Perhaps you have seen the nattily dressed Keith Ward playing his clarinet on Pocatello’s streets, not as a busker performing for money but rather playing for the joy of entertaining others. Ward also plays with Rail City Jazz, a group that performs commercial jazz classics like “In the Mood” and blues numbers, including “Saint James Infirmary.”
Just before the pandemic hit a year ago, Rail City Jazz recorded some live concerts, and the official launch of the new CD will be performed live on Thursday at The Yellowstone Restaurant in Pocatello. The CD is called, “Swing Ghosts.” I have heard the album and it is fine, indeed, capturing what Rail City Jazz does so well — interpreting classic jazz numbers and jazz flavored blues with a purity and fresh vibrance. These musicians have a tight organic ensemble, yet can improvise at any moment. This is evident on their sweet version of Dave Brubeck’s understated but sensuous “Take Five,” in which each musician has a solo.
Here is a statement by Ward: “‘Swing Ghosts,’ the debut album of Rail City Jazz, captures live performances at The Yellowstone Lounge in the historic Hotel Yellowstone, Juniper Hills Country Club, and Pinecrest Event Center. It includes a generous helping of 12 jazz standards, plus three original songs: ‘Terrel’s Blues,’ ‘Smokin’ Meatloaf’ and the title cut, ‘Swing Ghosts.’”
The lively 4/4 time of Fred Anderson’s jump blues, “Smokin’ Meatloaf” — inspired by Lisa, the former Bridge restaurant owner who fed her bands well, and legendary Charlie Christian’s guitar music — is my personal favorite.
Here is the Rail City Jazz combo lineup:
Keith Ward — clarinetist, alto saxist and band leader — has worked in bands and orchestras backing Grammy Award-winning artists Natalie Cole and Michael W. Smith. Fred Anderson, guitarist and singer, toured professionally for many years as a bluesman throughout the US and Canada. Terrel Merkley, pianist, has performed with Robert Conti. Phillip Meline, bassist, has roots in rock and acoustic guitar with rock band Blaque Rose and duo, The Sexton and the Singer. Jonny Brownley, drummer, toured six years throughout the US with Somewhere in the Middle, sharing the stage with bands such as Shine Down, Hawthorne Heights, and Great White.
The group and their fans should be excited about the new CD.
“The boys really shined on these,” Ward said. “I’m so proud of them, especially considering how recently Terrel, Fred and Phillip ventured into jazz in a serious way. Jonny is gold and can play about anything — and he and Phillip together are rock solid. They all have such tasty influences. Terrel and Fred really have a flair for blues, which makes our sound pretty unique in most jazz circles — maybe our own ‘Mountain West Jazz’ blend? In the combos I’ve been a part of, it takes about five years to really gel, and Rail City Jazz just passed that anniversary so it’s nice to commemorate it with a recording.”
Two of their most popular songs, however, are not on the album.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t find performances of ‘Folsom’ or ‘In the Mood’ that had the ‘secret sauce,’” Ward said. “Next time, I hope we capture good takes of those, since they are kind of signature tunes for us. I feel good about the mix of tunes, however, since it covers a broad spectrum from the vintage jazz era.”
The CD is worth the wait, and now that people are allowed to hear live music again, make sure you book a reservation for the Yellowstone lounge to hear this new CD live on Thursday. You won’t be disappointed.
Michael Corrigan graduated from San Francisco State with an Master of Arts degree in English and creative writing. He was active in theater and attended the American Film Institute. He retired from Idaho State University as an instructor of English and speech communications. He has written several books, including “Confessions of a Shanty Irishman,” “Mulligan” and “These Precious Hours.” NPR broadcast his play for two readers: “Letters from Rebecca.”