Specializing in Chicago-style trad and early swing music with vocalist Petra Van Nuis, the band features Chicago trad icons Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Bob Rummage, drums; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Andy Brown, guitar and Joe Policastro, bass.
Singer Petra van Nuis may hail from Cincinnati, but she was thinking like a hard-nosed Chicagoan when she put together her Recession Seven at the height of the financial crunch of the late 2000’s. Let other bands downsize: She was going to provide much-needed good cheer with an expanded group of trad and swing players.
Seven years later, the group is still going strong, showing off its deep command of material that includes music from the Great Depression but spans all of the last century. A familiar presence in Chicago-area clubs, van Nuis and company range with swinging ease from “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” to Harold Arlen’s “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” to “Caravan.”
The Recession Seven’s range is not at all surprising when you consider its credentials. Trumpeter and arranger Bob Ojeda played with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1985-2001, and also racked up experience with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Clarinetist Kim Cusack was a longtime member of James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and the Salty Dogs Jazz Band. Trombonist Russ Phillips has played with everyone from Lionel Hampton and Doc Cheatham to the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and Ted Butterman’s Chicago Cub Quintet.
And then there’s the rhythm section, including guitarist Andy Brown, the leader’s New York-born husband and duo partner, a prolific artist whose ongoing involvements include a guitar duo with Howard Alden; bassist Joe Policastro, another Cincinnati native whose credits include leading the jazz quartet, Jeru, and co-leading and arranging for the Mullligan Mosaics Nonet, and drummer Bob Rummage, a mainstay in such groups as Rob Parton’s Jazz Tech Big Band and the Mark Coby Quartet.
Van Nuis brings to jazz a background in theater and dance: She performed in a national tour of A Chorus Line and as a Rockette. A protégé of longtime Chicago favorites Judy Roberts and Jeannie Lambert, she “makes understatement and subtlety virtues” (Downbeat). At the same time, she brings out the sometimes hidden depths of her songs with her bright, luminous vocals, which at their most winsome can suggest role models such as Peggy Lee and Chris Connor.
The Recession Seven is known for the ability to rise to special occasion, including the 2011 Chicago Jazz Festival. That same year, they recorded the well-received Live In Chicago, the opening tune of which, “Runnin’ Wild,” told listeners not to expect the brand of nostalgia dished out by other swing bands. This ensemble may have strong ties to the past, but its music speaks in the most vivid terms to the present.