As all cultures the lindy hop scene goes through varying trends ranging from clothing choice, dance styles, and preferred music. One of the most recent trends propagating through some of the most popular events in the scene is that of street jazz (as I’ll call it).
Last night I had the opportunity to see a combination of two exceptional street bands, Tin Pan Blues Band and Baby Soda Jazz Band playing at the Union Square subway stop. Baby Soda Jazz Band has a variety of exceptional musicians including Patrick Harison, an accordion player, who also plays with the Loose Marbles – featured in The New Yorker New Orleans Journal. As noted in the New Yorker article these bands are more like jazz collectives which form up in a variety of combinations compared to more traditional jazz orchestras. You can read a really solid recounting of the performance from last night on Jesse’s blog including the unfortunate resolution of a good time being broken up by police officers. Jesse, who plays trumpet, used to play with the Cangelosi Cards (who unfortunately do not have their own website).
Street jazz is a dynamic combination of traditional jazz and blues, old time, folk and gypsy. Very similar to the early New Orleans jazz bands and old time music with their inclusion of improvised instruments such as washboards, pots, even a washtub bass. They often times feature strong rhythm sections, often including two guitars (a steel guitar is common), a double bass or tuba and occasionally a banjo. Pianos are less common due to their lack of portability, and percussion is usually limited to a snare or improvised percussive instruments. Melody instruments often are either clarinets or trumpets. Often you’ll find less “jazz associated” instruments in these street bands, for example the accordion, mandolin or fiddle.
You will hear a range of tunes depending upon the musicians playing at that particular time. The sources for the song selection range widely from traditional New Orleans dixie and jazz tunes like St. Louis Blues, Gloryland, and Dinah; Gypsy or Manouche tunes like Django’s Swing 48 or Minor Swing and Russian gypsy songs like Dark Eyes; Gospel songs like Just A Closer Walk With Thee; and the early blues of Bessie Smith. What ties them all together is the vibrant buzz generated from a band of university educated musicians and street urchins who have such a deep love of the music and their fellow musicians.
Bands like the Cangelosi Cards, Tin Pan Blues Band, Baby Soda Jazz Band, the Loose Marbles and the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn produce a sound quite different from the recordings of Count Basie’s driving orchestra of the 30′s and Duke Ellington’s highly composed masterpieces but they express the verve of an art that is not just alive and well but one that inspires living.
All photography courtesy of Ryan Swift.