George Gee leads a solid, second-level big band in the New York area that was helped along by the popularity of retro-swing in the mid- to late '90s. At this live concert, Gee's orchestra, along with Count Basie's orchestra, helped celebrate the 85th birthday of famous dancer Frankie Manning at the Roseland Ballroom. Oddly enough, many of the songs that Gee's band plays are associated with Basie (including "Blues for Stephanie," "Smack Dab in the Middle," "Basie Boogie," "Blues in Hoss' Flat," and "Everyday I Have the Blues") despite the fact that the Basie band would soon be performing. The Gee orchestra displays good musicianship in general, although the clarinet solo on "Roll 'Em" is woefully out of tune. Carla Cook is in excellent form vocalizing on "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Pennies From Heaven," there are some decent (if not distinctive) solos heard along the way, and George Gee & His Make-Believe Ballroom Orchestra show plenty of spirit. Throughout "Stompin' at the Savoy," Manning is heard calling out instructions to the dancers; on record it comes across as distracting and annoying, although it might mean something to people who actually were at the concert. The George Gee big band obviously pleases dancers, although jazz-wise one wishes it was more original.
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AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow