John Dokes: Ruling the roost, with ballads and barnburners

A Swingin’ Good Time
By David McGee

With The George Gee Swing Orchestra
Swing Theory Entertainment

You know you’re in for an interesting experience in swing from the first notes of this summit pairing of vocalist John Dokes and veteran swing band leader George Gee. You may not recognize the big, brassy introduction to the first tune, but when Dokes enters with his confident baritone and croons a staccato, “If-you-see-me-walkin’-down-the-street,” you’ll recognize the song as being Bacharach-David’s classic “Walk On By.” But instead of trying to challenge Dionne Warwick’s definitive version—all winsome, ethereal desolation—Dokes and Gee go the jaunty route. Far from being devastated by his loss, the singer gives his ex the big kissoff, welcoming her departure without a trace of outward grief (he lets the lyric “So let me hide the tears and the sadness you gave me when you said goodbye” take care of that) as Gee’s orchestra follows along at a jaunty pace, with bursts of brass, a sassy trumpet solo shadowed by a muted trumpet, a lively and barely bluish piano solo, with nuanced but driving percussion providing the ballast. At the end, to press the point home, Dokes adds some spoken bravado: “Yeah, keep goin’ girl, nah, keep walkin’. No, don’t turn around. Just keep—no, straight that way. Wrong door”—to which he adds a soft, telling coda: “Wait—just look back one time,” before the bold closing chord comes crashing down to close a beautiful, personalized take on a cherished pop evergreen. (Working with a similar theme in Big Joe Turner’s “Roll ‘Em Pete,” Dokes tears through the song at a rambunctious pace, not for a second dismayed at losing his gal—even sassing her at one point with “you done mistreated me, now get outta here and mistreat somebody else!”—as the orchestra, with pianist Steve Einerson leading the charge with a nimble, exuberant, Pete Johnson-styled solo, jumps and bounces exuberantly, pushing Dokes hard right up to the closing crescendo.)

Dokes and Gee clearly have an affinity for Bacharach-David, as that august team is represented by four tunes out of the 14 on this engaging disc. “This Guy’s In Love With You” retains its swooning ambiance, but is brighter, a bit more upbeat in conception that Herb Alpert offered, but also more anxious in Dokes’s nuanced expressions of longing. The world is no less in need of love now than when Jackie DeShannon immortalized “What the World Needs Now” in 1965 but Dokes and Gee choose to remind us of that only instrumentally, and in rousing fashion, with a sprinting arrangement allowing plenty of room for lively alto sax and trumpet solos. “A House Is Not a Home,” another Bacharach-David tune trademarked by Dionne Warwick, also is recast as an instrumental and executed at a quick tempo that is a 180 from Warwick’s poignant treatment; it swings like crazy, marked by arranger David Gibson’s star turn by way of a frisky trombone solo, as well as some spirited discourse between the horns.

Dokes has no problem getting over with the uptempo workouts, but he’s even more impressive as a balladeer. His warm, consoling presence on Charlie Parker’s heartbreaking “My Little Suede Shoes” (thematically of a piece with other tunes here in addressing the sad aftermath of love departed) is beautifully nuanced to be both inner- and outer-directed, speaking as much to himself in sorrow as to another jilted victim. On “Teach Me Tonight,” the oft-covered gem written by Sammy Cahn and Gene De Paul in 1953, he croons his love letter with soothing sensuality and subdued intensity, leaving no doubt as to his desires but at the same time maintaining a cool equanimity about it all. Ian Hendrickson-Smith’s sultry baritone sax solo, a thing of beauty in and of itself, is the ideal augmentation for Dokes’s medium flame vocal. Add an energetic take on Rodgers and Hart’s “Thou Swell” and especially an ebullient reading and joyous horn chart energizing the Sammy Cahn-Dorothy fields gem from 1936, “A Fine Romance,” and this unassuming album reveals itself as one of 2010’s top pop offerings, as bracing in spirit as it is assured in musicality. Splendid work by all concerned.

John Dokes Sings, George Gee Swings is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024