MORA'S MODERN RHYTHMISTS was formed in 1994 by Dean Mora, a Los Angeles-area pianist whose interest in the 1920s and 1930s was forged early on as a child (he saw "The Sting" when he was 11, and was instantly hooked) and has endeavored to bring the music of this period back to life, utilizing original published arrangements as well as transcriptions from recordings. Following a series of small concerts around the Los Angeles area, the band was booked at the world-famous Derby nightclub in 1997, and remained the Monday night house band for three years, prompting legions of dancers to rediscover some of the dances steps that were popular during this time frame, such as the Shag, the Balboa, and the Charleston.
Since then, the band has played at such venues as The Wiltern Theatre, The Hollywood Palladium, The Avalon Casino Ballroom (Catalina Island), the legendary Blossom Room of The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the historic Biltmore Hotel (downtown Los Angeles) and Argyle Hotel (Hollywood), the Wilshire Ebell Club, The Hollywood Athletic Club, and The Orpheum Theatre. Special events include The Los Angeles Consevancy's Last Remaining Seats series, the Art Deco Society's 1929 Wall St. Crash Bash and Speakeasy Soiree, A&E Network's gala premiere of "The Great Gatsby", as well as numerous corporate and private functions. In the summer of 2001, Mora's Modern Rhythmists had the honor of performing at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of their "Midsummer Night Swing" dance series.
The band has also participated in music festivals, such as the Sweet and Hot Jazz Festival, the SoCal Jazzfest, the San Clemente Dixieland Festival, and the Big Bear Jazz Festival. In the concert arena, Mora's Modern Rhythmists presented an all-Duke Ellington program at the Balcony Theatre in Pasadena as part of the Pasadena Jazz Institute's "Tribute To The Masters" concert series, as well as being the starring ensemble in "Chuck Cecil Presents...", which was held at the Performing Arts Center of Cal State, Northridge, and was very favorably reviewed by esteemed Los Angeles Times jazz critic Don Heckman (see below).
Mora's Modern Rhythmists have released 4 CDs to date, including My Favorite Band, Mr. Rhythmist Goes To Town, Call of the Freaks, and their most recent endevor, Goblin Market, a tribute to Swing Era-arranger and bandleader Spud Murphy, (known chiefly for his arranging work with Benny Goodman).
With the numerous bands playing either modern jump-swing or 1940's WWII songs, Mora's Modern Rhythmists decided to devote themselves to playing tunes that date from the late 1920s up to only 1937 -- a time when swing wasn't known as Swing yet, and the music was still underground and just getting ready to burst upon mainstream America. Through their performances of "stock" arrangements and transcriptions, Mora's Modern Rhythmists endeavor to introduce a whole new audience to the essence and artistry of these now-forgotten gems of the early Swing Era.
Here's a review by Los Angeles Times jazz critic Don Heckman of a recent Mora's Modern Rhythmist performance:
Rhythmists Polish Up Swing Era's Rare Gems
By DON HECKMAN, Special to The Times
Mora's Modern Rhythmists have the look and the manner of a band tapped into the recent swing-revival fad. And when the curtain went up for their program at CSUN's Performing Arts Center on Sunday--hosted by "The Swingin' Years" radio show disc jockey Chuck Cecil--the tuxedo-clad players could easily have been kicking off a dance set at the old Palomar Ballroom.
But bandleader Dean Mora, despite his ebullient manner and black-and-white wingtip shoes, had other plans in mind. Steering clear of overly familiar swing-era repertoire--"In the Mood," "String of Pearls," "Sing, Sing Sing," etc.--he offered a concert sparkling with intriguing, often unfamiliar items.
Some of the pieces had never made their way to commercial release, such as an arrangement of "Anything Goes" tracing to a 1935 set of Benny Goodman numbers recorded solely for radio station use.
Others were almost as elusive: Duke Ellington's 1935 "Bird of Paradise," for example, was recorded by Jimmie Lunceford rather than Ellington, and here was performed by the Rhythmists in an arrangement by the veteran orchestrator Spud Murphy (who was in the audience); a slightly risque (for 1935) tune from the Dorsey Brothers' repertoire, "Annie's Cousin Fanny"; Ellington's "I'm Satisfied," with the original Ivie Anderson vocal sung by band singer Kayre Morrison.
Toward the end of the afternoon event, Mora showcased an even more compelling item: "Reminiscing in Tempo" from 1935, Ellington's first extended work, impressively rendered by the Rhythmists in its full, 13-minute form.
The musicians did a splendid job of re-creating a far-ranging lineup of material (all of it tracing to the decade between the late '20s and late '30s), emulating the style of the period without sacrificing their own musical individuality.
Mora, on piano, and drummer Larry Wright were especially effective in focusing the rhythm section, with Chris Tedesco and Jim Ziegler on trumpet, Dave Ryan on trombone and Phil Krawzak on tenor saxophone adding swing-inspired soloing.
But the real fascination of the program centered on the window that was opened into a colorful era in American jazz and popular music. And Mora and his Rhythmists deserve an enormous amount of credit for reminding us that classic 20th century jazz and swing deserve to be heard, appreciated and preserved with the same care and consideration accorded to three centuries of European classical music.