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Crawdaddy-O Is A Guerrilla Jazz Band Extraordinaire

By Lisa Weeks

OCTOBER 27, 1997:  THE CRAWDADDY-O BRASS Band can play to any audience. And they do mean any audience: Downtown Saturday Nights, nursery schools, mall openings, breweries, hip downtown clubs, the Tucson Blues Festival, weddings, the Jazz Society's 20th-anniversary celebration, street corners in Austin, Jiffy Lubes...Scottsdale. That alone could set them apart from just about every other band in town, but Crawdaddy-O's singularity scarcely ends there.

They're also the only marching brass band in town with a dancing sousaphone player.

Crawdaddy-O, for general purposes, describe themselves as a Cajun brass band. But that's but a pale thumbnail sketch of the five-piece band's richly colored soundscape. Crawdaddy-O features Jimmy Carr on drums (and telephones--he doubles as band manager); legendary trombonist Fruitpie (flavor undisclosed), formerly of Sam Taylor's band and the Itsy Bitsy Spiders, among many other local outfits; and the Flying Rosano Brothers--Dante, Marco and Tony--on trumpet, tenor saxophone and sousaphone.

Crawdaddy-O has all its bases covered: an audience spanning all demographics, a repertoire of originals uniquely combining every conceivable genre of brass-band music, and glorious mobility. Crawdaddy-O can play it straight-up and stationary or, at the drop of a hat, meander through the crowd as a marching band. Not to mention the fact that horns are currently very hip--swing and ska are all the rage in alternative markets of late. All of that, and their shows are giddy, engaging, lighthearted and just plain fun.

Unconcerned with crafting a particular image or dedicating themselves faithfully to any one retro style or fad, Crawdaddy-O is supremely concerned with reaching out to and entertaining its audience.

"We can go into just about any room and someone is going to have fun," remarks Carr. "Someone's going to get up and dance, and sometimes people go nuts."

"We get approached by people from 3 to 70 years old with the same enthusiasm," adds Fruitpie, the straight-man of the group. "The under-8 age bracket isn't very lucrative, but we're very strong there."

"Being mobile is a huge benefit," he says. "We're like a guerrilla jazz band--get in and get out before anyone gets hurt."

Crawdaddy-O's mastery of a wide range of musical styles goes some way towards explaining the breadth of their audience and appeal. The band members combine their extensive and studious musical prowess to compose songs that "take this and that and twist it into something new that people will like." Give them five minutes, and you'll see Crawdaddy-O is about music and the performance, not attitude or image.

The re-emergence of ska and swing at the forefront of popular music has brought horn sections back in a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy sort of way, opening the door for more eclectic bands like Crawdaddy-O to find an audience among fans of alternative music. But savvy Crawdaddy-O isn't jumping on any trendy bandwagons.

"I've played in a number of Dixieland bands, and there are a number of bands out there right now taking advantage of the whole horn-prevalence in pop music, alternative and ska," says Fruitpie. But that's not what Crawdaddy-O is after. "Crawdaddy-O combines all kinds of horn and brass music and makes it edgy, almost like grunge-jazz; it has a real, new edge to it," he continues. "We're not wearing pinstriped suits or straw hats."

Crawdaddy-O came together a few years ago in typical Tucson fashion, via a circuitous series of long-standing and quasi-accidental relationships converging in a moment of inspiration.

Fruitpie met the Rosano triplets when their mother took her trio of fledgling sixth-grade musicians to see him play in a concert at the University of Arizona as part of a Dixieland band. He later served as their music instructor for a brief period during the brothers' high school years. As a close friend of the family, he's followed their careers with interest. Not Crawdaddy-O's original trombonist, Fruitpie joined the band well after its inception.

"We had our eye on Fruitpie since day one," claims Carr, "but he was always busy in all these other bands."

"What a lie! You settled for me!" the imposing trombonist exclaims with a hint of false modesty.

All joking aside, Crawdaddy-O was but a gleam in Jimmy Carr's eye until his not-quite-by-chance meeting with Marco Rosano, when the two lived in the same building above the Rialto Theater. The story goes something like this:

Carr got wind of the fact that his neighbor was a sax player and went knocking on his door. "I heard you playing tenor sax and, well, it's always been one of my boyhood dreams to put together a Cajun brass band. I was wondering if you'd be interested?" To which Rosano replied, "Yeah, I'd be interested. In fact, I've got a brother who plays trumpet."

A surprised Carr responded, "You're kidding, that's awesome! What a stroke of luck!" and Rosano added, "...and another brother who plays sousaphone--and owns one!"

Carr was incredulous. "Now I know you're making fun of me."

"Yeah, and we're triplets!" Unbelievable.

The rest is history, and a heap of hard work. Carr's resourcefulness as band manger has not only kept Crawdaddy-O working regular gigs, he's also been actively building the business behind the show, all the while keeping everyone else organized.

"We're seeing if we can pass gum between moving vehicles, and Jimmy's the one with the map saying, 'We're getting of at the next exit, okay?' " laughs Fruitpie.

Hard work pays off. The calls from Austin after from their South By Southwest performance at the Elephant Room last spring, as well as street shows like the one they put on outside the posh Driskill Hotel, still filter in. The strength of their short performance as part of Howe Gelb's showcase at the Texas Union Ballroom led to a successful engagement at the Bear Valley High Sierra Music Festival this past summer. Of late, the band averages about three shows a week, currently playing every Wednesday night at The Rock.

Future plans? Just about what you'd expect: The Crawdaddy-O Brass Band is intent on keeping the momentum going and the audiences entertained, with various events scheduled to celebrate the upcoming release of their self-produced, self-titled debut CD. Also in the works is the development of a Crawdaddy-O comic strip, perhaps a band movie...and there was some talk of breaking out the brass at a karaoke bar, "just for kicks."


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