Vim 'n' Verve
Bandleader Bill Elliott Bounces to Stardom!!!
by Joya Balfour
a breezy summer night on board the U.S.S. Intrepid, serenely docked
in New York Harbor. The deck is awash with the sound of swing,
and the energetic bounce of 500 sailors and their sweethearts
as they lindy hop into the evening. No, its not Artie Shaw
welcoming our boys home from the war. The year is 1999, and the
music comes courtesy of Bill Elliott, a 90s bandleader with
a knack for creating an authentic swing sound all his own.
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is the bandleader, pianist, composer and arranger of countless
neo-swing favorites, including "Mildred Wont You Behave?",
"Bills Bounce" and "The Shim Sham Song."
A native of Boston, he started playing piano by ear as a young
child, and by age 13 had put together his first band and penned
arrangements for a school musical revue. Although he had added
the clarinet, sax, guitar and bass to his repertoire, Elliott
ultimately decided on the piano as his instrument of choice and
was soon playing professionally with a variety of different ensembles
whose style evoked the folk-rock popularity of the day.
a struggling musician in the early 1970s, Elliott was fortunate
to meet up and work with several seasoned artists,including David
Grisman, the mandolin virtuoso, and actor Martin Mull.
Grisman introduced him to music from the 20s and 30s,
Mull gave him the opportunity to write big band arrangements for
his comedy albums. In 1973, Elliott joined a band called Seatrain
(along with Peter Walsh of San Franciscos Swing Session)
and soon after found himself in Los Angeles playing with artists
like Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Donna Summer, Johnny Mathis,
and Smokey Robinson, among others.
emergence of electro-acoustic music in the 80s led Elliott
away from rock. "I felt alienated from pop musicnot
much for a piano player to doand I drifted toward film and
TV work," he explains. "My eclectic background was really
helpful as I could turn out almost any style of music, but the
competition for composing work was (and remains) fierce with a
vast oversupply of capable composers," he says.
luck hit in 1989 when he was invited to write some 30s-era
songs for the movie Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty and Madonna.
He penned the timeless "Pep, Vim & Verve" and his
love affair with swing music was set in motion.
"I wanted a band that sounded like the old great ones, and
I had to coach the players on using vibrato, playing on top of
the beat, playing the drums in an authentic way, etc. I was rebelling
against the prevailing 60s style of jazz and big band playing
which was the way that all the good LA musicians played,"
first gig came that year at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, and within
months the band had a following of fellow musicians and young
dancers from the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association (PBDA), who
were helping to revive swing dancing in the Los Angeles area.
By the time the swing revival hit L.A. in the mid-90s, BESOs
signature sound was well-established. Although it did not have
the trendier jump-blues style of other neo-swing success
stories, the band had garnered a loyal following among the Lindy
Hop community and played regular stints at the PBDA, Merv Griffins
revamped Coconut Club and The Hollywood Palladium. The bands
lineup of 19 exceptional musicians played no small part in this
feat. Star soloists like Don Clarke (trumpet), Don Shelton (sax/clarinet),
Roger Neumann (tenor sax), Bob Reitmeier (clarinet), Gordon Peeke
(drums) and Jay Mason (any sax) have all had impressive recording
and band careers, and Elliotts vocal quartet The Lucky Stars
features the smooth stylings of Cassie Miller, who has sung for
several years with Red & The Red Hots and the Harry James
Since the orchestra was founded, Elliott has scored music for
several films and television series (Independence Day, Nixon,
Early Edition, Northern Exposure, That Darn Cat and Tower of Terrorthe
last two for the Disney Channelare among his credits) and
released three BESO albums: Swing Fever, Calling All Jitterbugs!
and Swingin The Century. The latter disc features the wildly
popular "Shim Sham Song" dedicated to and wholeheartedly
approved by dance legend Frankie Manning. Elliott also provided
the arrangements and original material for the HBO biopic Introducing
Dorothy Dandridge (soundtrack available on BMG/RCA Victor) and
recently finished another film for the Disney Channel, Alley Cats
"The film and TV work has been essential to my bands
progress subsidizing our recordings, providing incentives for
my players to stick with me in the trenches, and giving us a bit
of a publicity hook to attract attention," Elliott says.
"I have always written my best stuff under pressure of a
deadline, so Ive completely enjoyed the creative challenges."
Swing-minded individuals hope Elliott wont be giving up
his signature bounce any time soon.
from ATOMIC Magazine. Read the full article in the Spring