A hundred years later, the culture, music and enduring mystique of the Roaring Twenties still hold a deep fascination for those who care about the history of jazz. Until we can actually time travel, the next best choice for everyone (besides Turner Classic Movies) is to embrace the growing catalog of Scott Asen’s Turtle Bay Records, a label devoted to giving contemporary jazz artists a platform to share their fresh interpretations of early (and often quite obscure!) jazz and swing tunes with a wider audience.
One of Turtle Bay’s most exciting artists are The New Wonders, a popular NYC collective led by veteran multi-talented cornetist, vocalist and Bix Beiderbeck aficionado Mike Davis. A popular trad jazz sideman who has been part of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band for a decade, Davis leads a six-piece unit (featuring clarinetist/alto saxman Ricky Alexander, trombonist Joe McDonough and banjo maestro Jared Engel) through a lively, fascinating set of 13 tunes from the 20’s and 30’s whose production is crisp but deliberately tinny and old-timey, to immerse the listener in the notion that these jumpy sounds are pouring forth from a radio of the era – or maybe from the stage of a speakeasy we happened to wander into.
Since most of the pieces are not immediately familiar to modern audiences, beyond the sheer joy of performing them, The New Wonders are clearly set on educating us by sharing songs that would have made us tap our toes and dance along had we been alive 100 years ago. In addition to drawing from the repertoires of Beiderbecke (“I’m More Than Satisfied”), the Paul Whiteman Orchestra (“I’d Rather Cry Over You”), Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra (“The Baltimore”), Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra (the opening barnburner “Flamin’ Mamie”), Davis has a blast mining “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!” from a Merrie Melodies cartoon and the uber-charming “She’s Funny That Way” from 1929 short film titled Gems of MGM.
Although it would take a lot of dedicated YouTubing or time on the streaming services to make detailed comparisons between the original recordings and fresh wonder The New Wonders bring to the genre, the key to Davis’ unique artistry is creating his own improvisations and drawing inspiration from other masters (say, Louis Armstrong) in creating dynamic approaches to the material.