The Buck and a Quarter Quartet: A Party in a Box in an Unexpected Spot
It’s been estimated that a quarter of this city’s 2019 population left in the months following the 2020 lockdown. Whatever the actual percentage is, it stands to reason that those who could afford to get out, did.
Beyond the Cuomo regime’s throttling of music venues when the disgraced former governor criminalized indoor live performances, the resulting brain drain has no doubt exacerbated the closure of so many former hotspots, both from the demand and the supply side. It also helps explain why an unorthodox 20s hot jazz band like the Buck and a Quarter Quartet would be playing a pseudo-honkytonk like Skinny Dennis, where they’ll be at 9 PM on Feb 6.
Prior to March of 2020, they were a familiar presence in what was left of the Americana scene here, at places which have since fallen victim to the “you comply, you die” trap. Ultimately, it may be a blessing in disguise for this irrepressibly upbeat crew to find a new following off their old turf, because they’re a lot of fun: there’s more room for dancing where they’ll be next week than there was where they used to play.
This band – who seem to be a rotating cast of devoted oldtimey swing players – make 78 RPM records and keep a pretty low profile online. Although their greatest love seems to be obscure and odd treasures from the 20s and 30s, the live clips up at their youtube channel are mostly well-known tunes. But it gives you a good idea of what they’re about.
The quartet expand to a sextet on their take of When I Take My Sugar to Tea, which they do as a pretty straight-up string band shuffle until they leap into doublespeed. Violinist John Landry provides a stark intro and then sings It’s Mating Time, an innuendo-fueled tune undulating along on the beat of John Bianchi’s tenor banjo, Angus Lauten’s baritone uke, Carl Luckert’s National Steel guitar, Ben Mealer’s uke and Brian Nalpeka’s bass.
They strut nonchalantly through a ramshackle version of If I Had You, then Lauten switches to glockenspiel and Nalepka bows his bass to mimic a tuba on a wry, steady take of Deed I Do. Bianchi switches to clarinet for an expansive, upbeat but unexpectedly lush swing through The Very Thought of You, the last of the youtube clips. These guys don’t let you forget for one second that a hundred years ago, jazz was the default party music throughout much of the world, some Williamsburg bars included.