By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — For a couple of hours on Nov. 9, a synagogue’s multipurpose room could’ve almost been Chicago, 1936, if you closed your eyes and opened your imagination.
The Swing Docs were lined up in the same multipurpose room they often practice in, facing rows of folding chairs and familiar faces, but they played like Count Basie might’ve been listening.
They’re a naturally enthusiastic group, but this performance was special: a thank-you gift to the friends and fellow congregants who offered the musicians a space to practice.
A swing band doesn’t fit in your average living room. So when the Swing Docs lost their rehearsal space earlier this year, trumpet player Sid Zack, who is also the house chairman for Congregation Beth Israel, asked for permission to house a couple dozen enthusiastic musicians at the Eastern Parkway synagogue.
Synagogue members agreed, and the Sunday performance thanked them enthusiastically. In addition to the performance itself, the $12 general admission fee was donated to the congregation.
Throughout the show, front row and stage left, evidently having a ball, was Zack. The 81-year-old musician is a believer in the importance of a musical life. Before he retired, about 20 years ago, he used to buy instruments and loan them out to local kids so their parents wouldn’t have to pay prohibitive rental fees.
“I’ve had a musical fund, if you will,” he said.
Retirement has brought Zack the freedom to play music all day long if he pleases — and he often does. He’s a member of a concert orchestra, a swing dance group in Clifton Park and the college jazz ensemble at Union College, where he’s one of the only senior citizens.
“But the Swing Docs, that’s one of my favorites,” he said.
It’s his eighth year with the group, which started out as a band completely made up of medical personnel. About half of the members are still medical professionals. Richard Uhl, chief of orthopedic surgery at Albany Medical Center, leads the group.
Zack, who is a nonmedical musician, said the group’s roots are still evident.
“If somebody comes in and says, ‘I sprained my ankle,’ well, sit down and let me look at it,” he said. “Not only can we play music, we can cure you.”
Zack said the group’s focus is classic swing music with a modern twist. They rework classics like the jazz standard “Misty” with a dance-friendly twist. A couple of concert attendees took the lilting style as an invitation, standing up to dance near the dessert tables every few songs.
Doctors and surgeons aside, Zack said the music the Swing Docs provide is medicine in itself.
“It keeps you young, I can tell you that,” he said. “I’m 81 and I just want to keep playing, that’s all. I retired at a very early age and the thing that kept me going was the music.”