One of Rodney McGhee’s favorite performances with his band, Kingfisher, was at a house show on Park Avenue. The band was performing for a tightly packed crowd, and it got so hot in the basement that everyone started to sweat.
“I couldn’t play my trombone, because the sweat was in my eyes,” said McGhee, a junior trombone performance major.
Sweat dripped from the railing, and some of the band members took off their shirts.
“I could hardly see,” said Marc Jaffee, a junior English major and the band’s guitarist. “That’s the only time I’ve ever played just to get through it. I was like, ‘I’ve got to get out of this alive, somehow.’”
“I just felt the energy,” McGhee added. “I felt like the crowd was just loving it. And we were feeling it, because we were literally on fire. It was fantastic.”
Kingfisher is made of eight students—seven of them attend Temple, and one goes to school in New Orleans—and it’s one of few student bands with a full horn section. Drawing inspiration from artists like John Bonham, Frank Zappa and John Coltrane, Kingfisher’s sound can be described as “jam fusion” with bits of jazz and rock mixed in, said Ethan Fisher, a sophomore jazz performance major and one of two pianists in the band.
“It’s new music that pulls a lot of different influences,” Fisher said. “I think Kingfisher could do a sit-down type show, and a show where everybody is dancing.”
“That’s why we like to call it jam fusion,” said David Frebowitz, a junior glass blowing major and Kingfisher’s bassist. “Because calling it jazz fusion would be like implying that we are jazz. We play jazzy music, but we play it very much like a rock band.”
Kingfisher has played a diverse set of gigs: Berning Man, a benefit concert for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and a 50-year-old’s Mardi-Gras themed birthday party.
“I feel like Kingfisher appeals to everyone, and not just college students,” McGhee added. “It’s just good music, good musicians.”
Jam band culture is growing at Temple, Jaffee said. When the band first came together, it used to open for punk bands at house shows. But now there are more venues and shows off campus that better fit Kingfisher’s sound.
Along with the culture, Kingfisher’s popularity has grown, too. Sometimes if a few members have to miss a gig—it’s hard to get all eight people together at once, Jaffee said—the audience members will start to sing along with the missing horn melodies.
“And that’s when you crack a good smile,” Jaffee said. “Because that’s cool as heck.”
Kingfisher is big on improv, McGhee said, and they’re not over-rehearsed. Each performance is different, and is particularly impacted by the crowd’s reactions. One of the band’s songs, “Dahlia,” has three different endings alone.
“When you’re improvising, it’s a direct connection from your inner thoughts right to your instrument,” Jaffee said. “If it feels good, you’re good.”
Though the band’s performances are “more than half” improv, Fisher said, its writing style is still distinct. Since the band added horns, and because several band members are music majors, they focus more on the technical aspects of musical theory in their songwriting.
Jaffee kicks off most of the band’s songwriting, and the rest of the band members tie in their respective instruments.
“I come in with the main ideas,” Jaffee said.
“And we all have the stapler guns,” Frebowitz added.
Last summer, the band recorded its second EP, “Whatever Works.” All eight members spent three hours in a studio in Boyer playing the EP’s four songs over and over again to get them just right.
Afterward, they went back to Jaffee’s house. In the early June heat, the band members crammed into his bedroom and listened to every single take of each song and picked their favorites.
“It was exhausting,” Jaffee said.
“We kept running out of his room for air,” Frebowitz added.
Now, the band members are working on a third EP, but they’re in no rush to finish. They have three new songs in circulation, and they’re hoping to have six on their next EP.
All eight members of Kingfisher rarely get to play together, Jaffee said. But since they came together two years ago, it’s always been a natural connection.
“When we all finally come together, there’s no fumbling or anything,” Jaffee said. “It’s just like, ‘Here we are. Let’s play.’ And it’s great.”
Michaela Winberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mwinberg_.