “Stardust.” Miller turned great solos on “Bourbon Street” and “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” with Bruce doing the same on “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Vigilante rose to the Gene Krupa challenge on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” the Benny Goodman Orchestra classic written by Louis Prima. Portolese, a Chicago jazz fixture for 30 years, shifted with ease between rhythm guitar and masterful solos throughout the night.

The dancers got into the mix on the band’s spirited version of “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” the 1956 Prima hit that Brian Setzer brought to fresh ears four decades later. Manning’s solid vocals were especially effective on that one, as well as “What a Difference a Day Made,” “I Can’t Live Without You” and the Al Green hit “Let’s Stay Together.”

Suffice it to say that you won’t find a jazz atmosphere like this anywhere else in the region. It was enhanced by a visual mood-setter: three walls of shifting classic black-and-white jazz images of varied jazz greats from across the decades.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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