Michael Moss, the publisher of San Francisco-based Swing Time Magazine, believes that swing is more than just a trend. "We started listening to swing seven or eight years ago in San Francisco," says Moss, speaking on the telephone from his office. "There was a whole community of people wishing to hear more melodic music. Swing was a stand against grunge and rap, a rebellion against the tattoo crowd. It wasn't manufactured or marketed, it came from us and spread by word of mouth."
Moss feels that while scenes in major cities are already well defined, the rest of the nation still has a chance to catch up. "Delray Beach has a band called the Saffire Kings making good music," he points out. "It sounds like Fort Lauderdale already has the band with Jump n' Jive -- now you need the club. Cities like New York and San Francisco have several clubs close together, so people can go to the same places on a consistent basis. South Florida just needs to get the kids in front of a great band."
If Jump n' Jive fails to ignite the swing scene in Broward County, it won't be for lack of trying. Powers' magnetic, kinetic stage presence draws scores of revelers to O'Hara's every Tuesday. Whether asking the musical question "Are Those Things Really Real" or advocating safe sex with the up-tempo "Wrap It Up Baby," Powers has a natural enthusiasm that's downright infectious.
Make that downright addictive. Powers, who started playing piano at age thirteen in his native Chicago, began using drugs the same year. A professional musician and burgeoning junkie by age eighteen, he developed a fondness for acid, downers, and heroin. At age 24 he was living in Los Angeles, where he worked with musicians such as Etta James, Sly Stone, and Tito and Randy Jackson. His then-wife moved him and their two children to South Florida in 1989 to escape the L.A. drug scene, but Powers had heroin FedExed to him here. In 1993 his wife had him locked up -- it was Powers' fourteenth drug arrest -- and filed for divorce shortly afterward.
At the time Powers had choice words for his wife, but now admits, "In retrospect it was the best thing that ever happened to me." He recalls, "I was 39 at the time, in jail, losing my family, I had blown my career, I was strung out, and I thought, 'Could something possibly be wrong here?'"
Powers kicked heroin cold turkey in jail (a two-week process he describes simply as "a nightmare"), then spent three months in rehab. He quit music for two years as part of his recovery, and performed odd jobs to pay the rent. In early 1996 he decided he was ready to devote himself to music once again. After a six-week solo gig at Evangeline's on State Road A1A, Powers formed Jump n' Jive to perform at the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, writing seven original songs in the span of three days for the gig. Those seven songs, and five covers, can be found on the band's CD, I'm a Dirty Bird, which was released in February 1997.
Powers can thank jump music for bringing him the woman he plans to marry later this year, though his rampant sexual energy almost drove her away. "We were playing O'Brian's in Juno Beach," Powers recalls, "and I saw this great-looking chick. I started wagging my tongue at her, went over and said, 'What's happening, baby, nah, nah, nah,' and she ran out of the club."
Not long after Powers noticed the same woman at another of his shows: "So I see her, I'm wagging my tongue again, I say, 'Hey, where you been, baby' -- and she's gone again. When I eventually saw her a third time, I was setting up my equipment, and before she could run out, I went over, put my hands on her shoulders, walked her to the grand piano, and played Gershwin, Cole Porter, and love songs for her. She realized I wasn't totally crazy, and we've been together ever since."
Powers has gained other admirers as well. During a recent Jump n' Jive set at O'Hara's, a balding, middle-aged man dancing near the stage wears piano-key suspenders exactly like those that are slipping from Powers' shoulders. A waitress points to the unlikely groupie and notes, "Jump n' Jive is the only band we have that makes people crazy, where we have to tell them to keep it down."
Powers attributes his zeal for jump music to "flamboyance, extravagance, and insanity." If he has his way, the craziness has just begun.
Jump n' Jive performs at 9 p.m. every Tuesday at O'Hara's Pub and Jazz Cafe, 722 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-524-1764 for more information.