Swing Comes to Those Who Wait
By Frankie Hagan
South Carolina coast means just one thing to those in the
swing scene: Shag. And where there is shag there is an absence
of Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. Its a cultural thing,
and no one gets more distressed about it than dancers and
musicians who appreciate the jumping sounds of big band.
One might think that given the history of swing, and the
fact that it draws from elements of the Charleston, the
music would never be absent from the local landscape. But
until recently, the song selection veered toward Motown,
Oldies, and Bubble Gum Beach tunes. Happily enough, however,
the city of Charleston now has its own place in which to
enjoy the big band sound on a regular basis at Bennetts
on the Market.
© America's Cuisine
Street has long been known as the commercial center of
the city of Charleston. It is a sprawl of gift shops,
restaurants and nightclubs. As you stroll from where the
old slave market connects with Meeting Street, you will
hear the Dixie Land jazz sounds coming from the Mistral,
walk under a hanging sign bearing the name Rhett Butler,
bop past the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and shortly find
yourself at the entrance to Bennetts. On a Friday
night as the clock strikes ten, this high quality restaurant
and bar becomes ground zero for the Charleston swing scene.
You can try and get a table in front of the band, but
until the kitchen stops serving you had better plan on
ordering dinner. The space is a cavern of energy and people
all hustling for a clear view of the stagealthough
that doesnt stop some from congregating in the back
room with the band. In fact, the lack of tables only seems
to excite the situation.
situation in question is the weekly performance of the Joe
Clarke Big Band, the Friday night house band and local swing
sensation that has built a steady following in Charleston
over the years. The Joe Clarke Quartet, a smaller arrangement,
has also found a steady audience between some odd Thursday
and Saturday nights at Bennetts. The Big Band is most
often an eight-piece arrangement, but on the last Friday
of every month, the full 17-piece band will play, bringing
the fans out in droves.
© Joe Clarke
The music selection
is a clever distribution of standards, from "In the
Mood" to "Fly Me to the Moon." The musicianship
is strong, and there is plenty of toe-tapping with perennial
crowd pleasers like "Jump Jive An Wail"
or "Take the A Train." Joe Clarkes great
vocal strength lies in the ballads, and it is heavily
evidenced in songs like "Summer Wind," "Night
And Day," and even Billy Joels "New York
State of Mind." The playlist drifts effortlessly
from big band favorites to lounge classics and occasionally
into the friendly waters of contemporary pop ballads.
Clarke is not an overnight sensation. This talented vocalist
and piano player is a graduate of the Citadel, who began
his journey into the realm of the big band eight years ago
when he started teaching at the College of Charleston. Clarke
ran a big band at the college between 1993 and 1996, and
followed his stint in higher learning with the assembly
of his own quartet, eight-piece big band, and full 17-piece
arrangement. He has played different venues over the years,
but he is one of the first to admit there is something special
about his current showcase. "Most restaurants and nightclubs
seem to include space for a band and dancing as a last minute
decision," says Clarke. "Bennetts has made
the best effort in the city to bring live music to the public.
There was considerable forethought in the design of the
stage and planning for live entertainment. Sure, weve
been around for awhile, but this is great exposure."
Photo © Joe Clarke
wife, Chris, often joins his performances, adding zest
to any familiar standard. Other stage companions have
included musicians who have played with Ray Charles and
the Manhattan Transfer, as well as local jazz musicians.
There is always something to see, and the crowd is fast
growing. Fans of 30s and 40s arrangements
and old Sinatra tunes have never been happier.
a retired local businessman during a recent show, "I
love seeing the young people dance, and I love the ambiance.
Its a great vibe. Its a good thing."
at the Market is located at 85 South Market Street in
Charleston. For information and reservations, please call
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