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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio Revives Happiness Along With Vintage Music

Just before five o'clock on a rainy Sunday evening, people of all ages crowd into the warm, aromatic atmosphere of a restaurant called Tutta Bella on Stone Way in Seattle, as anticipation builds. Do they anticipate the outstanding gourmet pizza? Well, partly. But already, band groupies fidget, giggle, chatter, and get as close as they can to a group of musicians, members of Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio, who are busy setting things up to play and sing three-part harmony on tunes written before World War II. 

L to R: Mike Daugherty (drums), Matt Weiner (bass), Casey MacGill (leader, piano, ukelele, and trumpet)
Photo by Chris Lee, courtesy of the Blue 4 Trio
The band is popular as far away as Europe and was just featured in an excellent  KSPS  television documentary called "Rumrunners' Paradise," about the Prohibition years in Washington State. But in this particular venue, many of the fans share an interesting characteristic; they're very short. Some can barely see over the bass drum, behind which drummer Mike Daugherty—wearing a vintage suit and bow tie—patiently listens to endless questions from the crowd of wiggly little fans ranging from about two to six years old. Short on height but long on enthusiam, they will all demostrate wild dance improvisations the second the music begins.

"Audiences tend to feel good after they hear our music," leader Casey MacGill says in a video on the band's website. That's an understatement I feel compelled to correct. People feel unexplainably happy, optimistic and lighthearted, like things have never been better. In spite of the name, there is nothing "blue" about this band and the unseen (but not unheard) fourth member is that living, pulsing life force called "swing." Casey MacGill's piano playing transports you to a 1930s speakeasy. He uses ukelele and trumpet too, with equal skill. Bass player Matt Weiner plucks and bows the low notes and sings the high ones while Mike Daugherty keeps perfect time and pitch.

Together, they create as much fun as a Prohibition era party before a raid by the cops. That's why the people behind "Rumrunners' Paradise" wisely chose the Blue 4 Trio to provide authentic music and flavor for their documentary, filmed in the old Masonic Temple in downtown Spokane, Washington, the perfect setting in MacGill's view.

"The room made a good backdrop for the music and subject matter of the film," he said. "We were called to do a two-day shoot. The first day was about 12 hours, a big schedule to get through of songs to record. The second day was filming and lasted 6-8 hours. It was a challenge and a lot of fun."

You can watch the documentary here.

Back at Tutta Bella, one tune ends, and before the next begins,a little girl—whose grandparents weren't even born when Shirley Temple sang "At the Codfish Ball"—runs up to the band and requests the tune. Other favorites among the younger set are "Potato Chips" and "Jeepers Creepers." Like all the parents who bring their kids to Tutta Bella on Sunday nights, hers can rest assured that the lyrics will all be suitable for young children. And so on it goes, as yet another generation discovers the music of America's great "Jazz Age."

If you haven't discovered Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio, let me introduce you. Here's the way to get happy:

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