Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These 5:09 The Soul Rebels Sweet Dreams EP Jazz
The spark that ignited the band was seeing The Soul Rebels at the Monterey Jazz Festival two days after accidentally discovering No Doubt (a decade or two late) in a used record store in Sacramento. The jazz festival was wonderful, but everyone was sitting in their seats listening intently until The Soul Rebels came on. That’s when everyone started dancing. I looked up and said “hey, I know a lot of horn players, I could do this in Calgary, but I wouldn’t do so much New Orleans and Hip-Hop stuff, I like pop, punk and ska”. I was also burned out on jazz at that time, especially its focus (everywhere but New Orleans, I found out later) on individual technique and intellectualism, rather than stage performance, dance beats and party vibe. When I got home, I started arranging music and calling people, starting with my high school friend Sean, who I knew would “get it”.
Doghouse No Doubt
This was the first song I tried to arrange, I loved the strong female vocals, the great brass lines, and the old-style No Doubt ska-feel. It didn’t work that well, because we had no clues. Before we found out that Margo was a bad-ass vocalist, I found a No Doubt fan from Russia to record vocals for me, and send them by email, to test the arrangement. That didn’t work well either. We also didn’t yet have Jevon on tuba, and I arranged a complex tuba line. We might bring this song back next year now that we have some clues and a Jevon.
Dimineata pe Racoare 2:21 Lemon Bucket Orkestra Moorka Country & Folk
I met my cousin Barb de Kat in Washington DC for dinner at the Afghan Grill. She works for the National Ballet (they were on tour in Washington) and is married to a prominent high school drama teacher Gerry Campbell (father of Neve Campbell), so she’s connected to the arts in Toronto. I told her my plan. She told me about a friend of hers from the 'hood, Michael Louise Johnson, who plays ‘on the street’ all the time and organizes mass outdoor events. He was playing in an ethnic folk party punk super band called The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. On the plane Air Canada had a short award-winning documentary about them, and how it came together for them. I reached out to Michael Louise Johnson and he provided much advice, and we organized an outdoor gig in Calgary one year where we opened, and we got close to a thousand people out. I went to a show in Toronto where they packed Lees Palace with people who wanted to hear horn-focused ethnic bands, which was inspiring. The last time the Lemon Bucket Orkestra come to Calgary they had people dancing on the tables at The Ironwood; if you love the Ironwood like I do you realize this is quite an accomplishment. If you’re ever going to Toronto, the first thing you should do is to find out where Michael is performing while you’re there.
Brooklyn 6:52 Youngblood Brass Band Center: Level: Roar Hip-HopWe tried to find similar bands to our concept online. The Youngblood Brass Band came up, as a showy party band with similar instrumentation. We loved it! They are a little jazzy and don’t have our vocal chops, but man can they deliver the brass lines and there’s no mistaking the talent, energy and party-dance focus of their songs and performances. Horn players who sat in with us said “oh yeah, we listened to this stuff all the time in high school”, which surprised me, since I had never heard of them in my younger days. Youngblood sold us the sheet music for Brooklyn for $50.
Skankin' The Night Away 2:23 Class Action Class Action Ska
Shamrock, Five Star Affair
Two local bands were particularly inspiring, Class Action and Five Star Affair. When I first got serious about ska as a genre I googled “Ska Calgary” and found Five Star Affair. They were playing at a club called The Soda down on 12th Avenue and I went to see them. They were an amazing act, with a to-die-for bass player Jessie Robertson, and when I talked to them it turned out the band was started by the trumpet player, another Jesse, Jesse Heffernan, who was in music school and is now a high school teacher in Calgary. They seemed to sing a lot about drinking and sex, with a rough edge but yet a strong unified presence on stage. I thought “if he can do it, surely I can too”. But it had to wait for a while, I wasn’t ready for the time commitment, and I hadn’t yet had the spark from seeing The Soul Rebels. They eventually added a trombone player to their setup and I though “oh my god, that could have been me, opportunity knocked and I missed it.” Then they folded.
Class Action I discovered similarly, and they are a mainstay of Calgary Ska. Their attitude towards the music and the way they perform is inspiring, and they’ve invited us to join them on gigs. They are a warm and friendly bunch of people playing horn-focused ska in Calgary. Go see them, they keep the ska alive, constantly putting out new material and making people dance.
Bye Bye Blackbird 4:20 Wednesday Night Big Band Bye Bye Blackbird
When Sean and I were in high school our band director was Brian Thorlacius. He taught us a lot about music, including proper behaviour of serious musicians. He had a "pep band" that we played in, covering pop songs like ones by Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. We didn’t like the "pep band", but now I can’t figure out why: we were playing brass covers of rock songs outdoors already more than 30 years ago. Perhaps the arrangements were a little lame, or maybe we didn’t respect old music when we were young.
Brian started the Wednesday Night Big Band, and I started subbing in it, eventually joining it. I’ve played in the WNBB for more than 20 years, so it was a natural recruiting ground. Kevin, Dana and I play in it, as did Marco and one of our previous drummers. We used to have Deanne Matley singing with the WNBB, and Deanne is one of my mentors on stage and show, and a great friend. She works hard at her music and always takes it seriously and understands how to put on an amazing show. We created a little spin-off group called “The Matley Crew” and did a few successful party shows at the Canmore Hotel, the Blind Beggar where she wore a little short Santa costume number and killed it, and the Rosedale Community Association. It was a blast, we all loved it so much. It made me realize I want to play music that people dance to and really communicate with the audience, like Deanne does, not just sing or play in front of them. It also sparked an interest in band leading, and arranging (Craig Johnson’s arrangements were critical in making The Matley Crew so awesome.) Deanne is a serious jazz singer now, but I’m 100% sure she could still kill it on the rock/pop songs if she wanted to. She won’t let me play the power pop live recordings I have of her because it interferes with her professional image as a polished jazz singer, but I can play this jazz song of her with the WNBB.
Craig Johnson arranged this song. We’ve recently collaborated him with our dPlus project. Dave Prentice recorded this, he taught me much about recording and arranging.
Not available on Apple Music or Spotify, listen on Soundcloud using the player to the left
Brasstronomical 4:09 The Heavyweights Brass Band Brasstronomical
Someone else in Canada created a party brass band! One of their leaders Chris Bucher plays trombone and spends most of his time in New Orleans now. He has a performance focus and an energy level that’s hard to beat. These guys are good. They're slick. They’re more jazzy than us and not so rock and roll. I always try to connect with Chris when I go to New Orleans or Toronto, or when The Heavyweights come to town. It both calms and excites me to see how Chris and this band put on good shows time after time.
Sly 3:47 The Cat Empire Two ShoesThis band is the closest thing we’ve found to the original vision in terms of vibe, approach and success. A big ass party-influenced ska-influenced New Orleans influenced successful band touring the college and festival circuit. If they replaced their bass player with a tuba player and ditched the guitars, they’d be like us. They were in Calgary on March 15.
Shake It Off 4:46 Dirty Catfish Brass Band Big Shiny Brass Jazz
OMG another brass band from Canada playing the party scene! They are very similar to the actual New Orleans tradition modelling themselves closely off the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They’re touring and gigging and making it happen. The best thing is how they get hired as a high energy party band all the time. Inspiring!
But, beyond that, they took Shake It Off and turned it into something brand new. In some ways they out-deliriumed us on this song. We also cover this song, but because we have Jace as the amazing vocalist we kept it close to Taylor Swift’s version, to let Jace shine. They took the song, extracted the best parts, turned it on its head, and redelivered it. They have more than half a million views on their video, and their video just shows horn players playing a pop song, with no stunningly attractive vocalist!
Shake It Off 3:39 Taylor Swift 1989 (Deluxe Edition)
A wonderful horn line in a pop song with a great message to women is hard to resist. Also, “serious musicians”, especially aspiring jazz musicians, tend to mock pop and dance pop, especially female pop stars, as being shallow media creations. Tay Tay is the real thing, a great arranger, bandleader, singer, songwriter, and dancer. If you mock her you just don’t understand how music works, or how each person in music is just a small part of something much, much bigger than themselves. We wanted to celebrate the best of dance pop, so we chose a song with a good empowering message that seems simplistic on the surface, and a great horn line.
King Arthur's Court 3:38 Five Alarm Funk Five Alarm Funk Hip-Hop
Once we drank too much at the Canmore Hotel listening to Five Alarm Funk. The whole dance floor was sweating to horn music. Then, Sean and I went out for a four-day backpacking through hike with my brother and another good friend up the Ghost River though Cougar Creek back into Canmore. Drink, dance, and sweat to horns.
Girl Take It Easy 5:04 The Pietasters The Pietasters 1992-1996 Rock
We went searching for successful party ska music with a lot of horn lines with some reference to drinking and sex. This came up. We covered it. I sang it.
I Can See Clearly Now 3:16 Jimmy Cliff We All Are One: The Best of Jimmy Cliff ReggaeThe cool thing about this song is the simplicity of the chords yet the intensity of the delivery, and the way the horns add the energy when necessary. It was also great to dig back into the history of ska and reggae, to try to be true to the roots of it, even if we were changing up the instrumentation. After the floods in Calgary and Canmore this became a bit of a community recovery song that we’d perform there. We also used this one to focus on the groove and the vibe rather than on the notes themselves. We had to keep reminding ourselves that this song was supposed to be like smoking a joint on a beach while waves were coming in.
Thrift Shop (original by Macklemore) 2:26 Broken Brass Ensemble 'Thrift Shop' + sheet music
Brass bands are big in The Netherlands, but we were surprised to find one with a performance vibe that matched ours. They sold us their sheet music for 15 euros. Their video inspired some of our dancing/moving outdoor performance schtick. When the video came out Marco said “is this what we’re trying to be?” We didn’t end up like them, but they gave us something to work towards on our musical journey.
Brand New Cadillac (Live) 3:45 The Brian Setzer Orchestra The Brian Setzer Orchestra: The Ultimate Collection (Live) RockWe really wanted to play punk songs. We wanted to do Clash songs. They never worked out. We were able to keep the ska style going with a brass band but couldn’t figure out how to keep the punk style going with a brass band. We figured out how Brian Setzer covered The Clash and figured we’d do it the same way, i.e. not as a punk song. We had to rename the band from Delirium Ska Punk Brass to Delirium Street Party Brass because if you have “ska” in the band name people expect you to play ska 100% of the time, and we couldn’t figure out how to do punk for real with our instrumentation, and we realized that our focus is our street vibe, not any particular ‘genres’, unless you consider street-brass or party-brass to be genres.
He Wants Me Back 3:41 Dance Hall Crashers The Old Record Alternative
He Must Be Hung 3:14 The Amphetameanies Goodbye Boyfriend EP Alternative
We searched high and low for bands similar to us, but didn’t find many. But, we found some great inspirations around the world. Dance Hall Crashers represent the 80’s and 90’s ska from California, Amphetameanies call themselves a ska band but this song sounds like surf rock, and we love how other subgenres like "spy music" and "surf rock" find a home in ska bands.
Some days we just want to be a brass and horn focused ska band with questionable feminist lyrics.
Out of My House, Roach: The Shuffle Demons
I don’t think I knew how much The Shuffle Demons influenced me in my youth. They made horns and busking cool in my mind. This one is a great example of technique, the random noise intro, the call-and-response between vocals and horns (particularly important if you have limited or even no amplification of the vocalist in a street busking situation), the shouting chorals. If I would have remembered how much I loved the Shuffle Demons when we started the band maybe we could have imitated them more directly, instead of having to figure these sorts of techniques out for ourselves through trial and error. They are last on this list, but they are really first.