No Fall Off in Jazz Happenings Last Fall

It was a busy fall, trad jazz wise, in New England. Friends, I have now seen the Soggy Po’ Boys four times (FOUR TIMES!) in four months, which I think officially makes me a groupie.

Or a stalker. (No bunnies were boiled during the writing of this article.)

Hot Jazz Jubile

After seeing the band on August 1st at The Press Room in Portsmouth, NH, I was able to see them (without the mister) at The Strand Theater in Rockland, ME, on August 12th. This was their first time playing in the area, and I think they were testing out the audience’s receptiveness to their music, because their playing during the first couple of numbers felt restrained. The audience was restrained as well. Then the band let loose with the third number and so did the audience. For the rest of the show, people were clapping, hooting, bopping in their seats and having a great time. A couple of women got up to dance in the aisles and tried to get others to join in, but this is New England; we don’t dance in the aisles, thank you very much. I’ve been to concerts by They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies who play infectiously feel-good music that one can sing along to easily; the audience at each show was over-the-moon enthusiastic for the band’s playing and yet remained firmly seated throughout the show. We just don’t get up and dance here (usually—keep reading… this assertion shortly to be challenged).

Before the show, the older woman seated next to me asked me if I enjoyed New Orleans-style music. “Oh, yes, I love it!” I replied. She informed me that she and her husband (also present) were from New Orleans.

She asked if I’d heard the Soggy Po’ Boys before. “Oh, yes! They’re really good.”

Evergreen

“They’re from New Orleans?” she asked.

“Oh, no. New Hampshire!”

Her husband hooted in surprise, “New Hampshire? Good God! I thought they were from New Orleans!” The husband turned to the husband of the other couple with them, who was seated a few seats away, and shouted, “They’re not from New Orleans! They’re from New Hampshire!”

“New Hampshire?” husband #2 cried. “I want my money back!” We were all laughing, and the jokes went back and forth for a moment.

“Listen,” I finally said, “you’re going to love these guys. I promise. They have the sound down pat. I will personally refund your money if you’re disappointed!”

Nauck

At intermission, husband #1 turned to me and said, “Yeah, alright, they’re pretty good.” High praise indeed!

Unfortunately, vocalist / guitarist Stu Dias was not in attendance, and the replacement vocalist couldn’t match Dias (who can?); his voice seemed more suited to blues or folk and wasn’t piercing enough to be heard well above the band’s playing. He sounded best when he was belting out in full-throttle head voice, but those moments were rare during the show. He was, however, one heck of a guitar and banjo player. The band sold merchandise and CDs during intermission and after the show, giving the audience a welcome opportunity to interact with the band and ask questions.

The Soggy Po Boys

Clarinetist / soprano saxophonist Eric Klaxton was apparently asked quite a few questions about his instruments at intermission, because when the show resumed, he held up the soprano sax and explained what it was, and about half the audience said, “Oooooh!” as if a source of great confusion had been cleared up. Apparently, many were unfamiliar with the instrument. It was a lovely moment, with the band educating the audience a bit to help them understand and connect with the music. That plus the access to the band during intermission and after the show made for a wonderfully fun time.

Elvis

A week later, I was being blown away by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton at Bagaduce Music in Blue Hill, ME, on August 20th (see my TST profile of Paxton for more on this show and my interview with Bagaduce Music in the December 2023 TST edition to learn more about this unique music lending library) and then it was Tuba Skinny in Belfast, ME, at a free Belfast Summer Nights concert on the waterfront on August 24th. I finally made it to a Maine-based Tuba Skinny show, y’all! I always miss them when they come through, and I made it this year! I doubt readers of TST need any introduction to one of New Orleans’s top trad bands.

All I can say is that this was my second time attending a “Belfast Summer Nights” event and both times there was a sizeable crowd dancing—the ONLY time I’ve seen people dancing at a music concert in New England (we’re descended from Puritans; what can I say, we’re a staid people). And, oh boy, were they dancing! A very few were swing dancing, there was quite a bit of two-stepping, some Carolina Shag, a lot of people were doing a dance move where they swept their arm across their body—up and out—similar to the Time Warp scene from Rocky Horror Picture Show, and overall, the vast majority were just “joy in motion” rather than doing any particular dance style. There was even one couple that put me in mind of the ballroom dancing skit from the original Muppet Show in the way they moved. No judgement—my husband and I took ballroom dancing lessons for two years and can only manage a not terrible square in waltz time and that’s about it.

(I could find no video from 2023 but this one from 2022 gives you the idea. What a venue!)

Nauck

No matter how uniquely they may have been dancing, the crowd was pure joie de vivre, and the fact that the band was able to get the crowd up and moving so enthusiastically is a testament to the infectious joy that is Tuba Skinny. They performed two sets, kicking of with “The Mighty Anchor” (written by Robin Rapuzzi and one of my all-time favorite trad jazz tunes) followed by “Kissing in the Dark,” “I’ve Been Blue Since You Went Away” (by Papa Charlie McCoy), “Chalmette Sunsets” (by band member Barnabas Jones), “Some Kind-A-Shake” (by band member Shaye Cohn), “Nobody’s Business,” “Daddy Let Me Lay It On You” (Georgia White), “a tune by Memphis Minnie,” (says my notes), an “original written by a woman (Erika?) written in Maine” (from my notes), and “How Do They Do It That Way” (by Victoria Spivey). That was the first set. As you can see, my notes got a bit vague at the end and then I forgot to take any notes during the second set because I was enjoying the music so much!

To my chagrin, I missed the Medford Trad Jazz Festival in Medford, MA, August 26th-27th and the Seacoast Jazz Festival in Portsmouth, NH, the same weekend (moved from Saturday to Sunday due to rain) and most painful of all, I learned too late of Portsmouth, NH’s “Jazz in the Streets” put on by the Seacoast Jazz Society, which has musicians busking in the street all summer long. But, for next year, I now know of two communities—Portsmouth, NH and Portland, ME— that have trad jazz musicians busking on the streets during summer.

The end of summer did not mean the end of live jazz in Maine. A number of local bands performed throughout the area at local restaurants, bars, and small theaters (including the Next Generation Theater and the High Tide Restaurant, both in Brewer, ME), Bonerama was at Jimmy’s Blues and Jazz Club in Portsmouth, and the Django by the Sea Festival was at The Dance Hall in Kittery, ME (alas, I had a conflict and could not attend either event).

September rolled into October, and it was on to The Soggy Po’ Boys’s annual “Honoring the Tradition” concert at The Dance Hall in Kittery, ME, where they celebrate the work of one artist from the tradition. This year, they focused on the life and work of Jelly Roll Morton. Vocalist Stu Dias intercut a lecture on Morton’s life and times with the band’s performances of Morton’s works; Dias said this was the first time doing it this way as they usually do all of the lecture first and then all of the performance. I think the alternating of lecture and playing worked well, and we really enjoyed the show.

Soggy Po’ Boys Honoring the Tradition event.

The audience even got a mini “lecture inside a lecture” on the evolution of piano styles, with piano player Mike Effenberger demonstrating each style, using the song “Ain’t She Sweet,” from simple melody to ragime to barrelhouse to boogie woogie to stride to the “Spanish tinge” Morton used in his playing.

The Dance Hall is a lovely facility, 100 or so seats with the back section of seats on a raised, stepped dais for better viewing. The age range of the audience seemed pretty evenly distributed for this show from 20s to 80s. Dias got a laugh from the audience at the start of the show when he announced they were going to play straight through, no intermission, and when they were done (playing), they were done (no encores). Turns out, he was serious. The band bolted off stage at the end and were out the door, leaving little cartoon dust clouds in their wake. The show ended at 9:30 pm and we had a three-hour drive home, but it was totally worth the late night.

Two weeks later, we did basically the same thing, heading down to Portland, ME (a two-hour drive from us) to catch The Soggy Po’ Boys at Blue, a small club/bar. This show started at 9 pm and was standing room only. We arrived a bit early and were able to snag a table right in front of the “stage.” As had happened at The Strand, an older couple seated near me thought the band was from New Orleans, and I corrected the misperception. I’m glad to know I’m not the only person who has gotten it into their head the band is from NOLA.

This was my first chance (despite this being the fourth show of theirs I’d attended) to finally see the band playing up close, and I was particularly impressed with Mike Effenberger’s piano playing. He has a very light, fast, dexterous touch on the keys that is fascinating to watch. As always, vocalist Stu Dias was a bundle of energy, standing the entire time and frequently dancing and moving about the stage while singing (and never getting out of breath). At the close of the show, Dias announced their last selections would be “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “A Closer Walk With Thee,” and the mister turned to me with an eyebrow raised in question. “Odd choices. Can’t really play those as trad jazz tunes.” Dias and the band, of course, surprised and delighted us with, yes, hot jazz versions of both. “I stand corrected,” the mister said to me afterwards.

Highlights of upcoming concerts for which we have snagged tickets include John Pizzarelli and Kat Edmonson both at Jimmy’s Jazz and Blues in Portsmouth, NH. Alas, we’ll likely miss the Glenn Miller Orchestra in Waterville, ME, on Saturday, December 2nd due to a schedule conflict. In the meantime, I’ve dusted off my Samuel James (Maine-born and raised blues, roots, and folk singer/songwriter extraordinaire) Holiday Instrumentals album. James plays six- and twelve-string guitar, resonator guitar, and banjo, and his playing is out of this world good—he’s a solo musician but always sounds like he’s backed by a whole band. The album is available on Bandcamp (samueljames2.bandcamp.com) and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Avalon Jazz Band also has a Christmas album, My Gypsy Jazz Christmas, which has also become one of my beloved Christmas albums (I particularly like their version of “White Christmas”) (the album can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and other digital streaming services), so if you’re looking for some holiday spirit, give both a try.

By day, Terri Bruce works in the government and nonprofit sector, helping to eradicate poverty. By night, she’s a science fiction and fantasy author. In between, she’s a trad jazz fan. 

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