The Washboard Cutups at J&M Cafe

Seattle, WA

January 4, 2018 | Review by Lauren Wessels

Photo by Lauren Wessels

Every first Thursday of the month during the Pioneer Square Art Walk, Seattle’s oldest bar, J&M Café, is transformed into a 1920’s era speakeasy. This isn’t a far stretch for the place, built in 1889 with period ceiling tiles, dingy artwork, and a classic long, wooden bar spreading across half the room. This building is a beautiful combination of grit and elegance. However, what took me back in time was the music provided by the incredibly talented ragtime and early jazz band, Washboard Cutups. Very rarely is music like this heard outside of its home on New Orleans street corners or local dive bars, but the Cutups gave a truly authentic and memorable performance of this often overlooked genre. They were in a traditional ‘20s jazz setup, lead by singer Mike Daugherty playing percussion, kazoo and (naturally) the washboard, Kevin Johnston on banjo, Lance Buller on trumpet, trombone by David Loomis, and tuba played by Paul Hagglund. They played a variety of jazz standards and blues throughout the night, focusing exclusively on music of the 1920’s.

Each member contributed to this exciting and memorable performance in their own way. It is surprising how effective that scratch of the washboard can be (Daugherty did look quite dapper with it while wearing his boater hat), and is something I personally would love to see make a comeback. He did an excellent job emphasizing the lyrics, delivering the lines as a true storyteller should, shrugging his shoulders and gesturing along. His voice was very reminiscent of the time period they represented. By nasally lingering on certain words, he invoked that “mid-atlantic” accent you often hear in old movies and radio broadcasts. Johnston on the banjo was sadly a little hard to hear over the brass, but there were several moments that gave a wonderful contrast against the full sound when it was suddenly subdued in a banjo solo.  Loomis and Buller were a joy on trombone and trumpet. They were never harsh but were consistently cool and free, which was the perfect tone to represent this time period. The impossibly low notes of the tuba helped create the atmosphere, and it was definitely a highlight for me to see that bell towering over everyone’s heads.

One song, “Tiger Rag”,  was originally recorded in 1917 and has remained a popular jazz standard since. You often hear it in movies or TV shows set during this time, and it easily conjures cliché images of the “Roaring ‘20s”. Although original recordings of this song are rare and the quality can often leave something to be desired, the Cutups are clearly well versed and familiar with the style and traditions of early jazz and delivered an animated, Charleston-inducing performance. They bring what could have been a stagnant melody to life by exhibiting the unique characters that each instrument can provide. The use of banjo here gives the tune a bit of a folk element that is a sweet reminder of this genre’s roots in traditional Americana.  This is one of the few instrumental songs that they played and is primarily driven by the brass trio, not actually feeling instrumental, it sounded as though they were singing.

Their version of “Milenburg Joys” was also very fun. The group was able to create a playful conversation between the instruments before the happy-go-lucky lyrics even began. The chemistry of the band is part of their appeal. They communicate so well with one another, giving both verbal and visible cues throughout and making a show of them. It’s one of those classic elements of improvisational jazz that helps set apart a truly authentic performance. The Cutups have the illusion of being unrehearsed and unplanned although, considering their skills, I suspect this is not the case. “Milenburg” represents an important time in New Orleans jazz history. It alludes to Milenburg, a neighborhood of New Orleans that was the frequent stomping grounds of many jazz artists in the early part of the century. Musicians of many races would meet and collaborate, exchanging ideas and techniques that helped shape and define the genre. Originally recorded by the ‘20s band New Orleans Rhythm Kings, with members from both New Orleans and Chicago, they contributed to the rapid spread of jazz throughout the country. For another, raunchier rendition of the tune, check out Dr. John’s 1992 version on the album Goin’ Back to New Orleans.

Although the laws and climate were incredibly restricting for most of society in the ‘20s, this music was (and is) an escape from all of that. Its presence in the speakeasies represented a sort of quiet, laidback form of rebellion. The Washboard Cutups allow you to feel nostalgic for this time and place that none of us were alive to experience. This is one of the most unique and delightful local bands that Seattle has to offer. After the next Art Walk, grab a drink at J&M’s Café and experience this glimpse of the past, you will not be dissapointed.

The Washboard Cutups at J&M Cafe

Seattle, WA

January 4, 2018 | Review by Lauren Wessels

Photo by Lauren Wessels 

Every first Thursday of the month during the Pioneer Square Art Walk, Seattle’s oldest bar, J&M Café, is transformed into a 1920’s era speakeasy. This isn’t a far stretch for the place, built in 1889 with period ceiling tiles, dingy artwork, and a classic long, wooden bar spreading across half the room. This building is a beautiful combination of grit and elegance. However, what took me back in time was the music provided by the incredibly talented ragtime and early jazz band, Washboard Cutups. Very rarely is music like this heard outside of its home on New Orleans street corners or local dive bars, but the Cutups gave a truly authentic and memorable performance of this often overlooked genre. They were in a traditional ‘20s jazz setup, lead by singer Mike Daugherty playing percussion, kazoo and (naturally) the washboard, Kevin Johnston on banjo, Lance Buller on trumpet, trombone by David Loomis, and tuba played by Paul Hagglund. They played a variety of jazz standards and blues throughout the night, focusing exclusively on music of the 1920’s.

Each member contributed to this exciting and memorable performance in their own way. It is surprising how effective that scratch of the washboard can be (Daugherty did look quite dapper with it while wearing his boater hat), and is something I personally would love to see make a comeback. He did an excellent job emphasizing the lyrics, delivering the lines as a true storyteller should, shrugging his shoulders and gesturing along. His voice was very reminiscent of the time period they represented. By nasally lingering on certain words, he invoked that “mid-atlantic” accent you often hear in old movies and radio broadcasts. Johnston on the banjo was sadly a little hard to hear over the brass, but there were several moments that gave a wonderful contrast against the full sound when it was suddenly subdued in a banjo solo.  Loomis and Buller were a joy on trombone and trumpet. They were never harsh but were consistently cool and free, which was the perfect tone to represent this time period. The impossibly low notes of the tuba helped create the atmosphere, and it was definitely a highlight for me to see that bell towering over everyone’s heads.

One song, “Tiger Rag”,  was originally recorded in 1917 and has remained a popular jazz standard since. You often hear it in movies or TV shows set during this time, and it easily conjures cliché images of the “Roaring ‘20s”. Although original recordings of this song are rare and the quality can often leave something to be desired, the Cutups are clearly well versed and familiar with the style and traditions of early jazz and delivered an animated, Charleston-inducing performance. They bring what could have been a stagnant melody to life by exhibiting the unique characters that each instrument can provide. The use of banjo here gives the tune a bit of a folk element that is a sweet reminder of this genre’s roots in traditional Americana.  This is one of the few instrumental songs that they played and is primarily driven by the brass trio, not actually feeling instrumental, it sounded as though they were singing.

Their version of “Milenburg Joys” was also very fun. The group was able to create a playful conversation between the instruments before the happy-go-lucky lyrics even began. The chemistry of the band is part of their appeal. They communicate so well with one another, giving both verbal and visible cues throughout and making a show of them. It’s one of those classic elements of improvisational jazz that helps set apart a truly authentic performance. The Cutups have the illusion of being unrehearsed and unplanned although, considering their skills, I suspect this is not the case. “Milenburg” represents an important time in New Orleans jazz history. It alludes to Milenburg, a neighborhood of New Orleans that was the frequent stomping grounds of many jazz artists in the early part of the century. Musicians of many races would meet and collaborate, exchanging ideas and techniques that helped shape and define the genre. Originally recorded by the ‘20s band New Orleans Rhythm Kings, with members from both New Orleans and Chicago, they contributed to the rapid spread of jazz throughout the country. For another, raunchier rendition of the tune, check out Dr. John’s 1992 version on the album Goin’ Back to New Orleans.

Although the laws and climate were incredibly restricting for most of society in the ‘20s, this music was (and is) an escape from all of that. Its presence in the speakeasies represented a sort of quiet, laidback form of rebellion. The Washboard Cutups allow you to feel nostalgic for this time and place that none of us were alive to experience. This is one of the most unique and delightful local bands that Seattle has to offer. After the next Art Walk, grab a drink at J&M’s Café and experience this glimpse of the past, you will not be dissapointed.

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