Primary Instrument: Band/orchestra
The City Rhythm Orchestra has been knocking out audiences for years at nightclubs, jazz festivals, concert venues and dances with their high energy sets of swing, jazz and big band music. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls them Philly's premier swing outfit and anyone familiar with this group would certainly agree. Their 1,000-tune play list is filled with swingin' jazz arrangements, rockin' blues tunes, unique original material, and vintage big band charts.
A music critic once wrote that hearing a set by City Rhythm was great music and great fun. That just about sums up the results that saxophonists Pete Spina and Nick Vallerio had in mind when they formed the band, and they have consistently cooked up exciting music with their key ingredients of hot horn players, a smokin' rhythm section, innovative arrangements, and dynamite vocals. Mix all of this with the enthusiasm of the band members and you've got that unmistakable City Rhythm sound that packs every performance with wallop and distinguishes this group from others.
The band's arranger, Joe Matt, writes with a flair that keeps the music fresh and the listener on the edge of his seat. Joe also knows how to showcase the resonance of the horns and the many moods of the vocalists. His innovative arrangements shape the personality of City Rhythm's extensive repertoire.
The depth of the band's repertoire is truly astounding and the musicians sound quite at home with all of the styles they approach. They create vivid readings of vintage material from the Big Band Era saluting legends like Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, place their own mark on classic jazz and blues tunes, and present unique original material.
City Rhythm's vocalists Steve Ritrovato and Vicki Woodlyn add a special quality to the group with their dynamic range and versatility as they perform the music of the great singers of our time like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Dinah Washington.
City Rhythm has presented concerts at major music venues across the country and has performed at many notable music festivals and events. Prominent venues have included Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, Mann Music Center, Penn's Landing, and Electric Factory, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Washington DC Ritz Carlton, and the New York Hilton. Festivals such as Welcome America, the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Fairs, the Berks Jazz Festival, the Bethlehem Musikfest, the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival, the Mellon Jazz Festival, the New York City Hudson River Summer Festival, and the Allentown Mayfair, have repeatedly featured the band. The band is also called upon for special events and recently provided the music at the Inaugural Ball for Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the Philadelphia Phillies Farewell to the Vet Gala, and the kickoff of the new arena football league team Philadelphia Soul.
Nightclub and dance engagements have also been an integral part of City Rhythm's schedule. They are currently the Wednesday night band house band at Zanzibar Blue, Philly's most prominent jazz club. Other long running appearances have included the Abbey Bar in the Radnor Hotel, Quincy's Philadelphia in the Adam's Mark Hotel, the Edge Nightclub, and the Five Spot where City Rhythm gained acclaim as the must see band, performing Sunday nights for over 5 years. They also make frequent appearances at North by Northwest and Warmdaddy's Blues Club. In New Jersey, they've worked at many of the casino hotels, such as the Atlantic City Hilton where a series of live broadcasts was presented, the Taj Mahal, and the East Side Lounge in the Trump Plaza. The Rockin' Chair in Avalon, one of the Jersey shore's most popular spots for the college crowd, hosts the band for several summer blues and R&B dates each year. In New York City, the band appears regularly at Jack's Joint, The Supper Club, Irving Plaza, Cache, Swing 46 and others. In New England, City Rhythm has been featured at Swing City and The Swing Dance Network in Boston, The Call Nightclub and the Fleet Rink in Providence, and others. In Washington DC they've performed at the Chevy Chase and Clarendon Ballrooms. Recent tours included events at Florida's Savoy South club, California's legendary Sweet's Ballroom and San Francisco's Biscuits and Blues Club.
City Rhythm's music has been recorded on a regular basis and can be heard on numerous CD recordings. Their first album, Goin to Town, was produced in 1994 and was a big success with its lavish big band sound capturing the interest of both music critics and fans. In 1997, a live collaboration with Joey DeFrancesco on the Hammond B3 organ was captured on the CD Swinging Blue - Live at the Five Spot. The 1998 CD City Rhythm Strikes Again crossed over into the pop world and received national air play as swing music enjoyed renewed interest. In conjunction with its release, the band produced a Music Video of their Hit the Road Jack rendition, which was aired on international television. In 2001, a recording was made of an exciting big band concert to benefit the national medical research center at City of Hope. Sounds of Hope features an electrifying performance by the band and vocalists. The show includes tributes to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, and others. Songs to Live By came out in 2003 as a nod their rock and R&B alter ego. It includes an hour of great party music.
The latest release is a gem, as City Rhythm teams up again with Joey DeFrancesco on Vibrant Tones. It's a 2 disc set, including a great studio recording on the CD and live concert captured on DVD.
The collaboration of Joey De Francesco and the City Rhythm Orchestra has created many memorable moments over the years. Every live show has the feel of an event and many jazz artists and aficionados come out to catch the music. A frequent host at the performances has been Bob Perkins, a Philadelphia jazz radio legend. Bob is a big fan of the Hammond Organ sound and loves to tell stories about the heyday of those who gave birth to the incredible Philly jazz organ legacy - Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Charles Earland, Jimmy Mc Griff, and others. He and Mc Griff enjoyed comparing notes when they met up at one of the recent shows and then watched with pride as Joey demonstrated why he's the keeper of the flame.
The jazz community at large has credited Joey as the singular sensation that's rekindled a love for the Hammond B-3 world-wide. Consistently voted the number one Jazz Organist in the Downbeat Magazine Critics' Poll, Joey is uniformly regarded as the top artist at his craft. He burst on the scene at the age of 16 after being discovered by Miles Davis at a high school event and immediately joining him on tour. Following that notable entrance into the world of music, Joey signed with Columbia and has since released more than twenty albums on various major labels and performed at top music venues and festivals all around the world. Joey appears here courtesy of Concord Records, whose 2003 release Falling in Love Again earned him a Grammy Nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo. He never ceases to amaze audiences and critics as he constantly pushes the creative envelope.
For quite some time, many people had encouraged City Rhythm and Joey to do a studio recording that would truly capture the awesome sound that the group was becoming known for. At a performance at the GPU Berks Jazz Festival in 2001, they introduced a number of new charts written specifically for the occasion. The audience response was overwhelming and inspired all parties to get moving with the sessions as soon as possible.
Renowned engineer Gary Chester, at National Edison Recording Studios in New York, was sought out to oversee the proceedings. Everyone agreed that the sessions had to be done live in order to capture what these guys are all about. The laying down of tracks in a section-by-section manner would never do. Gary overcame the challenges of having five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, guitar, bass, drums and a Hammond B3 in one room. He set up the 13 horns in a semi-circle facing Joey and the rhythm section. This created a great sensitivity for the musicians and the feeling of a live show. As anticipated, the energy in the studio was high from the beginning and there was a sense that something very special was about to take place. All of the tunes were done in one or two takes, ensuring the spontaneity and power of the group was caught on the disc. The band played continuously for two days and put together 12 tunes totaling over 70 minutes of music.
Throughout the CD/DVD, Joe Matt's arrangements sparkle. His concept of harmony and horn voicings has long identified the City Rhythm sound, and he is clearly in top form here. He displays an uncanny knack for creating charts that effortlessly weave the big band and the Hammond organ together, making them sound perfectly at home together. Sometimes the organ is treated like an additional horn section, while other passages are set up for Joey to freely perform as the soloist. Matt's recreations of classics like Walk on the Wild Side and The Cat maintain the feel of the original, but bring a new instrumentation that shows off this ensemble, such as fashioning saxophone sectionals in place of French horns. He then goes full throttle with his original arrangements of Billie's Bounce, Time After Time and The Midnight Sun Will Never Set. The writing is both lush and explosive, yet still leaves plenty of room for the soloists. Guitar great Paul Bollenback adds another whole layer of sound throughout the CD. For a feature tune, he requested It Could Happen to You and Joe Matt answered with a fabulous chart that creates a perfect setting for Paul's fine jazz style. Joey sat at the studio's grand piano and provided a lovely texture behind Paul and the big band on that track.
One of the strong connections among everyone involved in this effort is their mutual admiration for the immense sound of bands like Count Basie. It seemed natural from the beginning of their work together, that they retrofit some classic Basie charts for the organ. Blues in Hoss' Flat and Whirly Bird are perfect examples. In the case of Whirly Bird, Joey insisted on picking a blistering tempo and you can hear his count-offs on both the CD and the live show. It is fitting that this project is being released during the Basie centennial (1904-2004), amidst a renewed appreciation for his legacy.
The performance captured on the DVD took place at Wiggins Park, along the Delaware River waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. The beautiful skyline of Philadelphia and the sight of the Battleship New Jersey create a perfect backdrop for the concert. The music takes on a slightly different feel in a live setting and it's quite enjoyable to compare some of the tunes that are present on both the CD and DVD. Senor Blues, a chart that varies between vibrant sectionals and great solos, is a perfect case in point. Joey takes an elaborate spot on the studio version that sets an exotic mood, then he brings it to entirely new level in the live show as he incorporates the electric sounds of the Yamaha Motif keyboard. On John Bailey's trumpet solo, there are also new elements that he develops based on the reaction of the live audience. Some other notable moments on the DVD are Joey singing Pennies from Heaven, the battle of the trumpets on Billie's Bounce, and the crowd pleasing encore Peter Gunn.