Nearly Dan jams with ‘Aja’s’ own ‘Jazzman’ Tom Scott

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Ladies and gentlemen, Nearly Dan with guest artist Tom Scott (Steely Dan’s “Aja”). Photos by Dave Bristol

Members of Nearly Dan shut the critics up at Seattle’s Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley Oct. 5–6, 2010, proving they can do so much more than reel in Steely Dan’s best years. Nearly Dan welcomed former Steely Dan saxophonist/arranger Tom Scott (Aja) for several jazz-funk sessions, reintroducing his songs to an almost-sold-out audience, as well as his solo signature on their renditions of the rock band’s most popular hits.

The 12 musicians and singers may have started off as a Steely Dan tribute band, but they’ve since morphed into something more, something original, fresh and new. After all, most of the band members come from accomplished jazz, rock, R&B, blues and even classical backgrounds and experiences, as sidemen, studio musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters. They’ve done the time in weddings and corporate functions, but they’ve also played with serious nationally known artists and stood up front on their own with their own gigs.

A day before Nearly Dan’s first of two Jazz Alley gigs with Tom Scott, Seattle Times put out a timely little profile [“Seattle’s Nearly Dan is way more than a Steely Dan tribute band,” October 4, 2010] by writer Tom Keogh. Keogh had been dying to profile this band for a while now, but saxophonist/co-band leader Jack Klitzman held off until the time and venue were right. With their second Jazz Alley headliner and special guest star, that time had come.

Much of the comments section was filled with jealous vitriol and ignorant complaining about a mediocre “cover band” getting so much play when so many “original” bands go on unnoticed by the press. Never mind the fact that the two major Seattle alternative papers, The Stranger and Seattle Weekly, only seem to focus on these original, mostly alternative-rock-emo bands to the exclusion of the jazz community. Never mind the fact that the musicians and singers making up Nearly Dan arguably possess more original thought and more chops reconstructing other people’s original material than 90 percent of Seattle’s so-called original bands. Never mind that nine times out of 10, these original bands usually suck and nobody in them can play or read a note to save their lives. Never mind the fact that Steely Dan’s melodies, particularly the song “Black Cow,” has been lifted by rappers — and very little was said about it.

If any of the critics bothered to attend last night’s Jazz Alley show (or read Klitzman’s own words about striving for more than copycatting Steely Dan), they’d know how stupid they sounded sounding off about a band (first) they apparently know little to nothing about. These guys threw down.

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They validated (by example) Klitzman’s explanation of the band’s mission accomplished in that Seattle Times article. “We stay true to the Steely Dan credo. Everything is done meticulously and with taste. But we also gently add extra spice, horn parts, new arrangements, more solos, extra choruses.”

If there’s still any doubt, just watch them do their own thing on “Do It Again,” aka “Una Más” — the obvious highlight of any Nearly Dan show since Klitzman took the slow-moving hint of generic Latin rhythm and revved it up into a full-on Cuban orchestral salsa. It starts off regular, just like the Steely Dan version, then with a dramatic pause and a wink from the vocalists, everything gets bigger, bolder, from the pounding of the drums, to the bursting horns section threatening to blow the room apart, to the vocalists accenting all that Latin cool with their Spanish “Una Más” refrain. When Nearly Dan began to play their version, the Jazz Alley crowd of mostly fans went wild — within the first few notes.

Nearly Dan threw in their own rearrangement again on “FM.” Instead of the Steely Dan instrumentals toward fade, Nearly Dan has the backup vocalists repeat, “No static, no static at all.”

The last time this tribute band appeared at the prestigious Jazz Alley (June of 2009), they were with another sax player who’d done tunes with Steely Dan — Pete Christlieb. His influence and style were more along the lines of uptempo, classical jazz notes. This time around, the band enjoyed a different spin from Tom Scott, one that was more jazz-funk, slowed down considerably for the most groove effect. For many in the band, this was a dream come true. Keyboardist/musical director Ed Weber remembered playing a lot of Tom Scott’s stuff back when he gigged with a popular Hawaii jazz-dance band in the ’80s called Paradox. “Now I’m onstage with Tom Scott, playing with him. Just, wow.”

For his part, Scott blended right in with the mostly young members of Nearly Dan, coming up for his high-energy solos, dropping unnerving twists and turns, and holding his own in the tight horn section — Andy Omdahl (trumpet), Rich Cole (sax), Klitzman (sax), and (occasionally dropping the lead vocals) Galen Green (sax). For a 62-year-old veteran, who’s done it all and seen it all, Scott managed to keep up with the band’s high-energy performances for most of the entire long set (with no band breaks), an hour and 45 minutes. In between the Steely Dan songs and his own, Scott even managed to make everybody laugh with his self-effacing observations about growing old and glimpses into their rehearsals.

The band enjoyed one entire day of rehearsals and sound checks with Scott before their first October 5th Jazz Alley show. They also enjoyed Scott’s take-charge attitude from the get-go. But then he comes from a strong musical directing position on many famous projects (68th Academy Awards, Emmys, People’s Choice, Ebony Magazine’s 50th Birthday Celebration) and worked with Steely Dan on the entire “Aja” album, as well as other singles, like “Gaucho.” If anyone is more than acquainted with how a typical Steely Dan song and a top-notch show should go, it’s him.

If one note sounded out of place, Scott would call the band on it immediately. It was the kind of take-no-prisoners direction and expertise they all really needed, vocalist Becca Atterberry told me before the October 5th show. They all were really blown away by Tom Scott’s immense groove factor on his sax, too, she added.

For the October 5th Jazz Alley show, the band cut their usual monster list of Steely Dan’s repertoire by more than 50 percent in order to accommodate some of Scott’s better-known and well-respected tunes.

They loved themselves on “Peg,” “Green Earrings,” “Dr. Wu,” “FM,” “Maxine,” and “My Old School,” among others. For the Steely Dan songs, Scott turned in his usual fine-tuned performance, sounding louder, prouder and more confident than the others, amazing us all with his tremendous breath control, distinctive, clear tones…quite fearless really.

In the outstanding “Gaucho,” which Scott had more than a hand in making, the band veered slightly off its usual set list course — which paid off in dividends with the crowd for more than just the pure jazz musicality of it all.

Scott revealed that in rehearsals, when “the lovely drummer [Bryon Atterberry]” started them off, Scott had to stop and question the fast tempo of the beat. Bryon replied that he was merely recreating the exact beat from the Steely Dan record. At this point, Scott grinned at the audience and said, “You know what I’m thinking,” pause, to much laughter, “I’m aging fast, let’s get it done quickly.” Despite the joking around about Scott not handling anything faster-paced at his age, I heard that the slower temp was actually more to the band’s liking.

For his own stuff — “Apple Juice,” “Breezin’ Easy,” “Street Beat” — Scott continued joking around about how old he’s gotten, how the years have quickly passed, and how he hadn’t played many of his songs in decades. “What the hell… I’m lucky to have lasted this long,” he told the audience. “I consider myself the luckiest” guy to still be around and play music, “that’s victory.”

Another victory, palpably felt by the band members — Bryon Atterberry (drums), Ed Weber (keys), Jeff Volkman (bass), Art Bromage (guitar), Mike McGee (guitar) — privileged enough to stay onstage with Scott for his songs, was being able to keep up with the big man lucky enough to rub elbows with Thelonius Monk, Frank Sinatra, and Aretha Franklin. Despite pre-show nerves, the rhythm section came through, transforming themselves seamlessly into sidemen for Scott, earning several nods of approval and a “That’s alright” in the end.

In the end, the audience of over 300 wanted more. Nearly Dan and Tom Scott weren’t prepared to do an encore, but most of the band returned to give “Deacon Blues” a good try. They weren’t able to rustle Scott onstage, but the living legend probably needed to split early to rest up for the second show the following night.

Review first appeared in Examiner Oct. 6, 2010.

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