Disco Inferno

Tonight at 7 p.m., Darcy James Argue's steampunk big band jazz orchestra Secret Society and the 17 piece disco band Escort (both bands are friends of 3QD, we say proudly) will play a joint show at the Ecstatic Summer — River To River Festival over at the World Financial Center Plaza. The show starts at 7:00 p.m. and is free.

Darcy has some interesting thoughts on disco (including some thoughts on Donald Byrd's 70s disco pieces), over at the Secret Society blog:

Was disco the last musical genre that absolutely everyone had to get in on? It wasn't just the likes of Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones and Wings-era Paul McCartney and the Greatful Dead and Kiss… a surprising number of major jazz artists also made disco-inflected records. There's Ron Carter's 1976 Pastels, which opens with the glossy string-sweetened “Woolaphant.” Also in '76, Dizzy Gillespie put out a record called Dizzy's Partyhere's the title track. Sonny Rollins even put out a tune called, of all things, “Disco Monk” — it's from 1979's aptly titled Dont Ask. (Remember, Thelonious was still around at this point and consequently had no grave to spin in.) Almost all of the big bands had their disco moments, too — Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Thad & Mel — but nobody embraced disco with as much gusto as Maynard Ferguson. I still vividly remember the time when my teenage self first heard his disco version of the theme to Battlestar Galactica — I think my jaw still hurts from where it hit the floor.

The above tracks (and more) were all referenced in a recent Twitter discussion of jazz-disco crossovers — I'm grateful to Jacob Garchik, Dave Sumner, Mark Stryker, and everyone else who chimed in with their suggestions.

The discussion was instigated somewhat by the fact that Secret Society is going to be appearing this Saturday, August 25 at the Ecstatic Summer Festival, where we'll be joined onstage by the 17-piece neo-disco band, Escort. In addition to separate sets, we'll be bringing both bands together for a few tunes, including an original of mine called “Penumbra” (think late 70's Quincy Jones meets Guillermo Klein's rhythmic filter) and my arrangements of two influential disco-era tracks recorded by Donald Byrd, “Stepping Into Tomorrow” and “Change (Makes You Want To Hustle)” — both of which will feature special guest soloist Tim Hagans.

This isn't a vein of music that we in Secret Society get to tap explicity very much, but that doesn't mean we don't love it or aren't deeply influenced by it. So let's take a minute to get a few things straight:

DISCO IS AWESOME. Notwithstanding the ill-advised crossover attempts listed above, the decades-long knee-jerk “Disco Sucks” backlash is lazy and tired and needs to stop. Yes, there is bad disco. There is bad everything. But disco was the natural outgrowth of 70's funk and Philly soul, and there's no shortage of deeply grooving disco tracks that easily stand up today. For the skeptical, I recommend and endorse this Sound Opinions podcast on disco's early years.