Back in the swing of things
The Flat Five String Band will get its swing on this weekend at Fiasco Winery in Jacksonville and at Weisinger's of Ashland.
The Ashland band, featuring electric guitarist Michael Hodgin, acoustic guitarist Bryan Miller, violinist Linda Powers and double bassist John Zalabak, plays equal amounts of gypsy jazz, modern swing — courtesy of bands such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Red Stick Ramblers — and 1920s, '30s and '40s swing standards.
The band's originals are the happy medium of its repertoire, touting strong rhythm guitar with a nod to Django Reinhardt and eccentric electric guitar of more modern composers.
"More than half of our originals are instrumentals in the vein of '20s and '30s swing, but with dissonance and unique key changes," Hodgin says. "We manage to get the bounce and the swing of gypsy players, but we also have the electric guitar, which adds a modern sound to it."
More than five years ago, Flat Five's former mandolin player and founder Rob Sweeny formed a casual music project with Hodgin, whom he convinced to learn guitar, and musicians he found through Craigslist.
That summer Sweeny and Hodgin attended the Klamath River Guitar & MandoJam, where an instructor taught them the basics of swing.
"None of us had played this style of music before," Hodgin says. "I had listened to bluegrass and liked the instrumentation, but I also listened to a lot of jazz and really liked it. When we went to camp and started playing swing, it had bounce. Bluegrass seemed like a thing of three chords, kind of monotonous; but with swing jazz, there's a lot more you can do in the sound of the music, and it's a lot more open to improvisation. It struck me as fun with a combination of the instrumentation I liked but on the jazz side of things."
The Flat Five String Band has enough material to make a studio album and was recently introduced to a Grants Pass producer who offered his services. Now, the band is just waiting for the time and finances to make it happen.
"This last year, we had intentions to do some recording, and then our guitar player's schedule changed at work, our bass player broke his hand, and when that got better he decided to move to Maine ... so the band kind of took a back seat to life," Hodgin says.
Now that Miller's schedule is back in place and Zalabak completed the lineup, the band is back in the game and has picked up several gigs this summer. Flat Five is scheduled to perform at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, at Fiasco Winery, 8035 Highway 238, Jacksonville; from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, at Weisinger's of Ashland, 3150 Siskiyou Blvd.; and at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, at Roxy on Main, 410 E. Main St., Medford. All three shows are free.
"We love to play, and we would love to play all day long, but two of us are nurses (Miller and Powers), and I own a construction company, and we all have mortgages and a life to live, so the music is a hobby. ... It puts us out there and brings in a little money," Hodgin says.
Call 541-846-3022 or 541-488-5989 or look for The Flat Five String Band on Facebook.