Apt613 sat down with Blue Moon Marquee ahead of their free performance July 1 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Read on for the interview.
My household is one where music is turned on before the coffee is made. We listen to everything and anything, even if it’s only to give something a try. But we do have mainstays – Paul Butterfield, Harold Budd, Charles Mingus, Glenn Gould and jazz. Lots and lots of jazz. These days, we find ourselves often reaching for the music of Blue Moon Marquee. I say reaching because we prefer physical CDs, and if we had the room, vinyl.
I was in my car waiting for a friend when I first heard Blue Moon Marquee (BMM). Holger Peterson, his CBC’s Saturday Night Blues another household mainstay, was interviewing and playing the music of A.W. Cardinal (vocals, guitar, harmonica), a Metis of Cree heritage, and Jasmine Colette (vocals, bass, drums), a.k.a. Bandlands Jass.
There was an immediate familiarity, yet uniqueness, to the BMM sound. Imagine a growling, bluesy Tom Waits vocal accompanied by a gritty Django Reinhard jazz manouche guitar. Reviewers have referred to “old-time country, folk, ragtime and vaudeville” as well as “rockabilly, Romany jazz, rhythm n’ blues, early rock n’ roll, Dixieland jazz, and a variety of blues styles”. Quite a melange, but definitely a music that demands involvement. This is not a passive, wallflower music.
A onetime solo artist, A.W. Cardinal, described as “a large man, with sharp eyes” and a “Bukowski-esque” mystique, spent time living and performing in Montreal and New York City before joining forces with Bandlands Jass. Cardinal’s roots “weave themselves in there more than I’m actually conscious of. Stories of my mother and stories of our people. Native people have wonderful stories about everything, and I take a lot of inspiration from those stories.”
The West Coast based duo has gigged and recorded solidly since joining forces. Their smouldering trademark onstage chemistry has enthralled audiences from back room bars to the public squares. They were nominated for a Maple Blues Award 2016 best new artist of the year. The duo were also the most requested band for the 2016 TD International Jazz Festivals across Canada, a circuit to which they will be returning this summer.
Their latest record is Gypsy Blues which Jass describes as “an amalgamation of gypsy rhythms and scales mixed with a solid delta blues influence.”
Ahead of their TD Ottawa Jazz Festival appearance – “Expect a whole lotta passion, shakin’ and groovin’ as well as new songs” – and as they geared up to take the stage as part of their current tour, Jass took time to speak with Apt613.
Apt613: The feature interview on Saturday Night Blues with Holger Peterson must have been quite an experience.
Absolutely. He has been very encouraging and supportive from the beginning. We have another interview with him coming up. He is a treasure of the music scene for the last 40 years.
Your music is difficult to define. If you had to choose one song to introduce BMM to someone, which would it be?
Perhaps Gypsy’s Life.
Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of the history of the band? You were originally the AW Cardinal Band.
Basically after many years of travelling and playing all over, we met up in Vancouver in 2012 to record Stainless Steel Heart. It was within the next couple years we formed Blue Moon Marquee.
Your sound is crisp and very natural. There have been comments about AW’s “Djangofried grooves” and your “rhythmic thunder”. Was it a natural fit when you first got together?
Yes, although, our sound has really formed after 4 years of playing together.
AW pipes in: Jass never played the upright and drums before BMM. Our mutual love of early blues/swing/jazz and gypsy jazz formed our sound. We conjured it up.
You’re a two-piece with additional local musicians joining you when you travel to various parts of Canada.
It is a very compact unit to travel as a duo. We have spent time and lived all over the country so it is easy to snag players in whatever city for shows.
This must allow you a certain flexibility that a four piece band would not.
For sure. Canada is a tough country to tour geographically. Very pricey for a full band.
Your music is perfect for a live setting! It seems that you are always playing. You must be developing quite a following as a result.
We love performing live. Yes, the shows seem to be getting better and better, which is a fine thing!
You’ll be travelling Europe. That will be an experience. Will it be the two of you or additional musicians?
So excited! It’s been a long time coming. That will be just the two of us. Most of the festivals this summer we will just be a two piece. We will have Morgan Onda, a sax player, joining us for our Kaslo Jazzfest set. We will also be David Vest’s backing band for his set!
Your four albums are available on bandcamp. That seems one of the more artist-friendly means of distribution.
The ol’ internet is heaving with endless sounds, bands, noise. I think it is a useful tool but also overwhelming and it’s often tough to get your music heard in all the chaos.
What is the song writing process for you? Are you always thinking of the next new song?
Sometimes we work together, sometimes apart. There isn’t a set formula. Yeah, we’re always thinking of new tunes.
Do you see songs as recipes (guides) for a musician to work with and add their own touch, or should songs be considered set in stone?
I believe a song has many lives, and can evolve through renditions and remixes. If you are going to cover a tune or pay homage, make it your own.
Are there songs we know that you’d like to give the BMM touch?
Nightmare by Artie Shaw.
Who do you listen to now?
Current artists? C.W. Stoneking is a favourite right now.
How does it feel knowing that you’ll be playing the nation’s Capital on Canada Day – the 150th anniversary?
Well to be honest, we have mixed feelings about it. We are excited to play of course, however the whole idea of ‘Canada Day’ is strange.
To quote Judith Sayers (former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, located in Port Alberni, B.C.), “On this day, Canada Day, I celebrate our leaders, our elders, our chiefs, our matriarchs, our youth, and our children who are raising their voices to bring attention to issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women, the need for implementation of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the need for First Nations prior and informed consent before there is any development in our territories.”
It is difficult to see tax money spent on decor and lavish celebration when it really should be going towards issues such as First Nations Communities in need of integral necessities such as clean drinking water and more support for our veterans.
Blue Moon Marquee appears on Canada (Saturday July 1) at 5pm on the Tartan Homes Stage at Marion Dewar Plaza (Ottawa City Hall). Admission is free.