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Journey through jazz history with the Side Street Strutters

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Posted: Friday, November 10, 2017 7:37 pm

In 1917, the Original Dixieland Jass Band released a record of their “Livery Stable Blues,” believed to be the first jazz recording in history.

One hundred years later, the Side Street Strutters are paying tribute to the musical pioneers and jazz innovations in the decades since in their show “Vinyl Jazz, A Century Celebration.” The band will bring their world-class show to Hutchins Street Square on Sunday, sponsored by the Lodi Community Concert Association.

“Over the decades, we’ve really expanded our repertoire to include a wide variety of jazz,” said Vince Verdi, the band’s clarinetist.

Most of the band’s members have been with the Side Street Strutters since it formed in 1983. The band’s original focus was on traditional, New Orleans-style Dixieland jazz.

“We were the house jazz band at Disneyland for 22 of those 35 years, which was a lot of fun for us,” Verdi said.

Playing at Disney gave them a chance to hone their craft and become expert performers. Many of their performances were on the Main Street Market Stage in New Orleans Square.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “As you might expect, it really is a wonderful place to perform. People are enthusiastic about listening to you.”

A few of the members still perform part time at Disneyland, though they’re under a different name now, Verdi said.

It was at Disneyland where the band met vocalist Meloney Collins, who was also a performer there.

“She’s an amazing talent,” Verdi said.

Collins, who has performed with big bands and legends like Ray Charles, has been the band’s official vocalist for eight years.

During their time, the Side Street Strutters have expanded their songbook, going beyond their original Dixieland style to include dozens of significant jazz, blues and swing hits from the past 100 years.

“That’s what this show is centered around,” Verdi said.

In what he described as a “monumental task,” the band has collected a playlist of important jazz numbers like “Muskrat Ramble,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “Pennies from Heaven” and more.

The show — and it truly is a show, not just a concert, Verdi said — ranges from full-band pieces to one or two musicians playing together.

Along with the music, there will be some tap dancing, instrumental experimentation, comedy and a “little of everything,” Verdi said.

It’s just the latest show in a series they’ve taken around the world, in concerts and at jazz festivals.

“We’ve been to Europe many times, Canada, Mexico, we’ve literally been to all 50 United States over the years,” he said.

The band travels by ground whenever they can, because they want to experience the places they visit.

On a recent trip, they were excited to stop in place that might be familiar to some local residents — Strasburg, North Dakota, the hometown of Lawrence Welk. The famous accordionist and bandleader once played at the Lodi Grape Festival.

It was an unexpected bit of fun, especially since one of the band members was reading a biography of Welk at the time.

Visiting mom-and-pop shops, roadside attractions and local lunch spots in the small towns they pass through is a rewarding part of the touring lifestyle, Verdi said.

“We get to experience really what makes up America,” he said.

The Side Street Strutters are excited to add Lodi to the list of places they’ve visited, and to bring a century of jazz music to the Square.

“Hopefully the audience likes it,” Verdi said.

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