Forgotten series: Jay Geils – Toe Tappin' Jazz (2009)

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The ugly lawsuit between John “J” Geils and four members of the remaining group that bears his name had us thinking about happier times, specifically a standout jazz recording that Geils issued a few years ago. To recap: The J. Geils Band — featuring fellow co-founding members Peter Wolf, Magic Dick Salwitz, Danny Klein and Seth Justman — are still set to begin a nine-date tour through the northeast on August 25, 2012, with another touring leg planned to begin after Thanksgiving. Upon hearing about these new dates, however, Geils filed a lawsuit citing a trademark on the group name that he claimed in 2008. But, wait, Geils actually signed an agreement in 1982 that limits his ability to use the band designation on his own, something the guitarist now claims is fraudulent because it was signed without counsel. Geils has now been replaced by Duke Levine, who has served as second guitarist for the band recently, while all of this gets worked out. If, in fact, it ever gets worked out. What a mess. Remember Geils’ 2009 release Toe Tappin’ Jazz, though? …

Released near the end of 2009, this remains for me one of the most outstanding jazz albums in recent memory.

Geils, calling himself “Jay” now, completely sheds his legendary persona as part of the Boston party band known for hits like “Lookin’ For a Love,” “Give It To Me,” “Must of Got Lost,” “Centerfold,” and “Love Stinks.” Who knew the hard-rocking Geils had this much love for jazz in his heart?

The disc was the former rocker’s second jazz release (the first one is Jay Geils Plays Jazz) and both have received high praise from the few people who have heard them. If not online, Geils’ little gem is hard to find. I only stumbled across it at a souvenir shop’s CD kiosk while on vacation in Lennox, Mass.

The music featured on Toe Tappin’ Jazz is nothing fancy, nothing experimental. It’s just superbly played traditional jazz with the emphasis on melody and song structure. Sure, there is plenty of improvisation (what is jazz without that?) but it’s all very tastefully presented. The soloists never run amok or lose sight of the rest of the band because the group performs as a true ensemble.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The old J. Geils Band’s ‘Blow Your Face Out’ from 1976 was just too much fun: blues, funk, soul, heck … even a little comedy.]

Geils plays all of the electric and acoustic guitars, plus some vibraphone on three tracks, but he does not hog the limelight. None of the rest of the band are household names but everyone turns in a warm and loose performance that is truly a labor of love. Among them are drummer Gordon Grottenthaller. Reed man Billy Novick plays alto, tenor, and clarinet. Doug James plays baritone sax and Jeff Stout is the trumpet player. John Turner provides acoustic bass. Also featured are trombone, piano, and organ. Sugar Ray Novick adds vocals to one of the twelve tracks.

Tunes include two Johnny Hodges compositions, “Good Queen Bess” and “Funky Blues.” The band also covers Benny Goodman’s “Don’t Be That Way,” Roy Eldridge’s “Fish Market,” “Stuffy” by Coleman Hawkins, and Count Basie’s “Theme From M Squad.” There is also a nice version of Jimmy McHugh’s standard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.”

Geils has admitted his first loves have always been jazz and blues but, as he states here, he never believed he was good enough to play either, until recently.

I’m glad he changed his mind.

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Charlie Ricci

Charlie Ricci

Charlie Ricci maintains Bloggerhythms, where he talks about music, concerts, and a wide range of other musical topics. In August 2008, his site placed at No. 87 on a list of the Top 100 music-related blogs according to Alexa, a web ranking service. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Charlie Ricci
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