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Sidney Street Shakers bring origins of St. Louis jazz to forefront with ‘Laugh My Weary Blues Away'

T.J. Muller, Kellie Everett and Kevin Belford joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the Sidney Street Shakers.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
T.J. Muller, Kellie Everett and Kevin Belford joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the Sidney Street Shakers.

If you’re from St. Louis, you know that the region was the epicenter of the nation’s first pop music in the 1800s — ragtime. But St. Louis has contributed much more to the nation’s music legacy.

The Sidney Street Shakers, a local jazz group that solely plays St. Louis jazz of the 1920s, want to bring awareness to that legacy.

Their debut album “Laugh My Weary Blues Away,” features selections solely from artists either from St. Louis or who spent a significant amount of time here during the ‘20s, writing and playing jazz music.

Kellie Everett, the band’s manager and the group’s bass saxophonist, as well as T.J. Muller, the band’s onstage bandleader and cornetist, joined St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter on Wednesday to discuss the origins of the band and the kind of music they play.

Kevin Belford, who wrote the album’s historical liner notes and author of “Devil at the Confluence,” also joined the program to share the historical significance of the music the Sidney Street Shakers play.

Both Everett and Muller play with a variety of jazz, blues and rock n’ roll bands in the St. Louis area and have been affiliated with Pokey LaFarge. When the Sidney Street Shakers started, they played traditional jazz standards, but Everett always wanted to add homegrown St. Louis music to the band’s repertoire.

“I started to find all this great music and it seemed surprising it wasn’t well-known and not part of the traditional jazz canon,” Everett said.

The Sidney Street Shakers' debut album.
Credit Big Muddy Records
The Sidney Street Shakers' debut album.

It was difficult to find sheet music for the songs she heard, like The Missourians’ “Ozark Mountain Blues” (1929) and Stump Johnson’s “Duck’s Yas Yas Yas,” so she did the transcriptions of songs herself. Both she and Muller said the Sidney Street Shakers incorporate a lot of improvisation into their performances.

“I try to create in the same way as [the original artists] were creating,” Muller said. “I listen to a lot of this music. Almost exclusively, I listen to 1920s music. I try to shut out more modern jazz influences. I try to make improvisation free and not confined. I try to capture what they were going through.”

Everett and Muller pulled Belford in to write the album’s liner notes because of his book, “Devil at the Confluence,” about the origins of blues and jazz in St. Louis. He highlights groups like the St. Louis Levee Band and Jack Ford’s Peacock Orchestra as well as artists like De Loise Searcy and Eddie Lang.

Belford said it was encouraging to see the Sidney Street Shakers and other groups emerging and reinvigorating the local music scene.

“This is the change,” Belford said. “This next generation is absolutely urbanist, interested in the past. Interested not just in the past, but bringing it forward: making the new out of the old.”

Listen to some of the music and hear more about the group’s influences here:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.