Easy Street Swingtet
by Sandor Slomovits
While listening to Paul Klinger's Easy Street Swingtet at the Firefly recently, I overheard someone say, "You'd pay big money to hear music like this in New York . . . but the band would be better dressed."
Spoken like a true New Yorker. Also, true. The Easy Street Swingtet sets no sartorial standards. The band dresses in black pants and red shirts, but some of the shirts are long sleeved, others short, and the shades of red don't match. The drummer wears a green jacket over a white shirt, and the bass player appears in jeans and a red T-shirt.
If you're here to see sequins and tuxes, you'll be disappointed; but if you're here to hear Dixieland and swing standards played the way they ought to be, you surely won't. The music and the spirit of the band's playing are both top drawer. The dress is not New York formal, but this is no casual outfit.
Paul Klinger has been a mainstay of the local jazz scene for more than four decades. He and his cornet and sax cases have also toured nationally with the Chicago Jazz Band, and internationally with the New Reformation Jazz Band. Along the way, he's sat in with such jazz greats as Benny Carter and Doc Cheatham.
Klinger's seven-piece Swingtet is an ever-changing panoply of the area's finest jazz musicians. All of them are first-chair players who don't need to take a backseat to anyone, anywhere; any band that has James Dapogny playing the piano and contributing arrangements is, by definition, world class. They trade fours seamlessly, the stop times are crisp, the soloing is consistently imaginative and resourceful, and the ensemble work sparkles. Plus, there is Susan Chastain, the Firefly's owner and resident chanteuse: when she isn't cooking or doing whatever else it takes to keep the Firefly glowing, she joins the guys for a few songs and then it's Katie, bar the door!
The Easy Street
Swingtet has been around in various incarnations since the late 1960s and playing the Friday afternoon Happy Hour at the Firefly (and before that the Bird of Paradise) for about ten years. These musicians are always happy to take requests, and with a library of over 500 tunes, this is one band you won't stump. Klinger keeps meticulous track of when each tune has been played, so the sets stays fresh from week to week.
And occasionally there are additional delightful surprises. On a recent Friday afternoon, Chris Smith's eight-year-old daughter, Bonnie, came onstage to sing "I'll See You in My Dreams." The band backed her expertly, she negotiated the sinuous melody admirably, and she got the biggest ovation of the day.
[Review published June 2006]