WITH an American, an Australian and three Brits, London-based band The Dime Notes are a pretty international bunch – but their heart belongs to New Orleans.
More specifically to the Big Easy of the 1920s and ’30s when jazz was in its infancy.
The band – clarinetist David Horniblow, guitarist Dave Kelbie, US-born piano player Andrew Oliver and their UK bass player Tom Wheatley – bring a taste of the Deep South to the banks of the Ness when they perform at Eden Court next Thursday.
Pianist Oliver provided an introduction to The Dime Notes and their music.
The band are a pretty international bunch, so how did you get together?
I moved to London from Portland, Oregon in 2013 and soon thereafter I met Dave Horniblow at a club where he was playing. He had been living in Australia for a year and had recently returned to London, so we got together and played some duets and that was the inception of the band. We played a duo residency on Sunday nights for a couple of years at a cool cocktail bar in East London (sadly now defunct) and we started playing with Dave Kelbie soon thereafter.
Dave has been involved in gypsy jazz, swing, and Balkan music as a guitarist and promoter for many years and has an absolutely rock solid pulse which is simultaneously really light and airy, just what I love from rhythm guitar.
We all knew Tom from the London scene, his father is Martin Wheatley, a well known guitar and banjo player on the scene for many years, and we use him for UK gigs. Tom has an incredible tone and feel and has really mastered the much neglected art of slap bass. For European gigs, Kelbie introduced us to Sebastien Girardot from Paris who has been his right hand bassist for many years with a lot of his groups.
Your music has a special emphasis on the sounds of 1920s New Orleans: what was it about that time and city that made it so special?
The 20's in New Orleans were very special in that the particular social and cultural melting pot of that time and place was very fertile and the unique musical cultures present were mixed together in a way which didn't often happen. Africans, African-Americans, Creoles and white musicians with classical backgrounds all interacted in intriguing contexts, compounded by the presence of musical influences from the Caribbean and South America.
The result was something completely new and revolutionary when the intense rhythms of African traditions and Caribbean music met with western European harmonic sensibilities. The visceral energy was very captivating to audiences of the time and that's something that we try to bring to our interpretations of the music.
I notice that you studied jazz in New Orleans. Does that make you the band's resident expert on the music you play or doyou all bring a knowledge of the music, as well as a passion, to the band?
I studied in New Orleans from 2002-2005 but everyone in the band has extensively studied early jazz and swing and played with a wide variety of great musicians in the style so I wouldn't consider myself any more of an expert than any of the other guys.
In fact, one of the best things about this band from my perspective is that it came about really naturally, just through playing with each other on the scene we naturally gravitated to playing together because we all really have a passion for this music and love to swing really hard!
And what was it like studying jazz in its birthplace in those pre-Katrina days? Did it live up to the expectations you no doubt had, far away in Oregon?
Being in New Orleans was great at that time. I was in University so I was mixing it up, studying old jazz, modern jazz, philosophy and French. It was great to be in a place with so much history and unique culture and to be able to go check out cool music in a concentrated area on a regular basis, as most of the clubs were centered around Frenchman street.
I was also involved in a lot of modern jazz at that time and the scene for more progressive and avant-garde jazz in New Orleans was really robust too!
In a way, I was just more young and excited than anything else so I think it definitely did live up to my expectations and it was a huge cultural and vibe shift from the west coast, which was great for me at that point in my life too.
You uncover some forgotten gems of the period in your set, but is there one forgotten jazz genius from that era that stands out for you as deserving to be remembered?
For me the lasting genius of this music will always be Jelly Roll Morton.
I wouldn't say he's so much forgotten as misunderstood. He claimed to single-handedly invent jazz (not too far from the truth, in some respects) and led an extremely colorful (and fascinating) life including stints as a pimp and travelling pool shark, as well as being a notorious braggart and general pain. However, beneath that all was an incredible pianist and composer who was really instrumental in the development of the music. His piano playing was uniquely propulsive and had an incredibly advanced swing feel equalled by no other pianist of the time.
He conceived of the piano as a whole band and if you dissect his solos, all the different instruments ar represented in there simultaneously, a real feat both conceptually and technically. As a composer and arranger, his pieces are similarly years ahead of his contemporaries in terms of their depth of conception and sophistication.
He notoriously had to resort to bringing a gun to rehearsals to force his bands to play his difficult arrangements, but the results are spectacular, with a level of counterpoint equal to the old classical masters but infused with his own melancholic harmonic sense, a real feeling for the blues, and a carefree and happily relaxed swing feel. His most intricate compositions like The Pearls, The Crave, and Original Jelly-Roll Blues are true masterpieces of 20th Century American music.
Anything else coming up in 2016 you are particularly excited about?
We're recording our debut album at a studio in Abergavenny, Wales in April, which will be out later in the year on Dave Kelbie's label Lejazzetal. We're really looking forward to that! We'll also be appearing at several jazz festivals this summer as well as the London Swing dance festival and we're looking forward to more tours in the UK and Europe in 2017 hopefully!
• The Dime Notes appear at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, on Thursday March 24 and Pitlochry Festival Theatre on Friday 25.
The band’s debut album will be released later this year on the Ljazzetal label.