Review: THE JIVE ACES at Birdland Are Full of Friendly Fun & Frenzy

Oldies overflowing with old-school entertainment sensibilities

By: Apr. 11, 2024
Review: THE JIVE ACES at Birdland Are Full of Friendly Fun & Frenzy
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No one is likely to accuse the The Jive Aces of a lack of energy.  This brash, bombastic, enthusiastic, mega-lively group, first formed in 1989, pours on the pizzazz.  The repertoire chosen for the set I caught at Birdland on April 4, a stop on their tour, took a few pages from a kinetic kindred spirit from the past, Louis Prima. When they took on his signature piece that includes a word in their own group’s name – namely “Jump, Jive and Wail” – they invited (and got) plenty of participation from the audience.  Asked first to stand, we were encouraged to jump on the word “jump,” sing along, echo a key line, clap in rhythm, and wave our arms in the air that had already been full of good-times vibes.  Another primo Prima piece, the glib medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody” was another rouser.  Ian Clarkson handles the lead vocals and most of the ongoing considerable commentary and introductions of guests.  He’s also the sextet’s trumpeter and his other instrument of choice is the (electrified) ukulele.  He walked around the audience area, schmoozing with the folks at the tables.  

The advocates of retro revisited and revitalized other mid-20th-century styles, including a nod to Elvis Presley for “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”  These musicians raised in Britain prominently featured selections from their soon-to-be-released CD, Keeping the Show on the Road, including: “St. James Infirmary”; the piano showpiece “Bumble Boogie" (the speedy variation of the classical “Flight of the Bumblebee”); and their new single, a revamp of “La Vie En Rose” – one of a few items on which accordionist Grazia Bevilacqua joined them.  

Recruited from the audience to join the party (planned? unplanned?) was singer/musical theater actress Annmarie Rosano, who’d toured with the group.  Well, the polished entertainer surely got in the groove.  Also called to the stage, and likewise claiming to be without benefit of a rehearsal, were three game members of the New York division of the female harmony group that also specializes in pop from the past: The Satin Dollz.  Effectively adding to the professional nostalgia pull, they were a welcome asset.  (And they know Birdland’s neighborhood of West 44th Street, being mainstays as performers at the Brooklyn Delicatessen, a stone’s throw away on 43rd.)

A kind of in-your-face method of determined drive to engage and entertain, most evident with the happily hammy persona of Mr. Clarkson and a fondness for feverish and frothy fare should not obscure the musical skills and professionalism displayed by him and his band mates: John Fordham (sax, clarinet, fiddle); Ken Smith (bass); Paul Richardson (drums); Vince “Professor” Hurley (piano); and Alex Douglas (trombone).  But it’s mostly about fun and an encouragement for us to take the advice in the lyric of an included famous song with a one-word title telling us what to do — a number sung over the years by Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Barbara Cook, Lady Gaga, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Michael Buble, Andrea Marcovicci, Pink Martini, Kristin Chenoweth, as well as Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand (separately and together), and hundreds of others: “SMILE.” (And so we do.)

For more shows at Birdland, visit their website.

Learn more about the Jive Aces, including where to follow them on social media, on their website.


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