Mardi Gras Madness

Blue Bone Express Gets Its New Orleans On


     The party is on at Cafe Van Kleef, where every second Saturday, the boys of Blue Bone Express take the stage (and the aisles and the chairs). With horns, piano, drums and exuberance, these five East Bay 30-somethings transform the place with New Orleans–style jazz and parade music. They’re a brass band with a piano.

     Whether covering a standard or playing an original, whether funky, a dirge, or a rag, Blue Bone Express, aka BBX, infuses its own sound. With a knack for collective improvisation, BBX is at home interpreting Duke Ellington, tweaking the Mad Men theme or belting a soulful rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun.” Bandleader, trumpeter and pianist Jara Ra’s vocals have been compared to Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits—take your pick. While mastering a traditional Mardi Gras tune, BBX shines.

     Passion matters. Accomplished musicians in their own right, they joined as BBX in 2004 and have been spreading the brass band bug since. Kevin Brunetti (saxophone, clarinet, vocals) likes the music’s portability, particularly how taking it
to the street produces a real community connection. Trombonist Jason Freidenfelds says it’s the only music that gets him dancing. And Brandon Stasch, on sousaphone, adds, “It takes me out of reality.”

     Indeed. Every three months, longtime cohorts Hot Pink Feathers join the revelry. A San Francisco–based burlesque troupe, the girls add a bluesy, saucy, global Carnival spirit, spicing up the night by dancing in the aisles, and, yes, on the tables.

     If that’s not enough, BBX splits the stage, leaving Jesse Randell drumming away, and he parades through the crowd, blowing the brass. People hoot and holler, limbo under the trombone slide, and the energy escalates.

     Watch for the band’s second album, Blue Medicine, ready for a Fat Tuesday release. Meantime, catch Blue Bone Express playing live: “Super enthusiastic, incredibly colorful and a very New Orleans vibe,” exclaims one partier. “A total blast.”

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