Interview with Glenn Crytzer of the Syncopators
Most swing dancers have heard of groups like the Boilermaker Jazz Band, Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, and the Loose Marbles. But a new force in swing music has hit the band stands in the last few years and is quickly earning a lot of dancer’s hearts for his driving swing rhythms and original compositions. Glenn Crytzer is the founder of the Syncopators, and we talked with him about his take on playing for dancers, the band’s new CD, and the upcoming “battle” with Jonathan Stout at DCLX.
When did you first begin playing music?
That’s actually a complicated question. I started playing music as a kid on piano and violin, but I didn’t really enjoy it so I stopped when I was around 6. I took up cello when I was 8. I started messing around with guitar shortly thereafter and learned to play some rock guitar and such in high-school. After my 2nd year in college I put down the guitar and didn’t pick it up again until a couple years ago. I played cello throughout college and took up banjo about 5 years ago. I think picked the guitar back up around 3 years ago and started teaching myself how to play jazz on it.
So I’ve been playing music since I was little, but I’ve only been playing jazz for around 5 years and jazz guitar for around 3.
So what got you started playing jazz music?
I’d been dancing for around 6 years at the point that I started playing jazz and I just loved the music and wanted to learn to play.
How did being a dancer first shape the way you approached leading a swing band?
Well I think I sort of just wanted to make music that I wanted to dance to. I think that’s still my guiding philosophy, writing songs and arrangements that I would enjoy dancing to. It’s served me pretty well so far.
What do you think is the secret to playing for dancers?
Well, there’s no one single thing, it depends on the crowd and the night, but it definitely makes it easier to know what dancers are feeling when you know how to dance. Overall I think that the most important things are probably to have a good mix of tempos, to play arrangements, and to have the right style.
A lot of bands really don’t play anything that’s mid tempo because it’s, IMHO, the hardest music to swing on. I try to pick a lot of charts in the 130-180bpm range for our sets. Of course someone’s always going to complain about any band and say that there’s not enough mid tempo music because everyone has a different idea of what they consider to be mid tempo. I think live music generally feels faster to dancers as well because it has 10x the energy of a recording and so it’s more demanding of dancer’s energy at any speed. I usually try to keep a BPM counter and a metronome on the bandstand with me to make sure we’re hitting lots of tunes in the range.
Arrangements are another important thing when it comes to playing for dancers. Even if they’re simple arrangements it really makes a difference; I find it boring as a dancer to hear a band play head tunes all night. It’s a dance, not a jam session – a good band leader respects that. Honestly, it’s a giant pain in the ass to write arrangements and actually find people who can both play them and who also understand the style, but it’s essential and pays off so it’s worth it in the end.
The style is a tricky thing. About 90% of jazz musicians think they get it, about 10% actually get it. I try to only play with ones who do. Of course there are other more subtle details to this as well but I suppose those are my trade secrets. :)
Glenn Crytzer playing “Dark Eyes” for a Jam at Lindy Focus IX.
You went to graduate school at CIM for composition, correct? Have you composed any original swing music for the group?
Correct. On our first album there are three original songs: Chasin’ the Blues, Dickey’s Blues, and Rachin’ in Rhythm. For the classical nerds out there, Dickey’s Blues is composed using all leitmotivs from the Ring Cycle and Rachin’ in Rhythm is based on the first movement of the Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto. Our upcoming album is all originals. 20 tunes in total.
What about the name “Syncopators” made it seem like the perfect name for your group?
Well we considered calling ourselves “The Count Basie Orchestra” but it was already taken, so we decided to go with Syncopators. Heh, I don’t know it just seemed like a good name at the time. I don’t think there was any special significance.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences and why?
Hmm I like a lot of music. There was probably no better swing era band than Lunceford’s. Man those guys could play. Of course when it comes to rhythm sections no one holds a candle to the early Basie stuff with their great loose feel. I like the Goodman combo stuff cause I feel like they really reinvented jazz as chamber music. Fats Waller I love because there’s so much personality in his music, and boy do they swing! Those are pretty much my favorites but there’s a lot of other great stuff out there too. It’s hard to choose.
Outside of jazz I’m a into a lot of different classical music. I like all that weird out there stuff that no one really seems to listen to. I’m also a big fan of Ben Folds and Counting Crows.
If the Apacolypse was approaching during one of your band sets, and you had one last song to go out swingin’ on, which song would you play?
Hmm, I suppose that if I were feeling cheeky “The Panic is On,” “Got the Jitters,” or “Dead Man Blues” would be apropos. If we’re going on pure swing factor probably something like “I Found a New Baby” or “Undecided.”
In April you’ll be on the same band stand as Jonathan Stout at DCLX. Have anything special prepared for the occasion?
Hmmm, I think J.S. and I will keep that under our collective hat. The only way to find out is to register for DCLX: http://www.dclx.net
Finally, tell me all about your new CD and when it will be released. I hear you also have some event passes to give away to people who buy your CD?
The new CD has 20 original songs that I’ve written over the last couple years and there’s a great mix of different styles and tempos. We’ve got some real barn-burners, some low-down blues, and lots of in the pocket mid-tempo swing. I was fortunate enough to be able to put together a killer line up of players including some names that lindy hoppers will be familiar with like Meschiya Lake, Craig Flory, and Solomon Douglas.
We’re hoping to have the disc out in time for DCLX (fingers crossed), but right now we’re taking pre-orders on our website. Anyone who pre-orders saves $3 off the regular price of the CD and is eligible to win passes to 22 different lindy hop, blues, and bal events all over the world. We’ve got events like Bluez Cruize in Scotland, Swing Camp OZ in Australia, Shout Sister Shout in Italy, Lindy on the Rocks in Denver, Camp Balboa in Seattle, the Hop Shop in Atlanta, Red Hot Blues and BBQ in DC, Lindy 500 in Baltimore, and a ton of other cool events. Folks need to pre-order by April 5 in order to be eligible. There’s a full list of events and details on our home page: http://www.syncopators.net
I’m personally really proud of the tunes on this record. I’d dance to it.
One of Glenn’s new songs, uncut and un-produced, is highlighted in this week’s “Hey Mr. Jesse!” podcast. You can check it out HERE.
Also, check out Glenn’s blog: “My Jazz Can Beat UP Your Jazz.”