The members of Jefferson Street Parade Band are bringing some fanfare flair to Bloomington. With drums and horns and crowds following them like the Pied Piper, they have pulled music out of the dark, stuffy venues and into the light of day – because this band is a marching band.
Ben Fowler is leader of the Jefferson Street Parade Band. Along with Evan Noyes, Douglas Briney, Andy Goheen, and Tyler Damon, Fowler plays drums for Jefferson Street during their performances. He’s been playing since he was 12 and eventually earned a degree from the Jacobs School of Music in Jazz Studies –- but the music written and arranged for the band doesn’t stop at jazz.
"We have taken music from Mexico, Cuba, and West Africa and Eastern Europe. And we’ve taken some originals and some jazz songs and tried to just reinterpret them as a brass band would," Fowler says.
Getting Into Step
The band also touts sousaphonist Drew Prichard, tenor saxophonist Eric Arnold, his brother Alex Arnold on accordion and trumpet, with Nick Romy on the electric bass.
That’s right, electric, so how does Romy plug in? He says it took some jerry-rigging. He wears a backpack with a golf cart battery and an amp strapped to his back as he marches.
Marching and playing music at the same time isn’t quite as straightforward as it may seem. Initially, the band had to do a lot of experimenting.
Playing horn comes with its own challenges. Alex Arnold talks about playing the trumpet for Jefferson Street:
"Playing like a wind instrument while you’re marching is pretty intense sometimes. You have to be really conscious of your step and your breath," Arnold says.
A Change of Venue
Fowler explains how the Jefferson Street Parade Band was born. It was winter of 2008. Naturally, he was spending a lot of time indoors and he had idea:
"Let’s have a marching band, that we can go around town and play music –- and play outside, and walk around with it," Fowler says.
He was ready for a change of venue.
"You know, playing in bars is great, but you get a little tired of it always being so late at night, and just the vibe of that kind of show get monotonous after a while. So it was exciting to sort of think about other sorts of shows we could do – involving movement and the outdoors."
He and Jefferson Street’s original saxophone player, Sophie Faught, started adapting songs they thought would work well on the move.
The first original piece the band ever wrote is called “Nick’s Beat” as in Nick Romy, the backpack bass player. Fowler and Romy were touring as part of another band, The Delicious.
"We bought this old limousine and it was really glorious. We would roll up to these clubs in our white Cadaillac limousine," Fowler recalls.
But then, just outside of Little Rock, the glorious limo died. They made it back to Bloomington in a U-Haul, with Fowler and Romy stuck in back with all the gear.
"We set up my drumset because we were so bored. We were sitting there, in the dark, with this sprawl of drums in between us that we could sort of play half the drumset," he says, "And that is the beat that we play in 'Nick’s Beat'."
Making a Joyful Noise
The band members had certain expectations for how audiences willing or not would react to their performances.
"We were hoping that throngs of people would start following us around and we’d get some smiles. Maybe that people would bring us some snacks or some beers along the way or something... Or bring their own noise-making devices," Fowler says. "And all of those things have happened at certain times, at certain shows."
It’s true. People really get into it. The band let me tag along on one of their gigs –- a wedding party, right in downtown Bloomington.
"One hundred or 200 people came out with their noisemakers," Fowler says, "They were all ready to party. We got surrounded and we made our way up to the Sample Gates, came back around and played a bunch of songs. The bride and groom were out there high-fiving people on the street, horsing around, taking a bunch of pictures. It was a lot of fun.
"Really good show."
Visit the Jefferson Street Parade Band's Myspace page for more info!