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New Take on a '40s Sound : Royal Crown Revue takes the swing style made famous by Louis Jordan and updates it with the best elements of jazz and rock.

June 02, 1995|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times.

SHERMAN OAKS — Question: What do you call a band that sounds like a mixture of Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, NRBQ and Cab Calloway, but plays with the power and energy, if not the volume, that you might associate with a rock group like Led Zeppelin?

Answer: The Royal Crown Revue, a Los Angeles-based septet that offers its own take on what was called Jump Jive. That's a musical style that was popular in the 1940s and was typified by people such as Louis Jordan. A bluesy, foot-tapping feeling underpinned invigorating music that made you want to dance.

The fellows in Royal Crown, which plays Wednesday (as well as June 14 and 21) at the Moonlight Tango Cafe, admit to a range of influences, including jazzmen like Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, rock bands such as Loverboy and Yes, singers like Sinatra and jump artists such as Jordan. But the musicians, who range in age from 25 to 34, aren't ones to pigeonhole their style.

"We're a rock band to a degree, we have jazz solos and yet it's definitely swing," says guitarist James Achor, one of the band's founding members, during a group interview at the Ground Control studio in Burbank, where Royal Crown is recording its debut album for Warner Bros. Records. "It has so many elements we don't know what to call it."

Royal Crown, its members aver, is not a retro band, despite its reliance on music that recalls a bygone era, and the artists' flashy zoot-suit manner of dress. "We don't play cover versions of older songs," says Eddie Nichols, the band's singer and front man. "We do 90% original material."

"And our tunes are different--like one goes from a swing feel to a waltz tempo, and then goes into a section that sounds like ska," the Jamaican R & B-influenced predecessor of reggae, Achor says.

One thing's sure about Royal Crown: The band, which has been around for six years, is successful, working 200 dates a year, drawing the ears, and feet, of fans from 20 to 70. The band also appeared playing for a flashy dance scene in the film "The Mask," starring Jim Carrey.

Lenetta Kidd, who books bands at the Moonlight Tango, heard the group at the Derby, a Los Feliz area club where Royal Crown has worked for a few years, and became a fan.

"I thought they were unusual," Kidd says. "No one does originals that sound like that era of the '40s and Louis Jordan. Something about the players is new. I liked their energy, their look. They have a lot of cohesiveness."

Royal Crown began in Los Angeles. Nichols and Achor met while playing in a rockabilly band. Saxophonist Mondo Dormame joined the group and turned Nichols and Achor on to Jordan, and Royal Crown was born.

With some personnel changes, the band today also features Bill Ungerman (baritone sax), Scott Steen (trumpet) and Veikko Lepisto (bass). This group has been together for 14 months and, Achor says, "It's the best band we've ever had."

At first the band worked Los Angeles, then embarked on trips to other points in California, then across the country. As their popularity grew, engagements in Europe followed, though it's in California that the band has really solidified its following.

The group works steadily from San Diego to San Francisco, where they recently played to 1,000 people at Bimbo's.

"The people were mostly young, and they were dancing, with about 200 of them up near the stage in what's called a swing pit," Ungerman says.

"I like the fact that people dance together, are touching each other and relating. It's the safest sex there is," Lepisto says.

Achor says the band looks forward to the release of the Warner Bros. album, due in September, and to appearing at the Moonlight Tango.

"It'll be a test," he says. "The people who go there have listened to a lot of music, and so having us there is a validation. Still, it's a new club, so for the first set, we'll probably have to relearn how we approach what we do."

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WHERE AND WHEN

What: Royal Crown Revue.

Location: Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

Price: $7 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 788-2000.

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