Myles Hayes & The Moondevils’ Night and Day

By Ken Shimamoto

These days I’m always mystified when I go to the wedding receptions of 20something couples and hear Sinatra. Surely they’re not playing Ol’ Blue Eyes to placate their boomer parents, whose tastes probably run more toward, um, “Mick and the boys,” or maybe Broooce. Or maybe it’s a rite-of-passage thing: “When we were in college, we listened to Modest Mouse/Sublime/Warren G, but now that we’re adults…” Or maybe it’s just another example of the limits of my imagination, and the kid with the earbuds doing his homework on his laptop at Starbucks really has the complete Capitol LPs on his iPod. Classic Tin Pan Alley songcraft really is timeless.

I first encountered Myles Hayes a couple of TCU graduating classes ago. Back then the Milwaukee native, a vocal performance major at the university, was a fixture at shows along Berry Street and elsewhere around the Fort. His ecstatic dancing forever fixed him in my mind as “the avatar of joy.” Myles held down a lounge-piano-and-vocalist gig at the Italian Inn on Camp Bowie with his mentor, pianist Michael McVey, for a couple of years.

He also joined forces with James Norris, the somewhat diffident fellow who used to sit in and vocalize in a style reminiscent of Chet Baker (minus the trumpet and, thankfully, the heroin addiction) at the Moon and later, at the Black Dog. (Now, of course, James is a key player in Sleeplab.) Together, they formed the nucleus of Standard Transmission, a sort-of blues band that wound up becoming the de facto house band at the Black Dog for awhile. Accompanied by some of the musos from the Tuesday night jazz jams at the Moon, Myles and James cut a CD of jazz standards called Empty Tables, then Myles moved to Chicago.

Myles is back in the Fort this week to roll out a new jazz CD, Night and Day, under the rubric “Myles Hayes & the Moondevils.” While Myles’ vocalismo doesn’t quite project the same sense of abandon as his dancing, he’s got a warm, friendly, not overly mannered vocal approach that contrasts nicely with James’ smoother, cooler style. The Moondevils are basically Villain Vanguard minus their frontman and plus guitarist Ron Geida (ex-Jasper Stone/Kulcha Far I/Barber Mack), who’s been gigging with them of late but curiously isn’t listed as a member on their Myspace page. They’re all impressive, particularly Justin Barbee on trumpet and keys, who, I believe, also wrote the horn arrangements.

Reading the track list, there are no surprises – nothing from outside the standard repertoire – and one marvels at the colossal cojones it took to cut songs as strongly identified with certain artists as “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darin) and “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Sinatra), but Myles and James make it work by not being overawed by their exemplars. On “Night and Day,” for instance, they employ a fatback beat in the same manner as 6th Street Live jazz jam-meister Dave Karnes occasionally likes to funk up standards. When James makes his entrance after the solos, he summons the spirit of ‘70s Stevie Wonder (particularly when he and Myles blend their voices on the tag). It’s a spirited performance and the best thing on the record. Only on “Ol’ Devil Moon” -- where drummer Austin Allen (who’s also kicked the traps behind blues eminence James Hinkle) seems unable to choose between a bossa nova, shuffle, and straight ahead swing – is the backing obtrusive.

Myles plans to record some originals on his next CD. In the meantime, on the strength of this disc, I can categorically say that I’d hire these guys to play at my daughter’s wedding (although I think her tastes run more towards Rachmaninoff and the Velvet Underground).