The JAZZ PASSENGERS are a fantastical fusion of post-bop and musical comedy, once called a “perverse mainstream … hard-bop group as imagined by Frank Zappa.” (Bob Blumenthal, Boston Globe, 1989). Their name, a take-off on Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, reveals the musicians’ wild ride along the eccentric currents in modern American music. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, who found strong affinity in their Brooklyn roots while together in the band of the Big Apple Circus and John Lurie’s seminal band, The Lounge Lizards, founded the band in 1987. They first broke out on the New York City avant-garde scene centering around the Knitting Factory with a hybrid of Mingus-influenced dance rhythms and original tunes complete with lyrics and/or entertaining stories. Besides Nathanson and Fowlkes the original band members included Bill Ware on vibraphone, E.J. Rodriguez on percussion, Brad Jones on bass, Jim Nolet on violin and Marc Ribot on guitar. They are now a six-piece band without guitar and with Sam Bardfeld on violin.
The Jazz Passengers have toured and continue to tour extensively since the 1990s, traversing the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia and having played at major festivals and in clubs and concerts across the globe. Looking ahead to 2014, the Jazz Passengers are planning another European tour.
Early Jazz Passengers sets and recordings involved complicated and soulful compositions mixed with original vocals and comedy pieces, as evidenced in their first five albums on small independent labels: “Broken Night/Red Light”, “Deranged and Decomposed”, “Live at the Knitting Factory”, “Plain Old Joe”, and “Implement Yourself”. The group’s trend towards vocal based composition reached a more sophisticated point with the release of the Hal Willner produced recording, and major-label debut, “Jazz Passengers In Love” in 1994. The recording featured singers from Mavis Staples and Jimmy Scott to Bob Dorough, but it was the performance of Blondie star Deborah Harry on the song “Dog In Sand” that stood out and led to a collaboration that is still very much alive. The band released two recordings, “Individually Twisted” and “Live in Spain” with Harry as lead vocalist, with extensive tours of performances with Harry.
In 2001, the band was commissioned to created an orchestration of their songbook with Deborah Harry “Imitation of a Kiss” (featuring the arranging and orchestration skills of Bill Ware) for performances with the Buffalo Philharmonic, the BBC Concert Orchestra and ten years later with the Northern Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra at the Gateshead International Jazz festival. Their exploration of genre crossing original for dramatic effect was also featured in their live performances of music to the 1954 classic cult horror film, “Creature From the Black Lagoon” in 2006.
In 2010 the Jazz Passengers released their most recent recording “Reunited”, featuring Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry. The record title and cover of Peaches and Herb’s disco hit was called “the musical equivalent of a Cubist painting, taking elements and rearranging them in unusual and sometimes grating juxtapositions.” (blogcritics.org) In 2011 and 2012 the Jazz Passengers successfully toured Europe with the Reunited music.
Nathanson, Ware and the Jazz Passengers are also hard at work creating a new project, “Trashed Out” based on Paul Reyes’ bestselling book “Exiles in Eden”, which tells the devastating story of the foreclosure crisis in Florida after the housing crash of 2008. (Screenplay by Lloyd Miller and Roy Nathanson; music by Roy Nathanson, the Jazz Passengers, and Lloyd Miller; lyrics by Roy Nathanson, the Jazz Passengers, Paul Reyes and Lloyd Miller).
“If their goal is to make jazz music interesting and unpredictable, they’ve achieved it.” – Jade Blackmore, BlogCritics
“It’s the musical equivalent of a Cubist painting, taking elements and rearranging them in unusual and sometimes grating juxtapositions.” – Jade Blackmore, BlogCritics
“And therein lies the beauty of this band, where humor comingles with a serious love for the music.” – Mike Shanley, JazzTimes
“In the 1990s, Blondie’s Debbie Harry performed and recorded as part of the giddily unclassifiable, quasi – vaudevillian Jazz Passengers.” – nbcnewyork.com
“This magic can only exist when musicians enjoy a nearly indescribable intuition, coupled with the cohesiveness that comes with longevity. ” – James McQuiston, NeuFutur.com
“At its root, this jazz is fun and easy to love. ” – Jen Hoyer, See Magazine
“Picking up where they left off, this vivacious studio session juxtaposes mellifluous crooning, adventurous post – bop and stylistic eclecticism with irrepressible charm and sophisticated humor.” – Troy Collins, All About Jazz
“Featuring the return of guitarist Marc Ribot and guest appearances by Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry, Reunited recalls the Jazz Passengers Knitting Factory – era heyday, when their insouciant blend of absurdity and virtuosity provided a “real” jazz alternative for those raised on a steady diet of Lower East Side noise from luminaries like Arto Lindsay and John Zorn.” – Troy Collins, All About Jazz
“Given that jazz can easily slip into the realm of the too serious, the return of the Jazz Passengers with their gonzo attitude and slightly off – kilter tunes is to be celebrated.” – David Kunian, Offbeat
“Jazz has always had satirists, but the members of New York’s Jazz Passengers are particularly adept at instilling whimsy into their performances, underscoring it with the sort of musicality that prevents the group from becoming a mere novelty.” – John Murph, Song of the Day
“Reunited is a nugget of gold for jazz fans or for anyone who digs off beat joy in music.” – Will Layman, Pop Matters