Bill Reynolds’ Back Back Ramblers
Mike Peipman trumpet, John Clark clarinet/alto, tenor, and baritone sax, Billy Novick clarinet/alto sax, Dan Gabel Trombone, Scott Philbrick guitar, Herb Gardner keyboard, Stu Gunn tuba/string bass, Nancy McGhee vocals, Bill Reynolds leader/drums.
Back Bay Ramblers are the result of the late Ed Reynolds dream. He created a great Traditional Jazz Band in the 1980’s that would record the rarely heard tunes of the 1920’s. Ed passed in 2014 at age 90. (More about Ed and his band below.)
His son, drummer Bill Reynolds, promised him he would continue the Back Bay Ramblers. Ed would be proud of the band that Bill has meticulously created; it is absolutely outstanding!! (He added tuxedos for class par excellence.) Most of these talented musicians lead bands of their own. This band uses structured arrangements, as did the larger earlier bands.
In New Orleans Traditional Jazz Bands were all improvisation, with emphasis on musicians’ solos. But as the music spread northward in the 20’s and 30’s, the bands grew larger to play in bigger rooms around the country, in restaurants and hotels in Chicago, Detroit. Their music became Hot Tunes, they played to larger dancing crowds. This obviously made written arrangements necessary, with tight sections playing in syncopation. The music was written and arranged so they could play together, sometimes on the same note, sometimes in harmony. It’s a balance of simplicity and complexity.
Tonight’s Back Bay Ramblers began with a tom-tom drum beat intro to Dream Sweetheart, words and music by Bud Green, 1932. Bill Reynolds has made this their theme song.
They continued with Daddy, Won’t You Please Come Home, introducing the lovely and talented Nancy McGhee (who happens to be Bill’s cousin).
She is a classically trained vocalist. She graduated from Berklee and then went to the New England Conservaory. She is currently choral director at Lawrence High School
She continued with a tune written by Walter Donaldson and sung by The Boswell Sisters in 1931, An Evening in Caroline. It starts slowly with two clarinets, backed by guitar, then the brass comes in and it jumps up into two-beat barn burner!
Dan Gabel trombone, Mike Peipman trumpet, Bill Reynolds drums
Structured arrangements mean many rehearsals. Billy Novick and John Clark were familiar with the Back Bay Ramblers Book, but Dan and Mike were not. This was especially difficult for Mike, who was home in Australia at the time they were rehearsing and missed all but the last full band rehearsal. Mike and Dan played spectacular solos, and representing the brass section of a big band, they nailed it!
1929 Little by Little, four piece front line, nice exchange between Billy on clarinet and Scott’s guitar. A great Tiny Parham tune, Congo Love Song, played by two mellow alto saxes, and a vivid Congo drum beat.
Nancy was back with Top of The Town a 1937 Jimmy McHugh tune made for the movie of the same name. McHugh was a Boston native. His songs had an infectiously swinging quality that instantly endeared them to the listener. Perfect for Nancy.
The Ramblers used arrangements from various people. Cho King, a tune by Sonny Clay was arranged by Robin Verdier.
The 1919 Alcoholic Blues was written by Edward Laska with music by Albert Von Tilzer. (Tilzer also wrote Take Me Out To The Ball Game in 1908.)
Some of these tunes the Ramblers played were written for guitar, others for banjo. Scott and Stu stayed in sync. Scott switched between guitar and banjo. When Stu Gunn played string bass, Scott played guitar. When he played tuba, Scott played banjo.
Scott is like vanilla extract in a cake; you can’t taste it when it’s there, but you know when it’s left out.
Marvelous bass man, Stu Gunn
Stalwart Stu Gunn instinctively moves from string bass to tuba, playing chords that maintain that very essential Traditional Jazz beat.
When he isn’t playing in a Jazz Band, you’ll find him playing classical music in several local symphonies.
Nancy returned with I Have to Have You, backed by soft trumpet; and one of Bill’s favorites, a Bob Connors arrangement, That Wonderful Something (is Love).
For those who don’t know Bob Connors, he led a marvelous band in the 1970’s, The Yankee Rhythm Kings; they excelled at Lu Watters two-beat California jazz. Bob was the original leader of The Back Bay Ramblers. Their book has 121 arrangements; Connors wrote 91 of them.
He and his wife now live in Florida. He’s retired from music, but keeps busy restoring archived movies and silent films. If you’re interested in movie history, he has a vast collection of rare films that you won’t find anywhere else.
A Bennie Moten tune, That Too, Do had audience participation and everyone in the band responding “Yeah” and “Right”; another Bob Connors arrangement.
Herb Gardner was invaluable, transitioning the musicians from one section to another and offering just the right chords behind soloists.
He’s been the pianist-in-residence here at Primavera, playing with numerous bands on piano, trombone and vocals.
Mike Peipman is originally from Australia
Bill did the tom tom drum intro to their newest tune – 1951 – the Australian Nullabor. Robin Verdier’s Monte Carlo Jazz Ensemble plays this all the time.
Mike says it means ‘flat plain with no trees’ – “null arbor”? It may have come from the Australian aborigines, with heavy drum accents.
Bill Reynolds, leader
Bill’s drum continued the beat into ‘Leven Thirty Saturday Night. This was a Frank Powers arrangement – he was a reed player from Chicago who did many arrangements for Ed’s band.
It is also the name of one of the albums that Ed Reynold’s original Back Bay Ramblers recorded for Bob Erdo’s Stomp Off Records. Some are still available. (See below) All of the tunes played today came from these CDs.
Nancy is crazy about her man.
Nancy was back for Dreaming About My Man. She really feels the words and puts heart and soul into her singing.
Fat’s Waller’s Concentrating on You was recorded by Hunter’s Serenaders, a territory band from Omaha, Nebraska.
Ed Reynolds liked territory bands and often used some of their tunes.
Ridin’ but Walkin’, a 1929 Fats Waller tune was played at The Cotton Club. The Ramblers did it justice. It brought out Clark’s tenor sax – nice, Billy on clarinet with drum beat tapping on the choke cymbal, Mike on muted trumpet. Short but in the groove!
The River and Me was recorded by the Absolut Duke Ellington, who played it every night at the Cotton Club. It’s a fabulous swinging tune. The Ramblers used the Frank Powers arrangement. Trombone, trumpet, clarinet and tenor sax, Stu Gunn pushing them on string bass, all the musicians pushed the boundaries with some profound, imaginative swinging! They raised goose bumps!
Right Kind of Man was sung by Ruth Etting in 1929. Nancy’s fine vocal was followed by two alto saxes taking 32 bars in multi-dimensional harmony. Billy Novick and John Clark are always pushing music forward, expanding on it.
Back to instrumentals, Vipers’ Drag is a 1930 Fats Waller tune made popular by Cab Calloway.
Jungle Blues was arranged by Billy Novick. He and Bill Reynolds have been ‘partners in crime’ for over 30 years. Two clarinets harmonizing backed by steady drum beat.
Dynamite! Billy Novick and John Clark on various reeds
Nancy feels so blue!
Nancy was back with Nobody Cares, backed only by Herb Gardner on piano. She’s so blue, you can absolutely feel it!
Ed would definitely be proud of this band; it is absolutely outstanding! Their passion for this music is obvious. Hot Dance Music at its best!! We hope to hear more from them really soon.
Meantime, you can still get the fine music. Bill still has several CDs from Ed’s band.
Red Hot Band
‘Leven Thirty Saturday Night (4 left)
My Mom is in Town (1 left)
… also LPs and Cassettes of Boston Shuffle
Get in touch with Bill Reynolds at email@example.com for any of these.
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Ed Reynolds, New England’s premier Jazz Historian and collector of Traditional Jazz records, deftly drew rarely heard traditional jazz ditties from 1925 to 1931 for his outstanding jazz musicians from our area and New York City.
Karen Cameron is originally from North Dakota. She was with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, and has sung with the Artie Shaw Band and other commemorative big bands around the country.
These are Ed Reynold’s Back Bay Ramblers 2001 at the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival. This band played some of the finest 1920’s period music at the festival. This is not swing – this is Traditional Jazz-Hot Dance Music at its best!