Eight to the Bar still has lots of swing left in its step

Jay N. Miller

Eight to the Bar was swinging before swing was cool. Some might say swing was always cool, but the dance-happy style has had its ebbs and flows, most recently around 1998-2000, when it was suddenly everywhere.

Of course, Connecticut band Eight to the Bar was well positioned for that particular swing revival, since they’ve been around since 1975. Ten albums later, the band is nationally known and frequently tours overseas, but also stays busy with a variety of gigs from weddings to corporate parties to clubs to town concerts in the summer.

The moniker Eight to the Bar, by the way, refers to the fast-paced tempo swing embodies, whatever permutation of it you’re hearing, from boogiewoogie to jump blues to a lot of rock ’n’ roll.

Since the band’s inception, Cynthia Lyon – vocals, keyboards, writing – has been a centerpiece of the band.

“The first band was an eight-piece with male vocalist, and my two sisters and I sang backup,” Lyon said, adding the band found its groove after three years when they shifted from pedal steel to “regular swing, jump blues and Motown-flavored soul.”

Lyon’s roots in swing run deep as her mother sang in a vocal trio during World War II. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” wasn’t just a cute song to her, it was something she heard regularly around the house. And before long she and her sisters were singing in their own trio.

“I grew up with this music in every part of my background,” said Lyon. “My mom would play piano and sing, and my dad would join in with his ukulele, and we’d have these family sing-alongs. Swing was burned into my brain at an early age.”

The other members of Eight to the Bar include bassist Michael Corsini, Shawn Meehan on drums, Tom Whalen on guitar and vocals, and Brinna Jones on vocals and percussion. Corsini has been in the band for 20 years, Whalen for 15, Meehan for four, and Jones is the relative newcomer, with two years under her belt. The current lineup also includes sax and flute player Collin Tilton, who gained a measure of musical immortality at age 23 when he played on Van Morrison’s “Moondance” album. Keeping a stable lineup through better than three decades is an achievement in itself, but the band’s busy schedule helps.

“We realized early that you have to be more versatile to get more gigs,” said Lyon. “We can perform comfortably in bars and nightclubs, outdoor festivals or town concerts, weddings or swing dances. The town concerts have really become a big part of our work, and we’ve also had great success with the various swing dances all over the place."

Eight to the Bar began its recording career with the 1980 debut “The Joint Is Jumpin’” recorded live at Toad’s Place in New Haven. Their most recent album is 2007’s “Calling All Ickeroos,” but they are well on their way to releasing their 11th CD, “The Romper Room,” later this summer.

“We have utilized everyone in the group to produce a real exciting mixture of styles, within the swing framework. Our view of what we do is East Coast Swing, which means basically uptempo, like ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.’ West Coast swing is simply a slower tempo.”

The Patriot Ledger