PERU – Before there was rap, rock, punk or folk music, before swing and big band tunes made their appearance on the American musical landscape, there was jazz.
Old-time, toe-tapping, loose, swanky Dixieland jazz.
It’s been more than a century since one of America’s most iconic music styles boiled up from the hot, humid bayou of New Orleans, but since then it’s slowly faded away and nearly disappeared.
But not in Peru, thanks to a band called the Swampwater Stompers.
For the last 20 years, a group of local musicians has kept traditional Dixieland jazz alive, and they have made a name for themselves in the process.
“There are very, very few groups who are dedicated to this kind of music,” said Jason Gornto, who plays piano in the band. “People play it, but there are very few actual Dixieland bands anymore. We’re preserving traditional jazz and sharing it with as many people as we can.”
That was the case earlier this month when the group played a three-hour show in Peru to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Friends, family and old band members packed into a local club to swing along with classic Dixieland tunes like “Basin Street Blues” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Different band members playing trumpets, trombones and clarinets slipped, slid and wailed, passing around the melody of the tunes. Banjo players clunked out rhythmic chords along with the drums. A large, silver tuba thumped out the bass like a swaggering elephant.
During most of the show, the group stuck with the traditional seven-piece band setup of Dixieland jazz ensembles, but here and there past band members would double up on an instrument for a double dose of swing.
The Swampwater Stompers preserve a dying style of American music, but band founder Dan Roberts said preservation wasn’t his main goal when he formed the group in 1993.