The February edition of the Bumperletter hit inboxes yesterday with an announcement of a spring west coast tour and this live video from the Bumper Jacksons. “Many Paths to the Top of the Mountain”, an original ditty by Chris Ousley from their 2017 album I’ve Never Met A Stranger, gets this lucky crowd dancing and feeling fine last September. We loved the Bumper Jacksons’ recent sold-out show at the Barns at Wolf Trap (especially the secret history of their name), but hopping around a dance floor is by far the best way to experience this lively band. Chris and singer Jess Eliot Myhre next play a duo show at the Mansion at Strathmore as part of their Capitol Jazz series on Thursday May 2nd.
We’ve got one more video before a little break next week for Independence Day. Bumper Jacksons write new songs inspired by 20s era hot jazz, folk and blues, but today’s tune is a classic that many will remember from childhood. “Miss Mary Mack” is a traditional clapping game performed here joyously as a warmup and recorded live in Ridgefield, CT on June 12th by pedal steel player Dave Hadley. Our friendly DC music podcast neighbors The Circus Life celebrate their 5th anniversary with a big show at the 9:30 Club on Saturday July 14th, and you’ll catch Jess and Chris performing a Bumper Duo set if you go.
All this week we’ve done our annual countdown of the best #DCmusic videos of 2017, and now it’s time for the big finish. And there weren’t any videos bigger than the title track from the new Bumper Jacksons record I’ve Never Met A Stranger. Even though the sprawling hot jazz ensemble led by Jess Eliot Myhre and Chris Ousley have released multiple albums over their 5+ year history, this was their first music video, and it’s unforgettable. They started with the simple idea of playing the ode to drunken good times while riding bikes and followed it to the logical conclusion of a colorful and costumed mass ride through the city led by songwriter and video director Ousley. Washington Pedicab and BicycleSPACE provide transportation for the small musical crew that eventually grows to huge proportions as it winds through some of the most beautiful spots in DC. The visual feast rewards multiple viewings, especially on a living room sized TV, with new joyous and whimsical touches you hadn’t noticed before. This crazy, messed up, emotional and trying year of 2017 should go out on a high note, and for us there’s nothing better than this. Cheers.
The Bumper Jacksons are DC’s most devoted ambassadors for the old-timey jazz and folk sound they have evolved over 6 years and an impressive five full length albums. Began as the duo of Jess Eliot Myhre and Chris Ousley, the band now features an impressive brass section, upright bass, pedal steel guitar and an abundance of sass and sizzle. Though still rooted in DC, the band seems rather addicted to the tour life, as their nationwide tour roams through the midwest and the south promoting their 2017 album I’ve Never Met A Stranger. The album’s second single is “Old Birds”, and the band had this to say about song’s bold and timely music video:
We are all put in boxes. We each have experienced what it’s like to be told how we’re “supposed” to behave, what we’re “supposed” to like, who we’re “supposed” to be. We inherit these ideas when we’re young children, and in turn, pass them on to our children and project these rules on others.
This weighs on us daily. This stifles our creativity and squashes our dreams. This closes our hearts to others. Old Birds invites us to participate in the rewarding and messy work of breaking apart the systems and structures that hold us, and our fellow humans, back.
Chris Ousley and Jess Eliot Myhre’s Americana roots music ensemble the Bumper Jacksons have matured their sound as they expanded to their current 7 piece configuration including trumpet, trombone, pedal steel, upright bass and drums. Their new album I’ve Never Met A Stranger comes out in early May, so mark your calendars for their hometown release show on Friday May 12th at the Hamilton with Letitia Van Sant and Be Steadwell. Today’s music video, their first ever, is the title track from that album, Ousley’s tune about liquid-fueled companionship and finding common ground. It’s a joyous song amplified by the depicted epic musical bike ride courtesy of BicycleSPACE and and Washington Pedicab. Bravo Jacksons!
The Garage Video Sessions is an online music video collaboration between husband and wife duo Pando Creative and the Charlottesville VA music venue The Garage, filming live takes of local and touring acts as they come through town. DC’s roots revivalists Bumper Jacksons recently breezed through and laid down this foot stompin’ version of singer Chris Ousley’s original song “I’ve Got My Whiskey (I Don’t Need You)”. If that wet your whistle for more, their new album Too Big World is streaming now on their Bandcamp in advance of the CD release show next Saturday July 25th at the Birchmere with the newly revived Junior League Band.
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?
J: We are playing at Acre 121 on Thursday, March 14. We’re also putting together a CD release party for mid-May, which is bound to be another party. Keep watch on our website for details!
And, last but not least, for your listening pleasure, check out these tracks: