Have you ever wondered what happened to the Valley’s longtime favorite band, Swing Caravan?
The band, led by vocalist/guitarist Matthew Shippee and known for their creative interpretations of gypsy jazz music and vocal jazz standards, played throughout the Valley for much of the 2000s. gigs at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton and at events like the Green River Festival, they were perhaps best known for their informal, non-stop gigs at places like the Yellow Sofa and the Sierra Grille in Northampton. These regular performances allowed the award-winning band to show off their improvisational skills and were a hit with local audiences.
Five years ago, it all came to a halt when Shippee had to take a step back from music to devote her time to her family. But now the time has come for Swing Caravan to return, and they’re kicking off a bi-monthly residency at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield starting tonight (September 8) at 6:30 p.m.
The band, which also includes Doug Plavin on drums/percussion and Kirk Sanger on double bass, is doing something new with these shows by forming a partnership with Greenfield Community College, where Shippee is a professor and head of the music department. In an effort to build community and showcase the GCC music program, each Swing Caravan session will feature the GCC Music Review: a special guest musician who is a college student, alumni, or faculty member. who will perform with the group.
Shelburne Falls resident Shippee is thrilled to be back playing the music he loves and bringing the GCC Music Revue to these performances.
“We started out as a more traditional gypsy jazz trio with two acoustic guitars and a double bass, and that was a fun thing,” Shippee said of the origins of Swing Caravan, a band that started in the early 2000s. “Django Reinhardt composed in a playful and intuitive way because he could neither read nor write music. He was one of those brilliant, untrained geniuses. This music always spoke to me and I wanted to dig into it.
In 2009, Swing Caravan began to evolve. The band came across a guitar and left behind the rhythm guitar sound traditionally heard in gypsy jazz. Shippee started playing a different style of guitar and they added drums and a trumpet. The group continued to play gypsy jazz but with this non-traditional formation.
“We were still playing gypsy jazz, but in a more interpretative way,” he added.
“I was singing more jazz standards and also doing them in a different way. Then there were my original songs that could be considered Americana, some even including a rock beat.
The music became more playful, spontaneous and creative in the moment.
This approach to musical creation would become the hallmark of Swing Caravan and one to which audiences would respond.
“I was doing things like playing a standard like ‘All of Me’ and playing it in 6/8 instead of 4/4, and people who came to regular gigs liked to hear that,” Shippee said. “Swing Caravan audiences loved that it sounded really fresh and that we were trying something new. And we’re good at it. ”
The band and their guests will embrace the spirit of spontaneity at these shows from Hawks and Reed. Listeners can expect to hear both covers and original material, but it should be noted that despite their name, Swing Caravan does not play swing dance music. Although some of their music is animated, it will be more of a listening experience. “We’re more Bill Frisell with an American influence,” Shippee said of their music.
The first show in the series will feature singer-songwriter Jessica Dow, an alumnus of the college’s music department. Swing Caravan will accompany her on some of her compositions, and in turn, she will sing some jazz standards with the group. “We’re not going to rehearse a lot to get back to that idea of spontaneity.”
The format of future shows will depend on the guest musician. Scheduled for September 22 is Garrett Grant, another Music Department alumnus and singer-songwriter who specializes in finger-picked acoustic guitar compositions.
The idea for this residency originated years ago when Swing Caravan performed to benefit the GCC Foundation at Hawks and Reed. Venue owner Steve Goldsher was so inspired by both the band and the GCC connection that he thought it would be something the venue could host on a regular basis. And now the time has come.
“I’m really excited about the collaboration with GCC and I think it’s a fun post-COVID way for people to come together and have fun,” Shippee said, adding that he plans to try some cool things. with the rotating group of guests. .
Shippee also hopes the GCC partnership will help publicize the school’s new contemporary music curriculum. Shippee, who holds a master’s degree in ethnomusicology and has been teaching at the GCC since 2002, developed the program after talking to his students and discovering that not all of them were interested in the study of jazz offered by the college, but that They had varied backgrounds and interests. He found they were looking for careers ranging from writing music for video games to touring with a band. So he created a new program that focuses on the contemporary world of music making and offers courses in everything from songwriting to exploring the music of The Beatles and Radiohead.
Since such a long hiatus, Shippee has been catching up on social media accounts and putting all four of her recordings on streaming services. These should be ready soon. But he does not regret the time he took to devote himself to his children and learn about his own creativity.
“I missed making music, but I realized that all my creativity went into parenting and that was a big accomplishment,” he said. “Being playful and spontaneous and creating an experience is what I loved to do as a musician and I realized I was doing it with my kids. I discovered my own creative process and it felt good not to of music.
Now that he is back to focusing on music, he has written ten new songs which he hopes Swing Caravan will record soon.
In addition to providing listeners with a unique and fun musical experience, Shippee hopes these shows with the GCC Music Revue will help create a sense of community.
“We want to build a scene,” he said of the residency. “I know it will take time to develop, but we would like it to become the place to be on a Thursday night.”
The show is free. For more information, visit hawksandreed.com.
Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. His work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be contacted at [email protected]