City Rhythm Orchestra
at Long's Park Amphitheater,
Lancaster, PA
(26 August 2007)

A blast of brass under clear skies Sunday signaled the beginning of the end for the 2007 summer concert series at Long's Park, in the heart of Lancaster County, Pa.

It didn't take long for the smooth swing and big band sounds of the City Rhythm Orchestra, a musical treasure from Philadelphia, to put Sunday evening's audience into a groove -- even people walking to the food stands and restrooms seemed to be moving in time to the shiny jazz pouring from the amphitheater stage. And what a night to enjoy a free performance in the park. After a week of weather extremes -- cool and damp, hot and sticky, sunny skies and thunder storms -- Long's Park provided a perfect summer setting for the music.

The question wasn't if, but when people would start dancing, and Chelsea Hamilton of Lancaster and John Rubisch of Marysville were the first to answer City Rhythm's siren call.

"That's why we came tonight," Hamilton said, taking a short break after her first fast-paced dance. "We're planning to do a lot more."

Surrounded by friends who haunt jazz and swing dance clubs in the region, Hamilton said she wasn't familiar with City Rhythm before Sunday's show, but she is very much in step with the style.

"I'm very into the '40s, the dancing in particular," she said. "How can you not love it?"

Rubisch, who trekked in from nearby Perry County for the show, said he's danced to City Rhythm a few times before, and he's become a fan of their music. "When I was young, my parents listened to this stuff," he said. "It wasn't until I was older I realized how good it was."

As soon as a reviewer (that's me) stopped pestering him with questions, Rubisch grabbed another partner and was back on the dance floor.

The floor didn't get a lot of rest until the band took its final bows. Practiced swing and big-band dancers mixed with those content simply to move to the music -- swift-moving shadows against the bright lights of the stage, dipping and twirling and swapping their partners -- and everyone seemed to be having a ball. Quite a few people were up and dancing in the more anonymous dark of the field.

You get a lot of sound from 13 men on brass and reed, with a solid rhythm section -- bass, keyboards and drum kit -- pushing them along. As the sun tilted over the treeline along Harrisburg Pike, the band filled the park with the timeless sounds of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nelson Riddle and Frank Sinatra, among other lounge classics.

Led by Pete Spina and Nick Vallerio, the band punched through plenty of classic jazz instrumentals. For a little extra juice, they added vocals to the mix.

Steve Ritrovato electrified the crowd with his soulful crooning, while bluesy Vicki Woodlyn added extra sizzle. They mostly sang separately, and to great effect, but when they joined for a duet it was smooth like fine blended whiskey. Songs included "It's Wonderful," "Georgia on My Mind," "Salty Poppa Blues" and "The Boy from Ipanema."

While there were too many fine soloists to name, Ken Brader on trumpet and Mike Nigro on drums (the latter during a masterful rendition of "Sing Sing Sing") deserve special mention.

by Tom Knapp
1 September 2007

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