Meet the Artist: Glenn Crytzer
June 19, 2018
Close out the first week of Midsummer Night Swing with a big-band bang on Saturday, June 30, as Glenn Crytzer and his 17-piece orchestra present an unforgettable night of '30s and '40s classics. Before hitting the stage, the multi-talented, multifaceted bandleader told us about his influences, current aspirations, and time travel preferences.
Top three influences (musical or otherwise)?
Well, it is hard to pick just three because I wear so many hats—composer, arranger, bandleader, guitarist, banjoist, vocalist, etc.—and I have different influences for each of those. But if I had to pick three I think I'd go with: 1. Duke Ellington as a composer and an arranger. He just gets such interesting sounds out of the band and I try to write for the individual voices in my orchestra just like Duke did. 2. Artie Shaw as a bandleader. Artie was constantly striving to make his band better and to find more musical depth than just doing whatever was popular in the moment. He was a man of high standards and expected the same from everyone around him. 3. On the guitar it is probably Charlie Christian because I've spent the most time studying his playing, however Eddie Lang and Freddie Green are not far behind.
Other than all these dead guys though, I'm incredibly inspired by all of the musicians that I work with on a regular basis. The talent pool here in NYC is pretty unreal, and having some of these incredible voices in my orchestra to write for is what inspires me most of all.
Artist/album you have on repeat?
Lately it has been Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang's stuff because I just finished a run out of concerts of their music. It changes all the time though.
Last live performance you saw?
Well, I was at the jam session at Mona's on Tuesday that GCO clarinet man Dennis Lichtman leads. I'm not sure if a session counts as a performance, but that was the last thing for me.
Favorite city to play (for touring musicians/artists)?
My favorite city is whichever one I'm in: live in the moment, right? Other than NYC, how could I pick a favorite?!
I make the world's best baklava.
I really like Bill Crow's Jazz Anecdotes. I love history but I also like the lighter side of history, and Bill's book really shows you the more humorous side of the business. We all need to be reminded sometimes not to take ourselves too seriously. I reread this every couple years and I think it kind of connects you to the lineage, even if the stories have been, I'm sure, embellished over the years before they got to Bill.
Top three pieces of advice for aspiring artists?
1. The well trod path leads to the city of mediocrity. If anybody tells you, "This is the way everyone does it," the little skepticism bell in your head should ding. Standard practice is often the result of collective laziness. 2. Be kind, but try not to be someone that everyone likes. If nobody dislikes you, you're vanilla, you don't stand for anything. 3. Talent is overrated, hard work is priceless. My friend Dorry Segev, who is one of the country's best surgeons (and a swing dancer) gave me this advice when I was feeling overwhelmed working on this last album. It perfectly crystalized something I already knew but needed to be reminded of. It is written in big letters on my whiteboard at home.
First live performance you remember seeing?
Probably before I was 6 months old. It has just always been a part of life.
Artist you'd most like to meet (past or present)?
Tough call. Probably Eddie Lang. Maybe Artie Shaw or Jimmie Lunceford, but in 1939. Really what I'd like to do is go back in time for one night January 16, 1938, and see Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall and then head up to Harlem to see Basie and Chick Webb's band battle at the Savoy.
My most recent project is Ain't It Grand?, a two-disc album of classics and originals that we just released with the Glenn Crytzer Orchestra. It's at GlennCrytzer.Bandcamp.com.
Country you'd most like to visit?
I'd love to take the Big Band to Japan.
Artist you'd most like to collaborate with?
I'd love to write some songs for Tony Bennett. Man, that guy can deliver a song.
First time you realized you wanted to be a bandleader?
I first decided to be a bandleader because there was this very specific music ('30s and '40s big band) that a lot of Lindy hoppers, myself included, wanted to hear and nobody was playing. I thought, "Well, if nobody else is gonna do it, I guess I will." That was a little over 10 years ago.
What you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
"Here, listen to this Benny Goodman small group record."
A lot of the most interesting changes have gotten washed over with blander substitutions. Don't use the Real Book or the iReal Book—they're full of dumbed-down changes. Learn the actual melody and changes from the sheet music. Don't learn tunes from someone else's recording. If you learned it from a recording, you didn't learn the song, you just learned someone's interpretation, and you learned all their mistakes, too.
You hope someone comes away from one of your shows feeling…?
Next goal or challenge you're setting for yourself?
Now that the album is out, I'm focused on growing my jazz education project on Patreon and on continuing to grow opportunities for the big band. A big band is a tough thing to keep going. It's tougher to book gigs than for smaller groups because it's more expensive than a quartet, and it requires more logistics and more rehearsal. So I guess it's just sort of my ongoing life goal to make the band as good as the name bands in the '30s and '40s.
What do you want to be when you "grow up"?
A big band leader. Or maybe a penguin. I think I'd make a pretty good penguin.