Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven’s new album Uptown Jump is a sonic miracle. It captures with a raw and immediate intensity the spirit of the golden era of swing music from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
Glenn leads the kind of jazz outfit that people jumped and jived and drank and made love to. His combo has captured its own unique sound as did those led by legends such as John Kirby, Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, and many more.
Glenn emerged out of the Seattle swing dance scene with his first combo the Syncopators and big band The Blue Rhythm Band. Now at the tender age of 34, he has taken New York City by the balls. He’s ripping up the legendary Rainbow Room with his brand of exciting danceable swing, as well as venues like Swing 46, Swing Remix, and dances up and down the East Coast.
His music has also caught the ear of Hollywood. Glenn recently placed songs in ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter series, and has been featured in shows like Pretty Little Liars on the CW, as well as several independent films.
Here’s an interview with Glenn conducted by Julius Robinson of MusicSupervisor.com
Q: So I hear you sent digital tracks of your new record Uptown Jump to 400 people who supported you on Kickstarter?
A: We had a big group of backers on Kickstarter. The basic reward for anyone who contributed ten dollars and up was a digital download of the whole album before it comes out. This is the second record we’ve financed with Kickstarter.
A: Is there a particular music period that inspired this record?
A: This one is more the sound around 1935-1947. The others have had a wider range, going back to the 20’s. We’re trying to focus on the heart of the swing era as opposed to the 1920’s hot band sound.
Q: Who are your players? Was this recorded with New York musicians?
A: All New York recorded. Mike Davis is on trumpet, originally from Seattle one of the youngest guys on the New York scene right now, and just tearing it up. I love working with him. Dan Levinson is on soprano, alto and tenor saxes, he’s one of the veterans of the traditional jazz and swing-era music scene in New York. He plays all over the world and is a fine saxophonist. Dan has taken a lot of the younger guys under his wing. Evan Arntzen is on sax and clarinet. He moved out to New York from the northwest, was on my last record as well. Jesse Gelber is on piano. Jesse is a fine composer and bandleader in New York, and recently completed a musical. He was on the scene in the 1990’s when neo-swing was happening. Andrew Hall is on bass, he’s one of the most in demand bassists on the New York City scene. Kevin Dorn is THE guy in New York when it comes to vintage drumming.
Q: Listening to your music, it’s like a time machine – how does a guy in his thirties get so steeped into this older period?
A: A lot of guys like me are into old music. But there are different philosophies about how to lead a period jazz band. You can be a total re-creationist. Some bands out there play old stock charts, even play the old solos note for note. Then on the other side of the spectrum, there are bands playing old music but with the philosophy “we’re going to rock it.” They like to mic everything up like rock and have a variety of influences from traditional jazz through swing and right on into straight-ahead and more modern artists.
Those are the two extremes. I’m trying to create a band of musicians that know the period style, but are like their own band from the 1940s. We’re not copying the sound of any other band. We’re the artists we are, but like we were living in 1940. We’re trying to see what music our personalities would make through the filter of that era – without having the modern mic techniques, harmonic language, etc.
Q: Admirable that you are not compromising or trying to hybrid the thing.
A: My whole theory on creativity is: If you look at the 20th century, it was about making everything new, like the poet Ezra Pound’s famous line, “Make it new.” Art before that was about how you wrote a symphony or sonata. What was creative about your work was what you did within those bounds. At the end of the 20th century, we burned ourselves out on “new” stuff we could do. You look at classical music, there were people lighting a piano on fire. Everything’s been done. Now there’s a post-modern trend. I hope to see the old style of creativity come back. You can do something interesting and creative within a framework – forever.
Q: You can’t be chasing trends around. Do what you do. The world may not catch up or it may never happen, but you’ve got to be authentic.
A: Yes, it’s about being authentic to who you are and what your vision is. Fortunately I seem to be doing that at just the right time when people are interested in that! Maybe 20 years ago nobody would’ve cared.
Q: We’re far enough away from those years so that your music sounds fresh to people. And now from my perspectives for some of these TV shows you’re placed in – like Marvels Agent Carter on ABC, and for film/tv placements in general, having the niche sound like you have is the real deal. No one can compete with you. And the fact that you’ve written a large percentage of this stuff makes it so place-able.
A: Thanks. I hear a lot of people are writing stuff that’s more of a fusion – a cross between modern and old – because that’s what’s inspiring them. We’re the perfect fit for a show creating a new story set in the 1940s. We’re doing with our songs what they’re doing with their stories – creating something new within an old framework.
Q: I always love it when you sing. You’ve got a few cuts here, “It’s About Time” “Smoking That Weed,” and “Yes, I’m in the Doghouse Now.” By the way I wrote LOL in my notes here. You can only understand that song if you have a significant other. Do you have a significant other?
A: I do have a girlfriend I’ve been with for almost two years, and she’s an absolutely wonderful human being. I couldn’t be happier.
Q: Good. Have you been in her doghouse?
A: I have been in the doghouse.
Q: What I love about that period you’re inspired by is you can sing songs where you smile and laugh out loud, and they’re not corny — they’re just truth.
A: Totally. Sometimes people think of a lot of the music of the 20s, 30s, and 40s – the Tin Pan Alley Era into the American Song book era as surface-y, but you really have the range of human emotion in those songs.
Q: Were there any singers who influenced you?
A: Different singers and songs all have a way of coming together in my voice and they hopefully turn into something new. If you try to copy someone else, you’ll be a bad copy. I like Jimmy Rushing who did the “blues shout” stuff with Count Basie in the 30’s and 40’s. Fats Waller as a singer, and of course he was a great piano player as well. Fats brings a lot of personality and spunk. Billie Holiday is probably best known for slow “torch songs” but she was great on up tempo numbers too. She had a way of turning a phrase. Early Sinatra with Harry James and Dorsey. I ask myself: What does my voice do and what can I make with it? How do the people I like influence it?
Q: What is your process of writing, arranging and getting a track recorded?
A: It’s different for each tune. On some tunes the arrangement is just a part of the song, like on Downtown Slump or Le Fantome de Saint Bechet. Tunes like Uptown Jump and Missouri Loves Company are blues numbers, so the arrangement is really built around Kansas City style riffs. Songs like What Did I Do, Could This Be Love, and Good Night Good Luck, are sort of like 30s/40s pop tunes – the sorts of tunes that might have come from a Broadway show but that jazz musicians would have liked and played in a jazz style.
Q: You’re setting up your recording studio like they did back in the day?
A: Yes. It was all with a very minimal use of microphones. It’s not an ideological choice on my part, it’s a sonic choice. When you mic individual instruments, you get a different sound. If you’ve ever stood a foot away from a trumpet, you know it sounds very different than it does at the bell of the trumpet or on the other side of the room. Same thing if you stick your head in a piano. More air is in the sound if you’re further away. The sound disperses through air and the way it hits your ear changes. When you mic each instrument, you get a very different sound from what you get if you mic the whole band as an ensemble. That’s OK if it’s the sound you want. With this kind of music, we’re going for a more natural sound. We want it to sound like you were listening to a whole band versus if you were listening up close to every instrument all at once.
Q: The sound you’re getting with fewer mics is what lends authenticity to your tracks and makes them perfect for film and TV placements.
A: I’m not doing this to be “authentic” necessarily, but the way the sound blends is an important part of the music. Jazz was the first music that developed side by side with electronic technology. New technology was a part of music before, like when new instruments were invented, or new developments were made in the building of performance spaces, but electronics were new in jazz.
You couldn’t have a singer with a light voice like Billie Holiday in 1920. The first public address systems weren’t in use until the mid “teens” – first used in 1915 in San Francisco. In the early 20’s most venues still didn’t have mics, so if you wanted to sing, you stood on the edge of stage and sang, like in opera or classical. You had to have a big voice like Bessie Smith or the blues-shout cats out of Kansas City. Recording, radio, and live technology changed the sound. To me, that is an integral part of the music people often overlook.
Q: How do you get this sound live?
A: It can be challenging in live situations – often sound guys will say we don’t need to put a mic on the horns, they’re loud enough, but we just need to put a mic on the piano and bass, because they’re softer. But I point out that the music is balanced correctly with no mics at all. If you make one thing louder, you’re going to muck up the balance. If you want it louder, it all has to come up together.
Q: What instruments do you play?
I play guitar and sing. I also play tenor banjo which is essential to the 1920’s stuff. I played cello in school.
Q: I see you were born in 1980 – you’re 34 now. In your bio it says you started out at age 14 in the 1990’s. What gets someone into this kind of music instead of Nirvana?
A: Oh I love Nirvana! I was sad when Kurt Cobain died! I didn’t get into jazz until I was in my late teens and 20’s. I studied and wrote classical and got my masters in that. I got into jazz through swing dancing. I started in college. I was sitting around the dorm freshman year and a cute girl comes in all dressed up 1940’s to go swing dancing. I thought: I wanna go too, she’s kinda cute. So I went with her and got into the music. At the time it was more neo-swing mixed with ska and punk.
But then I discovered older music as I got better at the Lindy Hop — that dance is an expression of the old music. I got into pre-war Count Basie. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Louie Armstrong etc. Almost nobody was really playing this music. Nobody was playing what I wanted to dance to live though — so I thought, maybe I should play this music! So I started teaching myself banjo because I was really interested in late 20’s early 30’s music. I used the critical listening skills I picked up from classical training at school to figure out why that music sounds like it did. The ability to dig your ear into things and figure out why they sound like they do offers a different perspective from people who study jazz in school. I don’t think it’s a skill that they’re taught to develop in the same way that classical composers do.
Q: You started at the Hep Cat Swing Dance events in Seattle?
A: That was a Thursday night thing, they gave us our first gig in Seattle. Then we were the house band at the Century Ballroom, built in 1909, still in use solely as an actual ballroom. Our first gig there was in 2008, and we were the house band from 2009-2011.
Q: Did you find players in Seattle up to your standards?
There are some great players in the Northwest, but it’s just not as deep on each instrument. In New York there’s a ton of great players and they’re all pushing each other to get better.
Q: What came first the Syncopators or The Blue Rhythm Band?
A: The Syncopators came first and then Blue Rhythm is my big band. The Savoy Seven is my newest group – a little larger combo than the Syncopators. Our first album though was with the big band. That was insane. Why would I make a big band album as my first record? What an undertaking! And we recorded the whole album in three hours. We did some EQ and that was it.
Q: That’s how those bands used to be recorded. Press play and record.
A: Yes except those bands played together every night! We had a couple gigs before that, and then were in the studio. I’m shocked it turned out so well.
Q: And you produced and wore all the hats on, correct?
A: Yes. I know what I hear, but I’m always learning more and more about how to get it.
Uptown Jump is the best I’ve done. In retrospect, I always think, I could’ve moved the piano over this way and moved the guitar over there, but these are little details that maybe only matter to me!
Q: What are your plans now?
A: We’re getting this record out, sending t-shirts, doing a CD release. I’m also getting some stuff going with the big band in New York. We just had our first gig at the Rainbow Room n February.
Q: Any kind of tour planned?
A: Not yet. I’ve run my own tours, 45 dates in two months. I vowed never to book my own tour again, while playing, loading gear, and booking rooms. When the right agency comes along that wants to book a tour for us and that can give us a nice mix of dances, concerts, college gigs, etc. then we’ll hit the road again. In the meantime folks are welcome to fly us into any place they’d like for a gig/gigs in a single locale.
Q: What about Vegas or the older crowd in Palm Desert?
A: Sure, I like playing for all kinds of crowds, the younger swing dance scene and the soft-seat crowd. I don’t care how old or young people are. If they like this kind of music, I’m happy to give it to them.
Interview by WeGet COO Julius Robinson