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Jesse Scinto walks the walk

By James Porter

AUGUST 17, 1998:  If you're a guitarist, you liven up a club set by stepping outside with a long cord and playing a solo on the street. The Mighty Blue Kings have one sax player blowing a solo mounted on another sax player's back. And Jesse Scinto does the almighty bar walk, strutting on top of barroom counters with his saxophone without missing a beat.

"It's always kind of a daredevil activity," admits Scinto, adding that overhanging lights, narrow walkways and a crowded atmosphere can get in the way, so he doesn't do it at every gig. Scinto says that "it all depends on what I'm feeling at the time," but on certain occasions, if the mood is right and he's sized up the bar correctly, he's "walked some of the most prestigious bars in the area." By his reckoning, he hasn't tipped or tripped over a drink yet.

Boozy, 1950s sax-driven rhythm & blues, is a lost art in Chicago, but horn blowers like Big Jay McNeely and Joe Houston used to pull stunts like this all the time. The various swing bands hint at it, a few blues bands come closer, but Jesse Scinto & the Dignitaries practically hit the nail on the head, a full-on backbeat homage to all the horn blowers of the era who'd wind up each show flat on their backs, working like slaves, sweating through their baggy suits, pointing their horns straight up at the ceiling. While Scinto estimates that a third of the Dignitaries' set is purely honkin' sax blowouts, the addition of singer Nicole Kessler has added a new dimension to the group (which consists of John Gussaroff, piano; Kenny Smith, drums; Lou Marini, standup bass; Dave Clark, guitar).

Scinto lived in Colorado until age eighteen, when he enrolled at the University of Chicago. "When I was younger, I used to listen to oldies rock 'n' roll on the radio," he reflects. "A lot of the sax playing on that oldies rock 'n' roll is similar in style to what I do, the early R&B - it's the screaming tone and the honking, and that's how I first became interested in playing the sax. When I got to Chicago, I started going out to hear blues bands and started playing with blues bands. Then a little bit later on, I started listening to R&B, which was more closely related to the oldies that I liked, and that's why I started playing in that style."

Having a notion to hear more, but realizing that not many local bands were doing this kind of R&B, Scinto carved a wide-open niche a year ago with the Dignitaries. The sixties sound of Junior Walker is as close as he gets to soul music. "I think maybe the Mighty Blue Kings came closest of the bands in this area, but still, what they do is really earlier, or different from what I do. They're more jump blues, and my stuff is a lot more similar to rock 'n' roll as most people are familiar with it."

Does he see a place for himself in the current swing renaissance? "We're not technically the right band for people who just wanna swing," Scinto says, "but we definitely are a dance band. [We are] definitely a show band, we like to have a good time, and we hope other people are having a good time too when they see us."

Soul survivors: While we've got a few more weeks of summer left, pick up a copy of "One-Derful, Mar-V-Lus Northern Soul" (Goldmine Soul Supply, Canadian import) before the leaves start falling. This thirty-track CD will still sound fresh by then, but "Do The 45" by the Sharpees or "Don't Hurt the One You Love" by Willie Parker would make a great outdoor BBQ soundtrack. One-Derful was one of the great R&B record labels on South Michigan back in the day, and until its demise in 1968, this Ernie Leaner-owned indie label gave us Alvin Cash's classic 1965 hit "Twine Time" (which is heard here), the Five Dutones' "Shake a Tail Feather" (not included, but you may remember Ray Charles' version in the Blues Brothers movie), and some of Otis Clay's best stuff.

Berry Gordy used to bring a Motorola car speaker to the Motown studios and mix records so they'd sound good on AM radio - but the low-watt geniuses at One-Der-Ful sound like they didn't have a choice. Johnny Sayles' gospel howls toward the end of "I'm Satisfied" would have blown out car speakers from coast to coast. The wolf whistles that intro "New Girl" by the Accents also grab you by the collar, to say nothing of the period slang of the lyrics. ("She's a cute feznecky with a mellow fern" - thank you, Herb Kent.) And if James Jemerson's bass lines on those Motown records got you on the floor, then get a load of the explosive drums heard on just about everything here. You can score this at Dusty Grooves, 1180 North Milwaukee, (773)645.1200.

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