Originally published by Scene Newspaper
- Fox Valley, WI
An orgy of influences contribute to Jazz Orgy’s sound
By Benjamin Cloyd
2007.08.02 -- I met Andy at Bangkok Thai for some peanut curry followed by a relaxing time chatting over some of Leon’s delicious frozen custard on Murdock St. in Oshkosh.
Benjamin Cloyd: Andy, I would like to get into a tough topic right off the bat. I have been friends with the Jazz Orgy for a long time now and I am well aware that there are individuals that have a difficult time accepting that you are truly a jazz band. Why so much controversy and what is your answer to these individuals?
Andy Mertens: There are people who say “You don’t play jazz” or “You’re not a jazz band.” It’s a fair statement. You come to one of our gigs and you will hear some funk tunes, some Latin tunes, polka, Cajun, waltzes, maybe even some rapping or Brittney Spears. But you want to ask me what is jazz? I think about all those guys . . . I am a huge jazz fan. Like Charley Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, that old style jazz, and we do play that. We could play all those standards all night but you would put people to sleep. So we like to mix it up and have a good show by adding Latin and funk.
BC: Well, even when you play those modern popular songs you intentionally jazz it up.
AM: It’s improvised. I wouldn’t play the same thing each time. And really it’s no different than before. When you go back to the old cats like Charlie Parker, they would have their normal gigs playing in their pop bands to make ends meet but in their jam sessions they would play those same tunes but improvise on them. They’d have fun and do things that would get you fired if they played it that way on the bandstand. Just like the jazz cats of the past we want to keep things interesting.
BC: Okay, here’s another one. Jazz is often stereotyped as being old folk’s music. However, 90 percent of the musicians I know playing jazz in this area are under 40 years old. A large number of them are under 30 even! I attribute these fresh legs greatly to the influence of the Jazz Orgy. In addition the audience is made up of college kids and mid-20-somethings. Your band has made it fun to listen to jazz again.
AM: Oh yeah, at the Peabody’s gig we have a special guest every Sunday night (referring to Peabody’s bar on Main Street in Oshkosh). We’re always changing it up. If we feel like playing swing all night, we’ll play swing all night. If we feel like playing funk all night, we’ll do that. Of course we usually mix it up but it is great as a player to be able to do what you want to do on any given night. On the jazz aspect of things we are always improvising. We play off of each other and try to crack each other up. It’s that improvising together and reacting off each other that I think . . . jazz is such a people’s . . . I hear it all the time, man. People say, “I hate jazz but you guys are awesome.” Jazz is different to everyone though. Some folks think jazz is Kenny G and some, Coltrane. Jazz is such a huge blanket term. Anything could be jazz though. It’s all how you play it.
BC: The Jazz Orgy is a house band for several different venues but it is also a touring band. What happens to your house gigs when you’re on the road?
AM: The Jazz Orgy touring band, our core band, is Mike Underwood, Mark Martin, Steve Cooper and I. But when we leave we have a bunch of players that come in for us. The Valley is very blessed. We have a bunch of great bassists like Jason Brown, Jerry Sparkman and Kurt Stein. A ton of wonderful keyboardists like Noah Harmon, Brian Gruselle, Sly Joe Slyzelia, Helen Exner. Guitar players such as Tom Theabo and Byron Trammell and then a ton of great horn players around like John Gibson and Tom Washatka and, um, well, there are just so many great musicians. I am totally forgetting some of the names. We could literally make this whole interview all about the names of the awesome musicians around this area.
BC: Speaking of the Valley having many jazz musicians, has it been this way for a long time?
AM: Ah, now that’s a great question. As a matter of fact Oshkosh’s music history has been rich with jazz and specifically right where we play now at Peabody’s. Let’s go back to the ’70s and ’80s. Tom Washatka, John Gibson, Tom Theabo, John Harmon and Janet Planet played at the same bar, then called The Blue Moon and then Harvey’s. In 1992-1995 I played there with Tom Ditzler and Mark TeTai when it was called Boomers, Sidney’s Pub and Three Finger’s Pub. Then the original Jazz Orgy started in 1998 with Peter Buxman on drums, Mark Martin on keys and me on bass. Later Mark Powers came in for Peter and now Mike Underwood sits on the throne.
BC: What are some of the future goals of the Jazz Orgy?
AM: Um . . . that’s a good question. We want to keep playing gigs. We want to make the tours more successful. Make more money of the tours. We made a goal of getting to San Diego and we are getting there this year. Denver was a goal but around here things are going great! Oh, if anyone has contacts in Oklahoma call us. We are looking for gigs there.
BC: What are the times and places for your local house gigs and what about contact info?
AM: Sunday night at Peabody’s on Main St. in Oshkosh at 9:30 p.m., Monday at Paper City Pub in Neenah at 9:30 pm. Tuesdays we’re going to be at the Times Theatre in Milwaukee starting in August but I am not sure of the time exactly. Wednesday we are at Pi in Green Bay at 9:30. For booking call 920-233-2605 or go to www.jazzorgy.com for schedule of events. In addition some of the members of the Jazz Orgy will be hosting the Valley’s Jazz Fest Jam Session (after the Fox Jazz Fest at Jefferson Park in Menasha) at the Fan Club sports bar located inside Holiday Inn Neenah Riverwalk Sept. 1 at 9 p.m.