"I would agree that, in the popular mainstream media and culture, there is a downward trend," he says about the status of the swing movement. "One of the good things about it is that it introduced a lot of people to other forms of music -- improvisationally based music and music of a different era. I think that a lot of people continue to show interest in that music, even though the fad is gone. The zoot suits and hipster lingo is going away, but we seem to draw good crowds. The songs we try to stick to are the timeless, tried-and-true ones. We've tried to distance ourselves from the fad, because we knew it wasn't going to last."
The band was formed some two and a half years ago, when drummer Tom Edwards witnessed a concert by Chicago's Mighty Blue Kings. Surprised by the popularity of the Mighty Blue Kings' style of jump blues -- a form of music he played when he started drumming in the '50s -- Edwards was more than willing to contribute to the genre's revival. He then recruited the rest of the band -- Burge, pianist Joe Hunter, guitarist Don Better, bassist Mark Better, saxophonist Dick Ingersoll, and singer Dennis Desapri. Burge, who started getting into jazz and rhythm and blues while he was a student at OSU, describes his bandmates as "a group of guys who like to hang out with each other" and said that their different interests (ranging from classical to blues) distinguish the Dukes of Wail from other swing acts. While it features only two original songs (the title track and "Her Daddy's House"), No Turning Back is admittedly fairly eclectic -- the Dukes of Wail play both ballads ("But She's My Buddy's Chick") and blues romps ("Big Mammou") in addition to (predictably) covering standards such as "Jump, Jive & Wail." And despite the downturn in the swing revival, Burge says he thinks the interactive nature of the concerts will keep the genre alive.
"I like to think of the music as a social catalyst that, I think, has been missing in a lot of music for a long time," he says. "Because it's essentially dance music, and the dance that accompanies it is a social dance, it brings an element that's been missing in a lot of clubs. People interact more, and it's not the typical meat market thing. [Swing] brings a social grace to that sort of thing, which I think is good."
Aqua (1800 Scranton, the Flats) has scheduled an impressive lineup of DJs for Friday nights in February. For February 11, the club is bringing in Simply Jeff (Jeff Adachi), an L.A.-based DJ whose debut, 1997's Funk-da-Fried, as its title suggests, has a retro feel and features funky breakbeats, vocoder vocals, and snappy bass lines. Aqua is open on Fridays from 9:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. For more information, call the club at 216-622-0200.
After three weeks of preliminary competition, the 1st Scratch Battle Contest came to a conclusion at the Agora Ballroom on February 4, but not everything went as planned. For starters, DJ Apollo and Vin Roc, who were to fly in from San Francisco to judge the final round of the competition, didn't show because of "weather." The event also got off to a belated start, as organizers tried to locate Leathaface, one of the competitors, and were forced to start without him (he eventually showed). Aside from those glitches, the event went smoothly, once it got started. Each DJ had five minutes to demonstrate his scratching skills and had to use his own cartridges and slipmats. The top prize was a pair of Technics 1200 turntables -- second place received $250 in "cold cash," and third place got a mixer unit. Because there was a tie for third, D-Man and Ground Zero had to square off in a three-minute match, which again yielded a tie. The judges left it to the audience to decide on a winner (by registering its vote via applause), and Ground Zero ended up taking third in a very close clapoff. DJ Ree Mycks won second place and DJ Curry finished first. Other finalists included Rob Riddum, 9MM, and Cut Master Slice. Despite the problems, the event, which was put on by Cleveland's Sphere Productions, successfully showcased the talent of Cleveland's turntablists, and Soundbites hopes the tradition continues next year.