When we think of the phrase, "Seattle Sound," we’re reminded of images of flannel, hard rock guitars, downtempo vibes and grunge. The only common point that dark vibe era in musical history has with the old-timey yet super-fresh vibe of the playful new Seattle based sound of Kevin O’Connor and Swing 3PO is that their lighthearted debut album has one song title (“Indifference”) in common with a Pearl Jam tune. Otherwise, things are much more youthful and optimistic in the Emerald City these days, thanks to this high energy, kid centric (but not limited to that audience) swing and ragtime styled gypsy jazz trio created by O’Connor, a multi-talented singer, guitarist and banjo player, and featuring Mike Daugherty (drums and vocals), Lamar Lofton (bass) and David Loomis (trombone).
While the vibe is rooted in the classic pre-WWII stylings of influential jazz figures like Django Reinhardt, Oscar Aleman and Slim and Slam, you don’t have to know history to feel the pull into another place and time by the fascinating and buoyant way the humorously named group brings the spirit of the 20’s and 30’s to the present moment. With imaginatively arranged, educational oriented original tunes complementing songs from that era that are both very famous (“It Don’t Mean a Thing”) and offbeat and obscure (“When Day is Done” and the Dixieland romp “Big Butter and Egg Man”), the unique collection makes an ideal soundtrack for a Lindy Hop event and a children’s party. In fact, that’s the way the group markets itself, and they often play those kinds of shindigs live. It’s humorous swing, or swinging humor – serious musicianship spruced up with a wink and engaging smile.
Although the band’s in person audiences run the generational gamut (as the press says, from “2 to 92,”), the educational and young at heart lyrical content of many the original tunes shows a clear leaning towards the kiddies – with adult appreciation, of course. “The Shape Song” is rendered as a call and response, free swinging jam, but it’s lyrics are catchy and educational all at once: “Everything has got a shape except for maybe air.” Food’s a catchall that folks of all ages love, and the clever, strolling “Ice Cream Headache” is pure tasty fun with a warning about eating too much. That one’s for the kids.
On the other hand, “A Good Reuben” isn’t something a child would necessarily order first, but yep, their parents would. The spunky, vocally textured “8,9,10” has its youthful flair with a reference to roller skates, but it’s a whimsical adult romance. Everything comes together on the toe tapping title track “Doin’ The New Lowdown,” which is presumably the group’s way of launching a new dance craze – maybe one that parents and kids can do together.
If Swing 3PO seems a bit all over the map tone wise, it’s surely by design. Most retro swing groups are strictly for adults who like to dress up and go Lindy hopping and maybe grew up listening to and appreciating their parents’ and grandparents’ jazz collection. But this group really wants the kids to come along for the ride, and so gears half its programming towards them – keeping the lyrics simple while turning them onto a super cool, sophisticated classic art form.
Pretty ingenious – and think of the fortune the parents can save on babysitting when they can take the kids Lindy hopping with them! As for the name Swing 3PO, it’s no doubt a cross generational pull mechanism to bring the last few generations who grew up on Star Wars to the fold. Once they’re on board, young, old and everyone in between will grab their dancing shoes, forget their troubles, get happy and dance!