BROOKSVILLE — Think back to the short-lived revival of swing dance music during the late 1990s and you'll likely find the name Johnny Cool and the Mobster Swing Band somewhere near the top of the list of groups that help make retro-jazz trendy again.
Central Florida musician Paul Vesco remembers the craze that introduced 1930s-era big band, jump blues and neo-swing to a generation that had mostly been raised on alternative rock.
"It was all inspired by the movie Swinger, which featured a bar scene with the band that was just getting to be known at the time called Big Bad Voodoo Daddy," Vesco recalls. "The next thing you knew, all these kids were out learning how to swing dance."
The neo-swing revival led to an explosion of martini bars and dozens of horn-driven bands that could crank out danceable beats all night long. Vesco, who played saxophone and keyboards professionally in big band orchestras and jazz combos, decided it was time to start his own swing combo.
Like most swing revival bands, Vesco based Johnny Cool and the Mobster Swing Band around a rock 'n' roll rhythm section of electric guitar, upright bass and drums, with a three-instrument horn section and a vocalist.
"Oh yeah, it's a lot of fun taking that big sound onto a stage and doing songs like Louis Jordan's Choo Choo Ch'Boogie and seeing the audience reaction," said Vesco, who still performs occasionally with the group that still packs retro swing clubs around the state such as the Roxy, Rat Packs and City Jazz.
Musically, the band borrows from several sources, including original swing masters such as Jordan and Earl Bostic, but also delves into more modern influences, including the Brian Setzer Orchestra, LaVay Smith, and of course, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
"What we do is an audience-driven show for the most part," Vesco said. "We're entertainers and we go out of the way to please the crowd. And if they want to just listen to us that's good. We're happy to give them all they want."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]