A native New Yorker, George always loved music. He grew up with rock’n’roll and R&B but in his teens, he also developed a powerful passion for jazz — especially the big band styles of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway and other legends. At renowned Stuyvesant High School, George played the double bass in the school’s jazz band, where he demonstrated an early flair for showmanship.
This passion continued into his first year at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. George created a big band music hour for the school’s radio station; off-air, he often spoke of his true long-time dream: leading his own big band. It’s easy to imagine this idea would not be readily accepted by college students in the early 1980s, but in fact, George and his show were a huge hit!
The station manager asked George to interview William “Count” Basie before a campus concert in 1979. This inspiring conversation changed George’s life… the very next day, he reached out to fellow jazz players to create a 17-piece big band, which quickly became a darling of the campus community.
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Meeting a Mentor
One meeting led to a mentorship that has shaped George Gee’s whole career. A few months after George created popular big band music show for Carnegie Mellon University’s radio station, the station manager asked him to interview William “Count” Basie before a campus concert in 1979. This inspiring conversation changed George’s life. In George’s own words:
My December 1979 meeting with Count Basie was a pivotal point in my early big band days, as his encouragement and attention was invaluable in the formation of my confidence to pursue an unlikely career path: bandleader. That initial half-hour I spent one-to-one with this musical legend and trendsetter in his dressing room at Carnegie Music Hall was truly magical. For the next five years, I was blessed to continue my personal relationship with him and he always asked about the progress of my band.
Mr. Basie’s simplest words of advice were simply to persevere as a bandleader and I would recall this whenever times were tough and I wanted to give it all up.
Also, most significantly, it was from him that I learned the importance of how this “happy” music needs to be played by happy people! Experiencing the camaraderie of the Basie Band firsthand and the love and utmost respect the musicians had for their leader taught me the importance of such details, especially with a group of artists that spend so much time together. A swingin’ big band is a team, a family… a tribe.
Throughout the ‘80s, George honed his craft, spreading the gospel of swing throughout the Pittsburgh tri-state region, from rowdy frat houses to black-tie society galas, corporate events, weddings and nightclubs.
He returned home to New York City in 1990, and gathered top New York-based musicians — including veterans of the world’s most legendary big bands — to continue living his dream.
Music by the George Gee Orchestra sets new standards for modern big band performance, elegantly balancing genuine big band traditions with exhilarating modernism. This swingin’ versatile ensemble can deliver everything from a sweet foxtrot ballad to rock and soul party favorites to all-out rollickin’ roadhouse boogie! Whether it’s with a full complement of 17 players or the 10-piece configuration affectionately called the “economy big band,” the band is enduringly popular with jazz concert and swing dance audiences throughout the United States and around the world.
A few notable career highlights have included: Playing at Ozzy Osbourne’s 50th birthday party in Beverly Hills. Being the first modern-era swing band welcomed from the West to perform at a swing dance event in Japan. Quincy Jones summoning the band to perform for the Royal Family of Jordan. Sitting onstage at the Zurich Swing City Festival in front of an audience of 15,000. And so many more!
George Gee has led the Tuesday night house band at Swing 46 in Manhattan every week since the club opened in May 1997, and the band made weekly appearances at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center and original Supper Club (now known as the Edison Ballroom).
“We’ve traveled a long road – many long roads, literally and figuratively – and I’m proud to say that today, swing music, jazz and the big band art form are not only alive and well, but enjoying their widest popularity since their heydays,” George says.
As the world’s only Chinese-American swing big bandleader, George has a unique cross-cultural perspective that creates a particular interest in bridging differences among all the people worldwide who enjoy this music and the vintage context.
“I have always been proud of my Chinese-American heritage and it has always helped me stand out among a crowd (as much as there is a “crowd” of swing big bandleaders!),” George says.
George loves all big band music, even when it’s not his own band playing. He’s a popular and skilled swing music DJ with an extensive collection of recordings perfect for parties, dances and special events. He specializes in an “All Big Band, All the Time” format!
On a related note, George is proud of his stature as an authority on swing-era music and history. He has lectured at the New School University, led clinics and master classes, and is a popular source for reporters, bloggers and TV productions on the subject. For example, George appeared in several segments in the two-hour 2000 Bravo TV documentary, “This Joint is Jumpin” (available on DVD); more recently in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and local CBS affiliate online.
The George Gee Swing Orchestra will be joined by local Denver favorites Ken Walker (Bass), Jeff Jenkins (Piano), Brad Goode & Al Hood (Trumpets), and Serafin Sanchez (Bari Saxophone).