The hot and sweet stylings of the WAMMIE-nominated duo Bumper Jacksons first reached my earholes at a houseshow in DC, and I’ve been chasing them around the city ever since. I can’t get enough of Jess Eliot Myhre’s voice and Chris Ousley’s whiskey-worthy banjo playing (his massively impressive beard doesn’t hurt, either!).
Jess Myhre, one member of the trad-jazz group, recently sat down with me to discuss DC music and what it’s like to bring old-time music to life.
L: How did the Bumper Jacksons form?
J: The Bumper Jacksons were an offshoot of the Sligo Creek Stompers, a group that still plays around DC. Chris and I wanted to make a new voice for ourselves and set ourselves apart. I really got bit by the bug after spending time in Louisiana – That’s when we started to define ourselves with the New Orleans’ take on traditional jazz.
L: How did that change your sound?
J: We started to play old tunes and incorporate trombones and sousaphones. Now we also play ragtime and old torch tunes, in the style of Bessie Smith. We’ve also been getting into Western Swing.
L: What has it been like for you to bring that style of music to DC?
J: Umm… funny! A lot of people call our music bluegrass, which is also a style of traditional American music, but actually has nothing to do with what we play. Mostly, though, it’s exciting to play in DC because people find our music unique. In New Orleans, there are incredible musicians on every street corner doing what we’re doing. There aren’t as many professional musicians here, but there are a lot of people who love music and engage with it. People have the means to support their favorite artists, which is really important and helps us fund other projects.
L: What is the DC trad jazz scene like?
J: A lot of the folks I’ve met in DC who play trad jazz are older. Sometimes they grew up listening to it because their parents were into it when it was popular. I don’t know many people in our generation to play this type of music, but a huge range of ages come out to shows.
L: The Bumper Jacksons perform in a wide variety of venues. What’s your favorite type of performance space?
J: Some of the moments that I consider real gems come from playing in the street, because you catch people off guard. They aren’t expecting to hear music in the public sphere, and all of a sudden they’re stopping to listen, fascinated by what’s going on. Also, we’ve just started to play swing dances. We’re new to it, so our learning curve is exponential. It’s a big challenge.
L: You just recorded a new album with a six-piece band at Asparagus Media, which is set to drop in May. What was it like to record in front of a live audience?
J: A little difficult, because you can only do so many takes of a song. When recording an album, bands often do 6, 7, 8, takes… or even more. But when you’re recording in front of an audience, if you try that song more than twice, people are going to be bored. So, all of our songs are either the first or second take of a tune. I was shocked by how pleased I was with the result.
L: What’s next for the Bumper Jacksons?
J: Interdependent Pictures is going to help us record a video at a wonderful venue called The Barns at Rose Hill. Also, we’re going to record a duo version of our signature song, “That’s my Gal”, and ask people to submit video of themselves dancing for a huge montage. Finally, Chris and I have been talking about going to the Library of Congress and digging up songs that haven’t been recorded in the last 60 or 70 years. We’d like to make an album of these lost tunes that even people who play trad jazz haven’t heard.
L: Where can fans hear you next?
And, last but not least, for your listening pleasure, check out these tracks:
He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar
Darktown Strutters Ball