Chaise Lounge acted as an emissary between two musical countries last weekend–and the odd and somewhat schizophrenic nature of what we do was brought into sharp focus. On Saturday night, we played at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia, the jazziest of East Coast Jazz clubs. On Sunday, we played at Godfrey Daniels, a quintessential folk club in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Jazz and folk: Could Chaise Lounge really find common ground between those two ideologies? At Chris’ we brought a folksinger’s love of storytelling to the coolest cats in Philly. And at Godfrey Daniels, we brought our sharp suits and sharp chops and swung our as*** off for the salt-of-the-earth folksters of Bethlehem. And hooray, it felt like we brought a little bit of peace, love, and understanding to both sides, at a time when our country can use as much peace, love, and understanding as we can get.
Charlie heard his first Christmas carol of the year on the speakers at Home Depot before Thanksgiving. Ugh, he thought. But he is probably like a lot of us…conflicted about these chestnuts. If you examine the traditional carols one by one, they are usually pretty good hymns—well crafted and perfectly seasonal. Too bad we get so sick of them. And yet we need them, and not just to make a living as musicians during the season the public wants to hear them. We need them for how they connect us through the years, both with our younger selves and with carolers who have gone before. This week, Chaise Lounge will perform our annual Christmas show, with tunes from our Christmas album. One song we always play is “Good King Wenceslas.” It is a sci-fi-tale of the Duke of Bohemia in the 13th century, who leaves heated footprints in the snow as he travels on foot to give alms to a peasant. The melody might be Finnish from the 1600’s. The version we usually sing dates from the mid-19th century. What is astonishing to us is how the fiery silver nugget of wonder in this song burns its way through the centuries to have fresh meaning every time it’s sung. That is some powerful Christmas hoodoo. If you’re in the DC area, consider coming to our show at Blues Alley.
Sometimes the most valuable player at a gig isn’t even onstage. While we were on tour in Vermont this summer, we were blessed to have a young man, Dyllan, in charge of locating, transporting and setting up our back line for every gig. He was on site before we were, and he had nearly unlimited energy for getting drums, amps and keyboards on stage. After our gig in Greensboro was finished, it was absolutely pouring outside, and we dreaded having to mush through the muck to our cars. But it turned out that wasn’t necessary–Dyllan had already moved all the vehicles that needed to be moved and was quickly striking the set and bounding off the stage, brutally heavy amps in hand. Not once did we have to ask for help. He was a step ahead of us with all the help we needed. We hear he’s a talented bassist, so he may well have roadies of his own soon. Our wish for him is that they’ll have his same great energy and healthy knees.
You never know where your next idea will come from. For us, most recently, it came from a set of walking directions and an offhand crack from Pete. Last month, when we played at The Rooster’s Wife in North Carolina, we were honored to be houseguests of the club’s owner, Janet Kenworthy. After sound check, Janet gave us directions to her house: “Walk out this door, turn right on High Street, then walk up to Blue Street and it’s right there.” “OK,” I repeated, “You’re at the corner of High and Blue.” After the perfect pause, Pete said meaningfully, “Man, I’ve been there.”
How could this not be the next song in what Marilyn refers to as our “scorned-woman-slumped-over-
The Rooster’s Wife is a Brigadoon-like venue that springs to life once a week in a building that used to be a plumbing supply warehouse. Located in the tiny town of Aberdeen, North Carolina, the concert hall is the singular vision of one person, Janet Kenworthy, who loves live music in a way that bakers love bread and flowers love rain. It is partly the depth of her passion that attracts great bands from all over North America, and it’s partly the crowd that she has cultivated. At the odd time of 6:46 PM (every show starts then), an audience of enthusiastic and knowledgable music lovers assembles in this unlikely spot. The confluence of good music and a good audience is the magic formula that every band dreams of. It’s why we were honored to make the pilgrimage to Aberdeen again this year for a Mother’s Day show. Thanks Janet, for making this happen. And thanks to North Carolina-based photographer John Gessner for his wonderful shots of the evening.
Thanks to Amos Perrine for his very kind words in No Depression—our first review in this authoritative journal of American roots music:
I first saw Chaise Lounge by accident a couple years back, and what I thought might be a tragically hip retro band turned out to be completely the opposite. Much like Chris Siebert, who leads Lavay Smith’s band, and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, Charlie Barnett keeps the band’s eye firmly focused on the musical prize, but with a dry martini on the side.
Their latest, Gin Fizz Fandango, is at once playful and seductive jazz, sometimes with gorgeous vocals by Marilyn Older, and other times it’s Joe Jackson’s trombone that makes you feel you are in the middle of a Fellini movie, as he evokes ghosts of Nino Rota.
This, their seventh album since 1999, is full of wit, charm, and elegance that could only come from a jazz band harkening back to the golden age, but without a fatal sense of nostalgic irony. The disc is full of originals, save for one Cole Porter tune. Like a gin fizz, Chaise Lounge tickles not only your senses, but your fancy as well. The album is out now, so tango on over.
In Chaise Lounge’s seventh album, there’s swoonworthy original music, a timely reference to downloadable lyrics and chords, and a recipe for Gin Fizz Fandango (provided by the band’s bassist, Pete Ostle). Gin Fizz Fandango also happens to be the title track of a new album, released on Sept. 10, 2015 (Modern Songbook Records).
This is no ordinary jazz album. This is what they call a “cheeky” character album full of flirty flights of fancy perpetrated by musicians who take on the air of guys and dolls in a ballroom brawl — all in good fun.
The D.C. sextet features Charlie Barnett on guitar and piano, vocalist Marilyn Older, bassist Pete Ostle, percussionist Tommy Barrick, trombonist Joe Jackson, and reed man Gary Gregg. Barnett, a film composer, wrote 11 of the 12 songs, save for Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me.” Older plays piano on two tracks.
Chaise Lounge has been around since 1999, when the musicians jammed together at one of Barnett’s recording sessions. Ever since, they’ve jammed all over the country on the strength of a tight rhythm section, limber horn players, and the sweet, Betty Boop vocal style of Older.
The music is as retro-hip — think the Depression and the Prohibition, circa 1920-‘30s — as it gets, gently swinging, a little tongue-in-cheek in the hopscotch lyrics, tickling traces of a forgotten soundtrack from another era, even daring in places (a horn vocalese from the actual “Hopscotch”).
The overall vibe does feel like sipping on a fizzy cocktail, the bubbles tickling your nose, whether trombonist Jackson slides in on a slinky tango throughout the “Gin Fizz Fandango” instrumental or Older swinging on a pop song like “You,” where the lyrics go down as easy as the spring in the step of the horn players.
“You’s” particularly fetching for its cute, clever use of tempo to swing fast and slow, to a tantalizing crawl on the bridge home (“here’s where we end once we circle again, let’s drive real slow breathing in as we go”). Older also does quite a nice rap over the swizzle stick of horns at the 3/4th mark without faltering or needing a breather: “You accidentally brush my leg, and I go falling hard again, all you have to do is breathe your perfect love inside of me.”
Chaise Lounge isn’t a sit-and-listen band. The musicians play serious retro-dance grooves, the kind that would give the “Dancing With The Stars” cast a serious workout. Listen and bust out the moves on “Mambo Noir.” Be silly with the children tip-toeing around in a game of Hide-and-Seek on “Pigs In Blankets.” Slow-waltz in a timeless haze on “If I Never Get To Paris,” mostly on trombonist Joe Jackson and pianist Charlie Barnett’s melodic lines. Do the tap-dance shuffle with grandpa on “Celestial Navigation.” Older scat-hums (la-da-da-da-da-dum) through this gem of a closer.
Lest you assume it’s all fun and games over at Chaise Lounge’s Gin Fizz Fandango, the band turns down the lights for the grim emotional reaper, “I See You.” Older turns up the lonely, still sweet but sweetly aching for the fulfillment of real recognition “when the world looks the other way, I look in your eyes and say, ‘I see you.’” This one’s pure vocals, pure bliss, with the musicians mostly keeping time and exacerbating the loneliness and fear — pianist Barnett pressing urgency in only a handful of chords over and over, bassist Ostle illuminating the darkness, Gregg sampling a taste of that exquisite agony on his sax.
The true test of a remarkable band is its schedule. Chaise Lounge’s is jam-packed. The next performance is 8 p.m. March 4 at the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel, Md., then 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 6 at Blues Alley in D.C.
Last night we played our first show at the Carlyle Club in Alexandria, Virginia. We felt like we had come home! The art-deco stage seemed custom-made to set off our sharp suits. The sound in the room was terrific. And the audience was the perfect mix of drinkers, dancers, and attentive listeners, with no group seeming to impose its mode on any of the others. Thanks to the Carlyle for a memorable night! We’re hoping to be back soon.
Jazz seems to thrive in cities, and though we long ago abandoned the strictures of being just a “jazz band,” we still think of ourselves as urban creatures. Our Vermont tour this month challenged that. In the Green Mountain State, we found dirt roads, lakes, and fresh air—and of virtually no cellphone reception to remind us of big-city pressures. What a change! What a blessing! We played to tents and clubs full of Vermonters wearing overalls and Birkenstocks. We ate fantastic local cheese and drank Hill Farmstead beer. We slept under homemade quilts. And after we played the Village Green in Greensboro, we got recognized at Willey’s, the deli-hardware-gun-fishing-tackle-and-tractor-supply store. At the end of the tour, we six city slickers all agreed: we can’t wait to go back to Vermont.