Tuba Skinny formed in New Orleans in the spring of 2009 but none of the members are actually Louisiana natives. The brass-led seven piece have a sound quite obviously indebted to the jazz and blues music that originated in New Orleans and washboard player Robin Rapuzzi explains that this music history is what compelled them all to move to the city.
“I’ve always been a fan of traditional music and early roots Americana, which New Orleans is a big part of. That’s what brought us down here; I think everyone wanted to learn how to play this kind of music eventually.”
Growing up in Seattle and jamming on the drums with his dad, Robin was drawn towards Americana and traditional jazz at a very young age.
“I’ve been a big fan of jazz music ever since I was a little kid. There was one broadcast on NPR late at night I would fall asleep to growing up, it was called Jazz on the Grooveyard. I loved it. Nowadays they mostly play a bunch of modern jazz, which I’m not a big fan of. In high school and college I was a big fan of bee-bop; I still am, but nowadays I listen to a lot more traditional jazz recordings and jug bands,” he says.
A lot of the Dixieland jazz that disseminated from New Orleans in the early 1900s is characteristically upbeat. Tuba Skinny’s sound has a swinging pulse and the interaction between the brass and stringed instruments is fairly uplifting but Robin explains there’s as much of a bluesy lament to their music as a Dixieland lift.
“We don’t play too much Dixieland anymore, we did a little bit at the beginning. The blues is a big part of traditional jazz and it’s a down and out kind of music. It’s kind of how we feel. I can’t speak for everyone else, but blues and jazz, that type of music has a down and out feel, and that’s how it is.”
Ever since its origins at the turn of the 20th Century traditional blues and jazz music has been bringing people together and appealing to many age groups. Robin agrees it can assist those who are feeling down as well as enhance festivities.
“That music helps you deal with the down and out suffering but also helps through some of it. That’s the meaning of that music. There’s a lot of happiness in the ‘20s, there’s also a lot of depression. Then come the ‘30s with all the change between classes in America, you have those glamorous rich that were super happy but then all of a sudden they lost everything. But jazz kept on going and so did blues of course. It’s a good mix that music, it’s a celebration of life in general.”
Tuba Skinny have an expansive Australian tour planned, including multiple performances at WOMADelaide and The Famous Spiegeltent in Melbourne. However, impromptu street performances are a high-probability and Robin reveals the enriching personal rewards that come from being a traveling street musician.
“Even if we have a really big schedule of shows Tuba Skinny always try to find time to play on the street, no matter where we are. Being a performer in general, and travelling and making a spectacle of yourself, definitely allows for conversations about all sorts of things with strangers. But being a street performer makes that conversation even greater because playing on the street you talk to all walks of life. I’ve definitely realised a lot by travelling and playing this music in other countries. I’m really lucky to be a part of this project.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
TUBA SKINNY play The Famous Speigeltent on Friday March 15 and Sunday March 17, plus WOMADelaide from Friday March 8 to Monday March 11 and the Port Fairy Folk Festival from Friday March 8 to Monday March 11 (sold-out).