The Nighthawks specialize in period big-band music, authentic numbers from roughly 1919 through the thirties, with solos lovingly transcribed from the original recordings.
And while they play on original instruments using some of Vince Giordano’s collection of some 30,000 original charts, he’s certainly not the Thurston Dart of classic jazz. When Giordano lays into his aluminum-body upright bass, his David Lynch forelock waving back and forth like a metronome, the band is rocketing the tempo way past 200 to the quarter note.
The period instruments are what really creates the special sound. Giordano plays the aluminum-body bass I mentioned above on most numbers, but also switches over to a 1930s-vintage tuba or a bass saxophone from the same era. The bass sax is a special favorite of mine, replacing the smooth thump of a string bass with a chainsaw-like rip underneath. He also sings an occasional verse in a light baritone that sounds like it’s coming over your grandmother’s old tube radio.
The rest of the lineup includes a pianist, a guitar/banjo player (on a four string guitar), four saxes, switching between soprano, alto, tenor and bari as well as some clarinet numbers. One of the sax players fills in on violin on a few tunes, and he also brought along a Strohviol, a violin with an acoustic horn attached for amplification.
The brass section consisted entirely of two trumpets and a trombone. When you hear old recordings from the 1930s — or even older pre-Loonie Toons cartoons — there’s a certain timbre that I always assumed was an artifact of the recording techniques of the day. But those small-bore brass instruments, combined with the assortment of mutes and plungers they used, surprised me because that’s how they actually sounded. The trombonist brought along a megaphone amplifier (picture Rudy Vallee) that also had a unique sound.
In the same way, the drummer was playing a kit with older cymbals and smaller drums, an early version of a vibraphone, lots of wood blocks and — reportedly — a whistle (which he didn’t use).
All in all, the sound was smaller but brighter and more flexible than modern instruments. But leaving aside the technical points, the band really swings hard, with incredible energy. The band’s MySpace page has a few clips. We heard them at SOPAC (where we were kind of embarrassed to see so many empty seats), but they’re regulars at Sofia’s in the Edison Hotel in Manhattan, where they can be heard most Monday nights (there’s also a dance floor, and even though I don’t dance the music made me want to). I stayed at the Edison once on a college field trip, and it’s a blast from the past. We’ve got to get over there some time.
SOPAC and SHU jointly sponsored the event, part of the “Jazz ‘n the Hall” series. The Paquito D’Rivera concert I reviewed earlier was also part of this series. The price is right, the location is easy, and the programming so far has been great. Get over there.