MUSIC BOX: Much Ado About Minor Keys

By on May 9, 2017

Toe-tapping rhythms and big band sensibilities at The Wort.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – A step off Jackson’s beaten path, between the predictability of bluegrass’ tonal transitions and the repetitive hip-hop pulse, is the intrigue of The Minor Keys. It’s the tricks popularized by the big bands of the early decades of the latter century but slimmed down to a violin, guitar and upright bass.

Be immersed in the flavor seldom experienced in this flannel-clad valley at 7 p.m. Sunday at The Wort.

Mamas, call the sitter, because this is your show. While your husband will let you down later in the evening—face it, he is a man—this show certainly will not. Even if you’re not in the mood, the creamy beats on the bass and the violin’s lightning strikes will send you into an uncontrollable jive. Blame it on the band, with Jeromey Bell behind the six strings.

“Even if people aren’t in the mood to dance, people are tapping their toes and feeling the rhythm,” Bell said.

It’s the ubiquity of the style. At the peak of swing in the early 40s, there was a counter-culture outlook toward it. The zoot suits and innuendo were all but lewd. As the years turned to decades, the music of our fathers faded into the background and near obscurity. With artists like Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace, the genre is seeing resurgence, although those like Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt and Fats Waller never left our Spotify.

“It has a pretty broad scope and pretty broad range of appeals because so much of the modern music has been made from those stepping stones, from those early players that made a certain form, like rhythm changes that define a certain style of music,” Bell said. “A lot of the notes that were played were cutting edge at the time.”

“Those notes,” he continued, “gave the style of music its sound. Modern musicians are constantly looking back to borrow those notes and those sounds to redefine their own music.”

Contemporary artists are holding the torch high. Squirrel Nut Zippers repackaged the gypsy swirl of Django with calypso rhythms, and Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire followed suit with his “Minor Stab.” It originated as the breakthrough work by big band members tearing away and forming groups with fewer artists, allowing the individuals to roam free along their strings and horn holes.

“There was a greater freedom to improvise,” Bell said. “They could play what they were thinking and feeling. They would pass around an idea and not be stuck to the confines of playing the solo that was written for them in a big band setting.”

Bell followed the sound. From his mother’s piano to the Pioneer Bar in Haines, Alaska, swing seeped its way into his blood. He met a few musicians in the great white north who shared his particular interests in the illicit, but not explicit, intrigue of the adults’ inaudible language.

“Kids and adults both love it, but I think the angle we enjoy playing is the one that kind of brings you in for a closer listen and brings you to your feet for a dance,” he said.

“As I met these musicians and we played together,” Bell continued, “they’re the ones who introduced me. … I didn’t realize how much really fun, really cool music there was out there that isn’t popular.”

He met Leslie Steen in such a situation, and separately they moved back to Jackson and began picking around together, Bell on the guitar and Steen on the fiddle. They have maintained the modus operandi that quality music isn’t necessarily what has risen to fame.

B-sides and rarities riddle their sets that, of course, include the hits as well, but the general idea is to introduce an unbeknownst audience to a style of music that for too long has been pushed by the wayside.

“If you’re going to play ‘Lady Be Good’ or ‘Sweet Sue,’ you better make it special or something you’ve never heard,” Bell advised.

Three years later, along with the early addition of Marty Camino’s upright bass to the roster, and The Minor Keys are releasing a four-song EP that features PJH music columnist Aaron Davis. These tracks should be making their way around town by the beginning of June.

While their performance is built for the dancing soul, live appearances in town are infrequent. In the interim between Sunday night’s show and the band’s next meeting, Bell has a few suggestions to fill the lonely hours. The Red Stick Ramblers and the Hot Club of Cowtown satisfy the craving, but Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five will fill out the feast.

“[They’re] a great band that doesn’t get a lot of press, but is very much in the same vein as Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian,” Bell said.

Ideally, though, don’t miss The Minor Keys playing free 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 14 at The Wort.

“It’s a classic, old-time bar, and we’ll have some classic, old-time tunes to go with it,” Bell said. “We’re excited to be bringing something different to town and hope that people enjoy it.” PJH

Wednesday

Vinyl Night (8 p.m. at the Rose)

Thursday

Major Zephyr (7:30 p.m. at The Wort)

 Friday

Friday Night DJ with DJ Dolph (10 p.m. at The Rose)

Third Annual Smasher’s Ball with DJ E.R.A. (10 p.m. at Town Square Tavern)

 Saturday

Whiskey Mornin’ (3 to 5 p.m. at the Eco Fair)

Tilted (10 p.m. at The Rose)

Wyobass (10 p.m. at Town Square Tavern)

 Sunday

BOGDOG (4 p.m. at Moe’s)

 Monday

Hootenanny (6 p.m. at Dornan’s)

 Tuesday

Bluegrass Night with O.T.P. (7:30 p.m. at The Wort)

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