A friend and colleague from my church, Jason Benjamin, has a rocking Dixieland band, the Red Hook Ramblers, whom I've heard play everywhere from Greenpoint Church to the yard of Louis Armstrong's house in Corona, Queens to the Pussycat Lounge. In the coming week, they'll continue their hike along the sacred-and-profane continuum with a performance in a church in Bergen, NJ and a burlesque club on the Lower East Side (next Wed.). Jason puts it in perspective with a thoughtful email:
I don't make any pretense about what my band does. We're white guys from good neighborhoods - what right do we have to play the blues, or spirituals?
Let me tell you: it's about paying reverence to the long tradition of American expression; a very f'd up trail from 1800s black minstrels to stuff like Kelly Clarkson. I like hiking back a bit to retrace the giant footsteps. I like reviving some of their work to see if it still kicks. The good stuff never stops kicking...
Our next two gigs are at a church and then at a cabaret. 100 years ago, those were the only two places where a black man could publicly express himself. Now a black man will soon be expressing himself in the highest office of our country. What a perspective.
These gigs aren't history lessons, they're fun. We're gonna raise the roof. But I gotta say I'm proud to be playing music that works in both the houses of the sacred and the profane, there's something electrifying about that, and deeply American. We're playing African-American spirituals and gospels at Old Bergen Church in NJ tomorrow. Next Weds we're playing raunchy jazz at the Slipper Room in the LES with a variety of female dancers. Reverence, man, reverence.
Amen to that.