Three local jazz musicians traveled back in time to New Orleans Sunday afternoon.
Together, Dave Kosmyna, Ray Heitger and Pete Siers used a piano, clarinet and drums to transport the toe-tappin’, hip-swayin’ rhythms of early 20th century New Orleans-style jazz to an intimate brunch crowd at the Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor.
They shared their love of timeless jazz through a musical vessel known as the Pete Siers New Orleans Trio, which performed for the third time at the Blue LLama this year. Siers and Heitger officially brought Kosmyna into the 10-year-old trio after beloved member and Michigan jazz luminary Jim Dapogny passed away in March.
“We know a large swat of repertoire, we keep it loose, and we keep it fun. That’s what this project is about, it’s traditional jazz, and Ray loves to sing on it, and there’s no bassist,” said Siers, an Ann Arbor-based jazz drummer who’s performed with Russell Malone, Mulgrew Miller and other jazz legends. “It’s a little bit unusual in terms of what you would normally see at the Blue LLama, but Dave has an exquisite left hand, and he’s playing all the bass notes from the bottom end of that piano.”
The trio kicked off the first of three 45-minute sets with “Careless Love,” a blues tune written by W.C. Handy in 1925, but made famous as a jazz standard by Clarence Williams. The song featured Heitger’s high-pitched clarinet tightly woven with Kosmyna’s pulsating piano and Siers’ tapping cymbals and slow drum rolls. Heitger also provided gruff vocals reminiscent of Louis Armstrong.
Another setlist gem included the 1919 Dixieland-inspired “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody My Jelly Roll,” which featured ragtime-style piano interspersed with bouncy drum taps and singalong clarinet solos. A fun-flavored musical treat to enjoy after a tasty brunch filled with eggs, hash, avocado and chorizo.
Siers, Heitger and Kosmyna also dedicated a tasty, mid-brunch tune from 1926 called “Big Butter and Egg Man” to Louis Goral, executive chef at Blue LLama Jazz Club. It’s a dancy, vivacious number surrounded by harmonious clarinet solos, jammin’ piano fills and dynamic drum parts.
“It’s just super fun to be around, and the project is developing more and more just because our repertoire is so vast, we just dig a little deeper every time we get to play,” said Siers, who’s taught percussion and jazz drumming for more than 25 years. “We’re not competing for any kind of specific sound range. That music is as funky as anything if you play it right, and you don’t get a chance to hear that a lot these days.”
Thankfully, the trio and Blue LLama Jazz Club keep New Orleans-style jazz alive, fresh and relevant in the ears and minds of Ann Arborites. Kosmyna, Heitger and Siers will transport another batch of timeless NOLA jazz tunes soon at Blue LLama Jazz Club. For details, visit the club’s website.