After 20 years, the swing kings are still doing that voodoo that they do so well.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy swung into the music scene at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles in 1993, and has been tearing up dance floors and concert halls ever since. The band members, all in their 20s at the time, helped a whole new generation redefine cool through their hot swing and jumpin’ jazz in the 1996 film “Swingers.” (seen in a clip below)
They’re still in the mood, launching their 20th anniversary tour Friday at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Get ready for a high-energy time, as they swing through their new CD, “Rattle Them Bones,” as well as music from their previous albums. Most tunes are originals, some are covers, but even the covers sound original.
“It’s cool that we’ve developed our own sound — we’re not trying to copy somebody else’s sound or style,” Big Bad trumpet player Glen “The Kid” Marhevka, 41, says by phone from his home in Los Angeles.
“Part of the thing we like to do, is use all our influences and pay respects to all the different artists that came before us, but also stay true to our sound,” he says. “You don’t want to sound like somebody else — you want to sound like yourself. I think that’s something that we’re capturing now.”
“Rattle Them Bones” jumps genres and decades, dipping back to Prohibition gangster style with “Diga Diga Do,” Big Band jazz a la Count Basie and Duke Ellington, then moving into a more modern ‘60s mode with “5-10-15 Times.” “Devil’s Dance” kicks into a straight-up jazz, New Orleans style, Marhevka says.
It’s a leap across decades that helps the band find fans of every age — the folks in their 80s who grew up with swing music, their children in their 50s who grew up hearing that music at home, their kids who came of age in the neo-swing age that’s still pulsing through the University of Iowa Swing Dance Club, and little kids who just like to boogie to the beats.
Marhevka discovered swing music as a kid growing up near the epicenter of L.A.’s jazz scene.
“My dad played saxophone when I was growing up, so I started listening to him play and listening to horns,” Marhevka says. “They took me to some concerts, and my dad was always listening to Frank Sinatra at home and Tony Bennett.”
The young Marhevka got to hear Bennett in concert, as well as Cab Calloway, which helped fuel his passion.
He picked up a trumpet in seventh grade and started playing in 17-piece big bands from then on. He hooked up with a teacher who was a jazz musician, composer and arranger, and started going to clubs and concerts with his mentor and other music students to hear and meet the jazz greats.
“They’d play in all these little clubs in L.A. I’d sit in the back and have a soda,” Marhevka says. “I got to hear and meet some great players that are now gone. ... They were always happy to meet young, aspiring musicians. Most jazz musicians are into sharing their music, so it was really cool.”
Marhevka and the band thrive on that vibe, electrifying audiences with their energy in person and on their ninth album, released in September. That’s the key to the Big Bad sound.
“We have five horns and our singer, Scotty, has a certain style of singing, a certain sound,” Marhevka says. “The band is great as a live band. I think it’s an amazing live band, and I think we’ve captured a lot of that into the recording — that feeling of what we do live. We’ve gotten better and better at capturing that.
“We’ve been on the road for 20 years, and everybody has developed as live musicians and entertainers, and I think we’ve all started getting better on our instruments and in developing our style.”
He says trumpet plays “a very big role” in a swing band — “a larger role than in a lot of other situations.”
“In rock ‘n’ roll bands, horns and trumpet are doing more background stuff to enhance the sound. In this style of music, (trumpet) is in the forefront a lot, and especially our band, which really features trumpet, saxophone and trombone. I would say this is a horn band, really. That’s one of the driving forces of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy,” he says.
“In jazz and swing music, the trumpet has always been a premier instrument. It carries the melody and it’s that sort of voice. It’s super important in this style of music,” he says. “When you don’t have it, you definitely know it’s not there.”
He brought his sound to the band 18 years ago. Fresh out of college with a degree in trumpet performance, he knew a couple of guys in the band and fell into the key trumpet role at age 22. All the stars lined up just right to bring him home.
This music is in my soul. It’s something I’ve done since age 12. It’s what I know and where I live.”
These days, he’s getting ready to live on the road, as the band spends much of the new year promoting the new album. When band members do have breaks, they’ll head into the studio to record a new Christmas collection.
Most of the guys are in their 40s and have kids who are busy in school, so the families stay in their home bases. But Marhevka, who has a 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, scores Cool Dad points with the band’s annual Disney World gigs and with a song the band recorded for a “Phineas and Ferb” animated Christmas special a couple of years ago.
“My kids love that show, so all of a sudden, I was totally cool,” he says.