Hooray for Fake Jazz
With his tousled, short, blond over-comb, goatee, and black turtleneck, Greg Schaefer looks like a TV beatnik. All he lacks are shades and a beret. But sitting in the bustling Acadia Café on a Saturday afternoon, GST's founder seems more country-effusive than beat-inscrutable. "Shortly after we got together," he recalls, "I remember seeing that Happy Apple were playing at four different places: Dakota, Entry, Clown Lounge, and, uh, somewhere else, the Ascot Room maybe--four shows at venues all over the map and within a very short period. I thought: That's what I want us to be able to do."
The fusion fairy granted Schaefer's wish, more or less. While still a little too raw to crack the Dakota, the guitarist and trumpeter's trio-turned-quartet bounces easily from rock clubs (Entry, Turf, 400 Bar) to jazz enclaves (Mankato's Jazz Club, St. Paul's Downtowner Woodfire Grill). The band's similarity to its onetime role model, however, ends there. As demonstrated on Bug Town, a collection of tracks culled from various metro-area live performances, GST eschews Apple's chops-intensive, ferocity-versus-abstraction equation. Instead, they favor relaxed grooves and a dreamy, opium den-meets-lobster shack ambience nourished by post-punk, dub, and, seemingly, surf music.
Reverb-drenched evidence notwithstanding, Schaefer denies any trace of salt spray in his musical woodpile. "People bring that up all the time," he says. "But I don't own a single surf album. I think maybe it's my solos. Real jazz players incorporate all kinds of passing notes; I just use simple blues scales." Most of the time, perhaps, although he will also pepper rudimentary riffage with octaves and dense, fancy chords--as on a rendition of Pink Floyd's "Money" recorded at Frank Stone Gallery in 2003. Trumpeter Bob DeBoer daubs the song with pastel swaths of melody; bassist Tony Watercott and drummer Joe Cline imbue its tricky timing with an air of front porch ease; Schaefer's astral blasts provide all the fire and tension.
A generation ago, Schaefer might have blanched at covering a KQ staple. As a kid in the early '80s, he abandoned classic rock after the Minutemen and a trio of locals changed his life. "I started a punk band just for fun," he recalls. "We had no idea of how to go about getting shows or anything. One day, I was looking at the cover of Everything Falls Apart and noticed that Reflex's address was on the back. I sent them a tape, never for a moment imagining that anything would come of it. Ten days later, Greg Norton called and asked if we wanted to open for Hüsker Dü."
A pair of opening slots for the Hüskers catapulted the band--Dragnet--into the local scene's populous middle tier, where they thrived for a few years before drifting apart. After a stint with Man Sized Action, Schaefer fell out of the public eye. In the early '90s his computer-industry career took him to London for two years. "I didn't know very many people, so I started playing a lot more, learning new chords and inversions. That's when I got interested in jazz."
GST first coalesced as a casual backing band for poets, which helped Schaefer develop the philosophy that informs the band today. "We like bringing guest players up," he says. "So some of our songs are skeletal enough so that people can just jump onstage and join in. And they're all fairly easy to learn. That way, somebody can go on vacation for a couple weeks without having to worry about being permanently replaced. More than anything, I want this band to be fun for everyone involved."
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