Shows at Texas mansions and “Great Gatsby”-style lodging were parts of just another stop on tour for Chelsea Reed and the Fair Weather Five.
This past summer, the Temple-rooted swing band connected with cornet player David Jellema after booking a last-minute gig at The Fed, a mansion in Austin, Texas.
“[Jellema] rents a house, but in the back of it is a studio – usually a rehearsal space for dancers – and above it is a loft where we got to stay,” lead singer Chelsea Reed said, adding that the house came complete with a badminton court.
“We jammed with him until 4 a.m. for three nights in a row,” the senior jazz vocal performance and American studies major said. “We ate really tasty food. It was a beautiful time.”
The adventure in Texas was just one stop on the band’s national tour this past summer, which was partially funded by a Creative Arts Research and Scholarship grant through Temple.
“We weren’t going to get a grant at all,” Reed said. “[Bassist] Joe [Plowman] said that we should consider not just trying to fund it ourselves.”
The band is comprised of Reed on vocals, Plowman on bass, Jake Kelberman on guitar, Austin Wagner on drums, Noah Hocker on trumpet and Chris Oatts on alto sax, clarinet and washboard.
“If we hadn’t gotten the grant, we were still going to do it,” Reed said of the 10-city tour. “It was irresponsible.”
While many bands choose to wait until after graduation to tour, Terell Stafford, director of jazz studies and chair of instrumental studies in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, said the band’s choice to travel while its members were still in school was strategic. Stafford helped guide the band through the process of getting the CARSG grant.
“Many students decide to do tours and decide to do different things after they graduate, and in some ways that’s really great, but it’s great to experience it when you’re still in school,” Stafford said. “Because you go on the tour, you see what it’s like, and you can come back and talk to your teachers and say, ‘This is how it went. What can I do to make it better? What can the band do to make it better?’ That’s how you really learn.”
While a national tour may seem detached from the classroom, Reed said the marriage of her fields of study – jazz performance and history – are applicable to the project she and her band will present to the board sometime this semester to show what they’ve learned through the awarded grant.
The university will not distribute the grant until this part of the process is complete, Reed said.
“It became about the development of jazz in a national and regional level,” Reed said, noting that the band will connect jazz history to the places they’ve traveled to. “Most of our information is coming from New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz.”
Despite having traveled the country and gaining exposure to multiple jazz scenes, Reed, who often performs for dancers, said the swing dancing community in Philly is very much present.
“I think there are several different enclaves of swing dancers in Philly, but the ones that we work with the closest are the LAB dancers,” Reed said, who didn’t initially intend to perform for dancers until it was suggested by fellow Philadelphia musician Carsie Blanton.
“She heard my voice and [Plowman] and I playing some standards,” Reed said. “We were just messing around. We didn’t really have anything in mind. She came downstairs and was like, ‘If you form a band, you guys could play for swing dancers. I could hook you up. It’d be really high-paying and it’d be a lot of fun.’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah! Hook me up with that.’”
This added element creates a strong connection between the performer and the dancer, Reed said.
“It’s a totally different experience because they need you just as much as you need them,” Reed added.
Stafford said Reed excels at this form of communication.
“She’s a true extrovert,” Stafford said. “Even when you watch her sing, she engages you when she sings and she makes you feel like you’re part of the story, which is very important. “
While swing dancing may initially seem too retro to draw anything but an older crowd, Reed said her audience varies from middle-aged couples to her friends from Temple.
“It’s a really social thing, which is probably why it’s a younger crowd,” Reed said.
Now back from tour, Reed said she and the band will be releasing a self-titled debut album sometime in December with Bell Tower Records.
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jenelley.