Swing Is the Thing
Father-son duo Ben ’67 and Leo ’99 Sidran give new life to timeless tunes.
On Swing State, the first all-instrumental record of his six-decade career, Madison jazz musician Ben Sidran ’67 teams up with his son, Leo Sidran ’99 of Brooklyn, New York, and longtime collaborator Billy Peterson to create a sound as smooth as the singing that distinguishes the rest of his discography.
Swing State’s sweetness lies in its sentimental simplicity. The record revisits jazz standards like “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and “Tuxedo Junction” in an homage to the albums and artists that moved Sidran as a young pianist. With his son on drums and Peterson on bass, Sidran channels the piano trios of Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Bud Powell, and Sonny Clark.
“Like the great trios, this music is highly arranged to be loosely played. Ben uses all the pianistic devices of the day to create new music, bathed in warm familiarity with fresh invention,” Michael Cuscuna writes in the record’s liner notes.
According to Sidran, the album’s title — also the name of its only original track — describes the emotional space one enters with the music: “[It’s] that pulse — that loose, loping pulse that was at the heart of what people have always tried to do in jazz. … Swing used to be the thing that you wanted to establish to make people feel good.”
Swing State marks a true return to roots for Sidran, whose musical résumé spans early days in the Ardells with friends Steve Miller x’67 and Boz Scaggs x’66; sessions with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Peter Frampton; production work for Miller, Van Morrison, and Diana Ross; and deep dives as a music journalist and academic.
“[Sidran] has been his own short-order cook, juggling his own career and his projects. But we all return to our core, that is, the music that fueled our desires and tacitly directed our lives. Ben went home at the age of 78 with this album,” Cuscuna writes.
Leo Sidran produced Swing State, which was recorded by Mark Whitcomb ’94 at DNA Music Labs in Madison.
Published in the Spring 2023 issue
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