by Vernell Hackett
On any given night in Nashville, the Nashville Palace is rocking to honky tonk country music. At least that was true until recently, when Tim Rushlow & His Big Band took residence at the club on weekends through New Year’s Eve.
Rushlow, a former member of Little Texas, grew up listening to all kinds of music, from the Motown sounds his dad loved to the American Songbook tunes from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. In fact, Darin remains one of his favorite singers. He jokes, “I moved to Nashville to be Bobby Darin.”
His parents encouraged his interest in music because both were singers, and soon he was listening to the Eagles and more contemporary sounds. Then he found himself in Nashville, having country hits with the band Little Texas.
“I am very proud of my country past, proud of the awards we received from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music — what a nice thing to know you have been a part of that.”
Seven years ago, Rushlow realized he was missing those early tunes from the big band era that he had loved so much, and he began to wonder how that music would go over today. He put together “Tim Rushlow, One Man, One Night,” and began going out and playing the songs that influenced him as a teen and young man, as well as some of the hits from Little Texas and his solo albums.
“The audience responded to those big band songs, because it was a sound track to them for their growing up years. So I learned quickly there was something special about it. Four years ago, I decided to delve further into the Great American Songbook and see if I could make a career with it.”
Judging by the reaction of the crowd at the Nashville Palace a couple weekends ago, Rushlow is well on his way to not only making a career in big band music, but more importantly, bringing something to the stage that people who loved that music are thrilled to hear they can see and enjoy. He performs in front of a 20-piece band, including horn section, a big band-era stage setup, and a set of songs that feature the hits of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Judy Garland, Buddy Holly and Tony Bennett.
There is music – great music – but Rushlow never lets a good story pass him by. For instance, there’s the story about Tony Bennett receiving a letter from Charlie Chaplin after he recorded his song, “Smile.” The audience loved both music and stories that night at the Palace, and showered the singer with appreciative applause and standing ovations throughout the evening.
A couple years ago, Rushlow recorded a Christmas album in big band style, “Tim Rushlow and his Big Band Christmas Album,” which was critically successful and made “Billboard’s” music charts right next to Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album, a thrill for the singer. “I did it the way (I felt) people wanted to hear it, doing my version but not deviating from the map. I still have Gene Autry’s album with ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!’ I still think when Mel Torme wrote ‘The Christmas Song,’ he heard those strings.
“When the album was released, it freaked people out, but I think they realized I was authentic … you know, ‘this guy actually is a good crooner.’ Then buyers started calling asking how they could book me in performing arts centers, so I knew I had to do a video of the show with me and the band.”
Not to worry, Rushlow booked a performance hall, put together 400 friends and made a video. Before he hit the stage in front of cameras, he made his garage into a rehearsal hall and “rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed.” Then Public Television came calling.
“They told me, ‘You are young enough to reach the younger demo, but also reach the demo that is our audience.’ So over the last 16 months I have been across the country in different markets, helping raise money for PBS, playing in these cities with my Big Band. We always had a great crowd because of the video airing on PBS.”
Next came the Nashville challenge. Rushlow and his manager, Clif Doyal, approached the Nashville Palace, explaining the concept to the owner. He told them he would like to do it, and asked what would it take. “I told him he’d have to lose the neon lights and chicken tenders, add black tablecloths and a prime rib dinner, coffee and a great dessert. He said yes.”
Rushlow said when people come into the Palace, he wanted them to feel like they were at the Copa Room in Las Vegas in the 1940’s, and the decorations, lighting and huge stage with the Big Band definitely giving it that atmosphere. The singer started out with his Big Band classics, and has now turned the weekends into a Christmas show along with the classics, all done in the big band style, of course.
“I’m very proud of it,” Rushlow enthuses. “I think this could be an annual thing.”
The singer has recorded a new album, “Date Night,” named because each of the songs evoke date night. He is doing a limited release of the album, for sale at The Nashville Palace shows. He will then look for a label to do a national release in 2018. He has other things in the works too, hinting that he just might merge the songs he loves, and his love for cooking, together for a television show in 2018. But nothing will top the fact that he is singing and performing the Great American Songbook for his audiences.
Next year Rushlow will be doing his solo show and his big band show at performing arts centers and with select symphonies around the country. You might even catch him playing additional shows at the Nashville Palace, which he says will be called “Swingin’ at the Palace.”
“I never thought I’d get to carry on and do these songs, tunes like “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole, “The Lady is a Tramp” by Frank Sinatra, and “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, onstage with these musicians. It just takes you back to that era. I don’t try to fix it, I just do it as it was.
“Those songwriters – Sammy Kahn, Richard Rogers, Mel Torme — wrote songs in an era when the country was hurting, and they knew deep down we needed hope and joy in the world, so they wrote those songs conveying that. We are really hitting a nerve bringing these songs back. It’s like magical fairy dust sprinkled on these songs. You just see the people melt. It’s been amazing.”