Old swing, young musicians

Although only teenagers, the members
of the Random Blues jazz sextet excel at swing music
Sunday, January 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:33 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Too young to vote, with one exception, but old enough to swing, the jazz sextet Random Blues performs tunes from an era that predates the birth of the members.

On a recent Sunday evening, the group of Rock Bridge High School students prepares to record its first album in the living room of keyboardist Jessie Roark, 15. Tommy Dorsey’s “Opus One,” Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” are among the cuts.

Each song must be timed precisely to fit the album’s planned length. Random Blues practices under the direction of Matt Myler, a music instructor at Lange Middle School who helps the band arrange its music.

“I need more of a staccato beep,” Myler says during a run-through of “Opus One.” “I’m still hearing that second note long. “

Saxophonist Zac Minor, 18, is intensely focused on hitting the note in unison with trumpeter Huston Snell, 16, and trombonist Zach Wade, 16. Influenced by jazz legends John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Zac Minor chose the sax for its ability to cross musical genres.

“I started on the tenor because you see that instrument in a lot of different places,” he says. “You can see it some blues bands, some rock bands.”

Meanwhile, his brother Jake Minor, 15, cracks jokes when he isn’t plucking at his electric upright bass. Jake says he learned to read music for the instrument a few weeks before becoming a Random Blues member.

After its Sunday evening practice for the album, the band munches on Krispy Kreme donuts at the kitchen table.

Wade, the band’s founding member has a quiet, easygoing sense of humor. He picked up the trombone in fifth grade because it was unique.

“I just thought it would be really fun to do a smaller jazz band,” Wade says. “I basically called everyone up and said, ‘Hey you wanna do this.’”

Snell, whom fellow band members consider Random Blues’ promotional arm, passes out freshly printed boxes of business cards to everyone. Snell beams as he talks about meeting jazz great Jon Faddis at Murry’s in October. When Snell told Faddis about his ambitions to one day play for Maynard Ferguson’s band, Faddis let him play his trumpet.

“My big brother played the trumpet, and I wanted to play the trumpet just like him,” he says.

Roark has played piano off and on since third grade and said her grandmother, who once played professionally, has been her inspiration.

“I take lessons from my grandmother,” she said “She’s had a lot to do with my piano playing.”

Family influenced drummer Russell Propp, 15, as well. His influences include legendary jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

“My dad played musical instruments for a long time, so I was kind of born with it,” Propp says.

Last year, political fund-raisers flooded Random Blues’ performance schedule. A gig at new Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey’s election night soirée ranks as a favorite for the band.

The Random Blues’ upbeat rendition of a classic Champ’s tune from the 1950s led the excitement of the crew of Carey supporters at Harpo’s that night. “Tequila!” the horn section rang out just as the television flashed results from the sheriff’s race, eliciting a chorus of cheers.

The election-night party was the band’s third appearance at a Carey campaign event, and it led to an invitation to play the sheriff’s Christmas party. The band has also played fund-raisers for Claire McCaskill and Dick Gephardt, both Democrats. Although that might suggest the members’ politics skew left, they say their allegiances range from conservative to liberal.

“We’re pretty politically split,” Zac Minor said. “We’ll play for whoever wants us to play and mostly that’s Democrats.”

Random Blues has also performed at wineries, coffee shops and even the 50-yard line at Faurot Field, where the group entertained a private gathering for MU’ Athletic Director Mike Alden. The band members also perform in the Rock Bridge High School concert band, the marching band and the school’s jazz band. Some are also members of the school pit orchestra, church bands or play in side projects with their friends.

Despite their hard work and talent, the band members attribute their successes to their parents.

“We wouldn’t be a band without the parents,” Jake Minor said. “They pay for our instruments.”

Said Roark: “Also, they help get us a lot of our gigs.”

Said Zac Minor: “Especially when we first started, and we would have a tip jar out. There wouldn’t have been anything in there if it weren’t for our parents.”

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