Not Your Grandma's Big Band: 7th Street Reaches for the Edge of Jazz

2 min
Members of the band pack into this living room for rehearsals. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

Pretty much the only thing traditional about San Jose’s 7th Street Big Band is the instrumentation.

At a recent rehearsal, the group’s founder, band leader and drum set player Gabby Horlick, ticked off the personnel.

“Today we'll have four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, a flute and a full rhythm section,” said Horlick. “We have a bunch of singers coming today, also.”

Horlick said people filter in and out of the band, but there’s usually about 20 members. They barely fit in Horlick’s living room, which she converts to a rehearsal space every other Sunday.

Now, if big band makes you think swing music, you might be disappointed with the sound of 7th Street.

Besides playing the drums in the band, Gabby Horlick organizes band charts and gigs and helps lead rehearsals.

“Our tagline is ‘we're not your grandparents big band’,” said Horlick. “ We don't really play "In the Mood" and "Sing Sing Sing" and these traditional big band songs.”

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But, Horlick says, they do have the chops to play those songs and they’ve performed standards like those when the group first got together in 2013.

Like many musicians today, they feel free to draw from multiple musical traditions. Influences range from pop and funk to hip hop, as well as jazz. And they do covers, like Childish Gambino’s "Redbone".

But the 7th Street Big Band plays a lot of original music, too. Their most streamed song on Spotify, from their 2018 album "Off Cinderella Lane" was written by their tenor saxophone player. It’s called "One Man’s Trash" and it’s another piece that bucks big band tradition with its heavy tinges of electronic dance music.

Most members of the band are recent grads from San Jose State. Hence the band name, a nod to one of the prominent streets adjacent to campus.

24-year-old band member Brittany Biala studied jazz at San Jose State and graduated last year. Now she teaches music and plays saxophone with the group. Biala said this is not the first time she’s played with a big band.

“The typical big bands that I’ve been in definitely have an older generation of people who want to play mostly straight-ahead jazz, which is awesome,” says Biala. “But we definitely play some funkier versions. And we have a rapper.”

Biala says the band members, who are almost all in their 20s, enjoy each other’s company and that leads to more musical experimentation. And, of course, jazz is all about experimentation.

“It’s survived by mixing with so many genres,” says Biala. “And that's how it always is turning into something new, creating something new, becoming something new.”

The 7th Street Big Band performs as part of the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest on August 10, 2019 on the Swing Stage. For more information, click here.

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