The Jazz Age by the Bryan Ferry Orchestra


In the 1970s Roxy Music made groundbreaking, influential art rock. By the early 1980s when they released their eighth and final record, they were producing super romantic, lush adult rock. When the music was originally being released I listened to it mostly passively, finding it interesting and pleasant enough. For the sake of comparison to other experimental British art rock, my friends and I mostly loved David Bowie and Pink Floyd, and we sort of liked King Crimson and Jethro Tull. My engagement with Roxy Music was somewhere around half way between these loves and likes, but I was not buying Roxy Music records like I did Bowie’s and Pink Floyd’s. By the time I was an undergraduate in college in the mid-eighties, I found the music and the attitude of ten + years worth of Roxy Music much ‘cooler’. I began to recognize how important the early experimental Brian Eno / Bryan Ferry music was – while also coming to love the more mature sounds of Avalon and then Bryan Ferry’s solo work after the band’s final release in 1982.
Ferry’s music from the 70s and 80s can transport me still. When I hear it incidentally, familiar faces from college days pop to mind, and I think of formative, carefree times. I remember vividly how Bryan Ferry’s unapologetic theatricality, his romantic, fancy dress, and the cool slicked-back hair all came together with his big frame, angular features, and sleepy eyes through his velvety voice. He was cool in a way that seemed so grown up and so unsnobbily ‘above’ the cool of pale-skinned, black-clad goth performers I was loving at the time like Robert Smith, Soiuxsie, Daniel Ash, or Nick Cave. His voice seemed to me to be so romantic and sincere and smooth – all so effortless. What a voice.
So, Bryan Ferry, the sensuous voice behind Roxy Music, has a newish release, and it is an instrumental. That’s right, no vocals! It is one of the most wonderful releases of the last six months. The Jazz Age by the Bryan Ferry Orchestra is a triumphant re-imagining of thirteen of his songs as 1920s orchestral jazz. Many of the band’s most recognizable tunes, as well as some of Ferry’s own solo work, have found a place on The Jazz Age. Whether taking an early Roxy Music tune, like the glam-rock Do the Strand, or a late and more mature song from the band like Avalon, there is a wonderfully cohesive style that runs through the whole disk. It makes me think of 20s music as styled by Count Basie and Louis Armstrong.
It works so well, The Jazz Age transports me to a time I never experienced. Listening to this wonderful piece with eyes closed, you can easily imagine the ice cold feel of a martini glass stem between your fingers. You can almost smell the the room filled with perfume and tobacco smoke. You can sense the cool metal cufflink at your wrist and the swish of dancing silk and lace on your partner’s straight line evening dress. You can feel the 20s roaring right around you.
A link to the Don’t Stop the Dance youtube video:
You may recognize these titles from the track list of The Jazz Age:
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Have another cigarette and have another cigarette…

Remember how much you loved The Psychedelic Furs? You did. You loved them. They made you feel great. Even their name made you happy. So apt, so evocative, so druggy and cool — few rock bands have selected a name as perfectly fitting*.

The Psychedelic Furs

Actually, you love them still. Super dark and rich in the center, The Psychedelic Furs’ early sound was somehow still bright and gossamer at the edges.  And, to be sure, I am only thinking about the band’s early output which often was completely brilliant — from their punk-inspired beginnings (the self-titled masterpiece debut, The Psychedelic Furs,) through their fourth record, (the uneven Mirror Moves). From there, they suffered the sort of tragic popularity that is so unfortunate for many fans: a popularity that dulled the band’s edge – a tragedy that befell a few other great outfits in the late-1980s.

The early recordings give me the “time travel experience” that I love so much in some music. Listening to it now can still make me dizzy with delight. The zeitgeist of The Psychedelic Furs first few records does not weigh their sound down negatively, though. It is transcendent. The music still works so well because it is direct and original; it has dark rock-n-roll swagger; and it’s sincere, moving, and important.

All of this...

All of This and Nothing is an excellent track from the second LP, Talk Talk Talk. This tune exemplifies the band’s wonderful mixture of snapping beats, drunken saxophone, ringing guitars, and ethereal, whooshing production. All of this tied together with Richard Butler’s assured and smoky voice.

Sister Europe

And Richard Butler was impossible! He achieved and maintained an unattainable version of cool and somehow he managed to seem accessible. There was a flicker of at least vague possibility that he was the type of guy who would sit down and share a cigarette and a beer with you. His voice is absolutely distinct and his lyrical interpretations are unimaginable by another performer. He had a straightforward androgyny that pushed to the front of his performance and set a clear tone, stating from the start with his appearance and his actions that he was a performer both honest and unforced. You can see him shaking it all up and spilling it out in Sister Europe:

* Of course, you’ll think of some other great, fitting band names. Like Lush, maybe. Or The Velvet Underground. Now go listen to The Furs!

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