Jive Aces Swing Through Europe!
By John Fordham
The Jive Aces are currently in the middle of a 52-city
tour through Europe, which started in Sweden in January
and will end in Greece this December. Not since Ellington
and Armstrong has a swing band undertaken a tour of this
magnitude. To tell the full tale would be a novel in itself,
but saxophonist John Fordham has sent us a few tales from
life on the road with the U.K.’s top swing band…
in Paris and it’s croissants and coffee to start the day.
We take a walk along the Champs Elysees and get whistled
down by an enthusiastic art director, who asks us to pose
for a picture for a French magazine with a pretty model.
What do you expect when you’re all wearing matching red
suits? Then we continue on to the bandstand, where we’re
scheduled to give a lunchtime concert. As we swing into
our first number, "Sweet Georgia Brown", I scan
the crowd, which I later learn is made up of tourists,
Parisians, two women from the American embassy, some students
from Egypt, and a park keeper. Most are seeing a live
swing band for the first time, and they stay for the whole
show, mesmerized by the spinning bass and raunchy horn
solos. Their eyes dart from one end of the stage to the
other like spectators at a tennis tournament. Then the
crowd suddenly parts, making a path for a little guy on
a moped. He pulls up next to the bandstand and strides
purposefully toward us. He produces a comb and paper from
his jacket pocket, puts it to his lips, and plays the
best damn "Swing Georgia Brown" comb solo I
ever heard! (If you’ve never heard a comb player before,
it sounds like a soprano sax, and this guy is like Sidney
Bechet reborn.) The crowd loves him, so we invite him
on stage for another song. Turns out he’s an antiques
dealer and jazz lover, and he gives us a roman coin for
good luck before he leaves.
After the gig, we head off to see the sites and notice
posters for a Natalie Cole show that night. Aaaaahhh!
Brainwave! The drummer is a friend of ours, so we track
down his hotel room and give him a call. We end up with
free tickets to a great show and get to meet Natalie after.
Just goes to show you never know what’s going to happen
when you walk around Paris.
we head to the city of Berlin, where there are still bits
of the wall separating East from West. As we enter the
city, I am closely following some British wartime maps,
which are stunningly accurate. They’re in a true story
I’m reading about a British undercover operation in 1944
called "Operation James Bond," headed by Commander
Ian Fleming, Royal Naval Intelligence. It’s heroic stuff,
which gets us in the mood to blow down the remnants of
the wall with some hot swing! We arrive at our gig and
the waiting fans help us bring in our equipment. As soon
as we take the stage, they’re jumping out of their seats
from the first note and applauding feverishly. Guess they
like us! A friend of the owner’s must love Ken’s bass
playing, as he runs over and hugs him after each solo.
Word of mouth moves fast in Berllin, and we are booked
into two other clubs by the end of the night.
At last, Italy! Another currency change…I think 4,000
Lire buys a coffee. The people here are lovely, and everyone
seems to own a mobile phone. We play a big concert in
the street, and as we set up, the faces on the passers-by
tells me they aren’t used to seeing a double bass, spectator
shoes, or matching red suits! The girls all giggle and
the guys look at us with Al Pacino intensity. But as we
kick into Louis Prima’s "Buona Sera", the crowd
sways in time to the music. It’s the most swingin’ stuff
they’ve heard since Dean Martin hit the Italian charts
with "Volare" and they’re loving it. Then a
cop walks over and we wonder if he’s going to give us
a ticket for obstructing the street. Nope…he wants to
book us for a police charity concert! We exchange numbers
and he walks off to direct traffic. I love Italy!
After Italy, we head off to the more sedate surroundings
of Zurich. We’re booked to do a live radio show; however,
the producer suddenly realizes we’re called "The
Jive Aces" and not "Oasis," a famous British
pop band. (A slight misunderstanding, resulting from a
poor phone connection.) The show is cancelled, and we’re
thoroughly bored walking the streets when we hear a distant
trumpet. We follow the sound and find a circus, with a
great band playing music for acrobats, jugglers and clowns.
The rasping trumpet makes me think of the great Harry
James, who started off as a young boy playing lead trumpet
in a circus band. The day is not a total loss.
Back to berets and baguettes. In Lyon, we play outside
a quaint old French café, and before long, a group of
French swingers arrive and start to cut a rug—or in this
case a slab of pavement. The head dancer is named Claudio,
a lovely guy who informs us that Lyon is the swing capital
of France. With only a few days’ notice, he spreads the
word that we’re in town and arranges a killer gig for
dancers only. They dance all night, and we bid Claudio
farewell at 4:00 a.m. By this time, we’ve sold out all
our CDs and are ready to hit the hay!
After a quick visit to London for a National radio show,
we’re back in the land of snail eaters, this time in Nice,
on the South coast. We drive from the airport to the venue
and set up on the terrance of a large music café which
faces onto a huge square in old Nice. We kick into our
opening number and a huge crowd quickly forms, as people
wander over from all the other cafés in the square to
see what’s going on. A few Lindy hoppers arrive and take
the floor to show off some fancy steps. The international
crowd love dancing as much as they love the band, and
after the show, they all want to learn to Lindy and find
out where they can see us again. It’s always great to
see the enthusiasm on the faces of people who’ve been
swung for the first time and are completely flipped over
the whole thing.
These are just a few tales from our tour thus far. Still
to be swung are Edinburgh, Scotland; Athens, Greece; Jerusalem,
Israel; and other cities. Keep an eye out…there’s more
to come! To read more about The Jive Aces, check out the
Winter 2000 issue of ATOMIC or go to www.jiveaces.com.