May Features

Jack Brass Band members are, from left, Zack Lozier, trumpet and vocals; Andrew Gillespie, snare  drum and percussion; Rob Seeger, sousaphone; Mike Olander, bandleader/vocals and bass drum; Scott Agster, trombone and vocals; Andy Hakala, trumpet and vocals and Gus Sandberg, saxophone and vocals.

Don't Know Jack About Jack?
Now You Will...

by Will Shapira

Brass bands long have been an integral part of the hallowed New Orleans music scene, but their influence is spreading, and Minnesota is blessed with a really great one. Mike Olander, Minneapolis, Minn., founder of the Jack Brass Band, traced the history of the band and, in particular, explained its connections to New Orleans. But first, why Jack?

"We wanted to pick a name that would stick in people's heads and make an interesting play on words," said Olander. "Since the music is seldom heard in Minnesota and most Minnesotans are unfamiliar with the style, we went with Jack as in `You don't know Jack.' We're often asked 'Who's Jack?' but there is no Jack although I get called that a lot."

To a great extent, the history of the band is the history of Jack -- er -- Mike Olander, who says, "The New Orleans bug, like a high fever case of the flu, got me, and got me good. That's probably the easiest and best reference I can think of to talk about my life and the impact that New Orleans' brass band culture had on it.

"When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of music, everything from the top 40 of the day (some of my first albums were LPs of Quiet Riot, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince) to an eight-track of Henry Mancini's `Pink Panther.' Then there were the songs I heard on the family car radio when I was in the backseat and being driven by adults in my life (soul music from the '60s and '70s, artists like Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and many others). As I grew up, more of my elders (relatives, family friends, teachers) exposed me to music that moved them and which they wanted to share with me. Through those experiences I learned about a lot of musical styles including John Coltrane, Blood Sweat and Tears, Tower of Power, Maynard Ferguson and more.

"I first heard the Preservation Hall Jazz Band back then. It really didn't speak to me at that time. It was just reference material for me to listen to and to learn from while figuring out how to play my saxophone better. Everything changed when I reached high school. One of my best friend's family got relocated to Japan. We decided that for birthdays, we would exchange CDs that we thought the other would enjoy and most likely hadn't heard before. He sent me my first New Orleans brass band CD, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band's New Orleans Album. That album changed my life.

"The first couple times I listened to the CD, I didn't get it. There was a lot of it that made sense to me musically, but there were other things that were so out there, I wasn't able to wrap my head around them. In fact, there were a couple parts that I would outright laugh at. I had to listen to it more and more and before long, it became the CD I listened to the most, and as I started to understand more of what they were doing, it spoke to me. The year was 1989.

"As luck would have it, in 1990 the Dirty Dozen came to Minneapolis, playing at the Fine Line Music Cafe. My mom, who was very supportive, called the club to ask about getting tickets and was told it was a show for 21 and over. She persisted and eventually talked the manager into letting one of my best friends and me attend if we both were supervised by my mom. We were both 16 at the time. We were the first ones in the door. There were no assigned seats for the show, so we had our choice of tables.

"The band showed up about 30 minutes later, and we eagerly asked if we could help them unload. The show was fantastic, and, during intermission, my friend and I purchased T-shirts and had the members autograph them. The leader of the band, trumpeter Greg Davis, asked us to stick around as they had a surprise for the two of us. During our conversations, they had learned that my friend and I played bari sax and trumpet, respectively. When the show ended, they all left the stage. After a couple of minutes, the bari sax player, Roger Lewis, and the trumpeter, Greg , returned to the stage by themselves and played a 12-bar blues for several minutes.

"Not long after that, I put together my first brass band and we performed at our school's spring jazz concert. I started going to different record stores, discovered another brass band from New Orleans, the Rebirth Brass Band, and began adding to my collection.

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May 2008 issue | © 2008 The Mississippi Rag

P.O. Box 19068, Minneapolis, MN 55419.