The kind of magic that the Tin Pan Band has brought to Nairobi has been one for the books! Their beautifully laid back jazz blues served on a delicious New Orleans sultry platter has left us craving for more and I think it’s safe to say that our jazz scene has a captive new feel thanks to the trio.
Tin Pan has had over 70 performances per year in the last 6 years, with an impressive 40,000+ sales of their records – considering the current state of jazz album sales stands at 50,000 copies – and what’s more impressive is that most of their performances are in Central Park, New York’s most visited urban park in the U.S.
Composed of Jesse Selengut, New York City-based trumpeter, composer, percussionist and singer & the impressive talent of Steve Wood (vocals/acoustic bass) and Pete Smith (vocals/resophonic guitar), Tin Pan have brought life to others with their individual vibrancy and I had the chance to sit with the Jesse and the band to know – what exactly is it that makes them tick?
When did you start singing and why?
For me, music has always been a part of me, even when I was designing kick-ass websites before, music just seemed to grope every part of my being. I also really love how music makes people stop in their tracks; no matter what they may be doing or where they’re going or what they’re feeling, music has the power to compel to just be in that moment.
For Tin Pan, we all sing with our eyes shut and hearts open; and I don’t think there’s any other way to plan music!
Pete: aside from what Jesse’s just said, music is a very important healing tool. I’ve been a music therapist for about ten years now. We’ve been working with heart patients and helping them overcome heart surgery complications and one way we do that is we teach them how to breathe from the lowest part of where your breath comes from and I’ve seen it work wonders with their healing. Music is one of the most amazing gifts we have that makes us happy and as Tin Pan, were always glad to share it with the world.
Who are your musical influences? Role Models? Icons?
I definitely have to start with Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Slim Gaillard, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Willie Dixon. In jazz, in general, I also grew up on Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Lee Morgan among others.
I also realized that my music has a lot in common with Bob Marley’s, which is a really dope thing if you think about it. The way he phrased he music and the heart with which he sang his songs is iconic if you ask me. I’ve also always been a huge fan of acts as diverse as Thomas Mapfumo, Public Enemy, The Talking Heads and Led Zeppelin.
If I could look at your playlist at this very moment, who/what songs would I find?
Predominantly songs from the 1900s and 1920s that we as Tin Pan are doing in our own way, you’ll also find songs that I’ve written along the way that were yet to record along with covers of a couple of songs we’ve done.
There’s a lot of jazz music in there as well and we all know that jazz is predominantly from Africa so I guess that covers a part of it but I also help to curate Ankole’s Wednesday Night Acoustic African live music series and it’s a very diverse plate of African music which you can all (proudly) find in my personal playlist.
There's no cover charge & there's plenty of food & amazing music ❤
— Kenyan Collective 🇰 (@KenCollective) January 12, 2018
How do people react to your music? Most of your performances are done in parks, streets and other public places, how do people react when they stop and listen to you play?
Wow, umm. This is always a new adventure for us. If you take into perspective the fact that our most popular performances are in Central Park, which has an array of diversity with people from all over the world, it’s really mind-blowing for us.
To date we’ve sold over 40,000 copies of CD’s from our performances and in the beginning our performances could easily capture even the most skeptical of pedestrians. We’ve grown enormously since, from our multidimensional sound to our song writing and we only hope that every time we get up on stage or even on the sidewalks, that we can give our listeners a euphoric escape.
Why American roots music?
In my lifetime I’ve been a part of many different genres of music. My tastes are pretty eclectic and I’m willing to try anything that sounds good to me.
So… back around 2005 I ran into some New Orleans musicians in the subway in New York City and heard them playing this kind of music and I was transfixed. When I started playing it myself (with those very same guys as it turns out) I realized immediately that because the music was a lot simpler than modern jazz you needed to be very honest and passionate to make it not sound silly or antiquated.
I loved America roots music from my very first experience. It almost has a way of moving jazz music out of the tiny jazz ghetto and reintroducing it to the world at large.
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard it before?
It’s the sound of Ray Charles and Tom Waits hanging out in New Orleans. It’s the sound of Louis Armstrong but delivered with a rock-n-roll high-energy presentation.
You’ve been to Kenya before for the World Harmony Tour. How was that experience?
It was one of the best moments in my life. The best of it was actually the day at Shangilia Orphanage. Each of the musicians did a little mini-workshop. There were three young brass players there but when I gave my lesson to them, about a hundred kids swarmed all around us and were completely silent in an effort to watch, and listen and learn. It was an honour for me. Another highlight was getting to share the stage with Eric Wainaina at the Carnivore. We did a number or two together, him sitting in with my band and I’d be humbled if I could have such an experience again.
In your one-week trip here, you’ve been recording a live album. Should we expect any fresh sounds or different styles of music?
We’ve been recording everything that we do at Ankole Grill from January 12th to the 16th.
We had the privilege of having Kasiva Mutua at J’s, Jacob Asiyo on Saturday and the Nairobi Horns Project yesterday and all those pieces have been recorded. We do expect fresh sounds, especially with the flavor that these artists will all bring and we’ve also been learning a few East African tunes and will be working them into our repertoire in our own way.
At this point in the life of the Tin Pan Trio, we have over 90 songs ready to go and were really excited to share the music we have in store.
Our first show of the year! Super excited to perform +Kasiva.
Tonight we hold it down @Ankole Grill.
Tin Pan Band are currently recording their new live album. Delighted to add some NHP flavor into the album.
— Nairobi Horns (@NairobiHorns) January 14, 2018
You’ve been doing music for quite a long time, if you had the chance to start all over again, would you?
Would I go back to designing websites? It was only 10% of what I am so, Naah 😂
But if there was such a thing as a dolphin whisperer, I’d definitely try it out. This however doesn’t mean me abandoning music, we’d just be playing with the dolphins in the water (laughs)
What advice would you give beginners who are nervous about performing and growing their craft?
The distance between what you know to be in terms of a quality artist and what you can produce right now is exactly why you need to be an artist. Keep trying until you can produce exactly what your vision inspires in you.
Make art all the time. It takes years and years. Eventually, your presentation will match what you know to be possible. Trust that your vision is what the world needs to see and hear. That’s why that vision was given to you.
As a band, what’s your biggest break/moments so far?
Before Tin Pan Trio, we had the chance to perform at the Arthur Ashe stadium opening ceremonies for the men’s final match which had about 20,000 people and was also live on television. That was a really big one for us. We’ve also been lucky to perform at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, at the Guggenheim Museum, one of them being in the main Rotunda and at Teatro Nuovo in Milan, Italy.
Also, on our sixth record, we had a tune called ‘Evening’ and in February 2017, someone made a video, uploaded it on YouTube and it went incredibly viral.
Any more tours we can expect?
Definitely! We’ve gotten such an amazing response from Kenya so far and I pray that we can make the #LiveAtAnkole an annual gig! Also, watch out for this new album were currently working on, it’s gonna have so much sauce!!! ❤