The Spirit of Hot Jazz in St. Louis: T.J. Muller’s All-Star Jazz Band

Traditional jazz and ragtime are back in St. Louis these days and as vibrant and joyful as in the days when the Goldenrod Showboat graced the levee. New venues are opening, and new audiences are seeking out the music.

I’ve been watching and celebrating these developments via the local media but have been unable to get out until recently. After the new year I’ve been much better, and I saw a note on Social Media announcing T.J. Muller’s All-Star Jazz Band at the Focal Point in St. Louis. The band members listed were a Who’s Who of Syncopated Times headliners. What really caught my attention was the notice that there were only 12 seats left. My grandson agreed to take me into the city, and I quickly snatched up two of those remaining seats.

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The evening was magical after a tense few minutes when we arrived. I was so excited I had gone off and left our tickets at home. The great folks at the venue found my credit receipt and we were grandly ushered into front row seats. It was perfect.

We were early so I got to visit with several online friends who were there, and T.J. kindly took a few minutes to visit as well. He is an amazingly talented fellow with a personality as big as his repertoire. It was to be an evening of music from the 1920s and 1930s right down to the microphones.

What a band! T.J. Muller’s All-Stars on the Focal Point stage in St. Louis on Jan. 6, 2024 (from left): T.J. Muller, Mike Davis, Colin Hancock, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, and Matt Tolentino. (photo courtesy Larry Melton)

Each of the All-Star performers seemed able to play any instrument on the crowded stage. They were gathered from around the Midwest and East Coast. Colin Hancock (Austin), played brass and reeds. Andy Schumm (Chicago), was on piano most of the evening. Matt Tolentino (Cincinnati), played a base sax and Mike Davis (New York), trumpet with Josh Duffee (Davenport), drums. T.J. Muller (St. Louis), played banjo.

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Many of their numbers allowed for each musician to be featured and the first half of the program was one amazing selection after another: “Riverboat Shuffle” to “Was it a Dream” and “Shake it and Break It.” Josh Duffee played “Blue Evening Blues” on the xylophone, “Got a Date With An Angel” and “Do, Do, Do” with Mike Davis’s vocal, “If you Want the Rainbow, You Must Have the Rain,” and Matt Tolentino played “Lights and Shadows” on his accordion. The first half ended with “Palm Leaf Rag” and “At a Jazz Town Ball.”

Colin Hancock demonstrates the acoustic recording process.

After the intermission Colin Hancock treated us to a 78 rpm acoustic recording session. It was incredible to see all the musicians with their instruments, tightly gathered around the recording horn. After each number Colin took the master back to the booth and the music we had just heard live came over the speakers as if right out of the 1920s. The first few had some problems, but the quality improved considerably by the time local guest artists Ethan Leinwand and Valerie Kirchoff joined the orchestra for “Got the Blues Bad.”

It was a magnificent evening that could have occurred nearly 100 years ago, and my grandson and I left glowing from the experience. Many thanks to the Focal Point in Maplewood (St. Louis, MO). Check them out if you are in the city. They have a loaded calendar billed as “The Premier Folk Music Listening Room.”

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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