Not just for seniors

The New Traditionalists are teenagers who dig jazz standards. No, really.

The New Traditionalists prove that not all band uniforms are created equal.

The New Traditionalists prove that not all band uniforms are created equal.

The popular stereotype of traditional-jazz fans portrays them as a blue-haired, bespectacled, beehived crowd. But the New Traditionalists (TNT), a traditional-jazz group made up of eight Sacramento teens, have cranked up the defibrillator to bring a thumping pulse back to an art form that some might have suspected of flat lining.

And who better to keep up the pace for traditional jazz than people without pacemakers? You might think we’d need a reconnaissance squad with formaldehyde cannons—in case the crowd gets wily and decides to throw their dentures—to save these poor kids being held hostage in a museum full of dusty vinyl. But no, not only are these eight teens voluntarily playing traditional jazz and enjoying it, but they’re also bringing an energetic touch to lighthearted music. Just ask TNT drummer Brian Davy, whose band If Only made it to the semifinals of this year’s Jammies in the rock category, where his interest in traditional jazz comes from. After all, he plays rock, too.

“It really helps me relax,” Davy said of his drumming with TNT. “I also just enjoy playing more upbeat music.” And, while the idea of happy music might make fans of screamo, hardcore, and other alternative subgenres cringe, TNT’s work is surprisingly painless. Further evidence that hell has frozen over, this writer found himself tapping his toes to the jazzy jams the band has available for download at their Web site,

TNT might seem like a far from the mainstream and, frankly, ordinary teen garage band, but they have a surprisingly fresh sound. Trumpeter Justin Au, a junior at Rio Americano High School, described the band’s sound as “a lot of traditional jazz and new swing mixed together.” And vocalist Kelly Baumann, an admirer of Ella Fitzgerald, pointed out that the band likes to “take the old, and mix it around.”

“We’re teenagers,” Baumann explained. “We’re going to be carrying on the tradition with jazz, so we’re going to switch it up and have fun with it!”

Having fun is a definite plus, and so is mixing the old and the new. For example, a song on their Web site features pianist Bryce McLaughlin, a West Campus High School sophomore, transforming Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Für Elise” into an Old West honky-tonk ballad. McLaughlin is a veteran; he’s been playing piano for eight years, which is half his life. He’s been to the Dave Brubeck Institute Jazz Camp, and this summer he’s got a scholarship to the Stanford Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Camp.

TNT, which is a program of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, has been performing with an ever-changing lineup since 1989. The group is typically open to high-school students, ages 14 to 18, who audition in the summer. Director David Johnson noted that teen musicians who participate in TNT learn teamwork, confidence and public speaking. “Aside from all that,” he said, “learning music helps to unlock another part of your brain.”

Although the members of TNT do tend to spend a lot of time practicing (that’s undoubtedly how they honed their skills to this point), when they’re not playing music, they’re just regular teens. When asked about their hobbies, most of them mentioned hanging out with friends, listening to music, and catching all-ages live-music shows.

Speaking of which, catching a TNT show will be really easy this weekend when the band plays the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. The group has shows at the Downtown Plaza Stage on Friday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., at the Delta King dock on Friday at 6 p.m., and at the Sacramento Convention Center’s Exhibition Hall on Monday at 2 p.m. For those of us with teenage appetites, the best bet is TNT’s two shows at the Round Table Pizza in Old Sacramento at 1 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday, where it’ll be possible to chow down and jazz up at the same time.