When the final notes of The Jazz Guys’ usual show closer, “Finale,” evaporate into the ether on December 18 at Muddy Waters, they will mark the end of another raucous, shtick-y gig. They also will close a (relatively) lengthy career for a great Burlington band. Along with scene staples such as The Cush, Swale and The Smittens, The Jazz Guys have been part of a particularly vital era of local rock. But all good things must come to an end. And as their song sort of goes, the guys, sadly, are saying goodbye.
Composed of guitarist Max Schwartz, twin brothers Herb (bass) and Maarten van der Poll (guitar) and — after a few rounds of Burlington drummer roulette — Frank Zamiello, The Jazz Guys emerged in the early part of the 2000s. Frankly, they weren’t very good at the start. In a 2004 article highlighting seven local up-and-comers, then Seven Days music editor Casey Rea charitably wrote that the group was “lovably nutty and ragged around the edges.” Translation: They were fun, but not technically sound. As someone who came up as a musician in the same era, I can vouch that Rea’s assessment reflected the prevailing local opinion of the quartet at the time. I can also say they quickly morphed into one of the area’s best rock acts, as noted in Rea’s cover story on The Jazz Guys two years later.
But, of all the outfits mentioned in that 2004 piece — Manifest Nextome; Lobot; Charles, Dead or Alive?; The Loyalists; Blackthorne Wilderness; and this writer’s old group, The Middle Eight — TJG are the only ones to even sniff 2010. And in a town where bands come and go like the seasons, a nearly decadelong tenure is a feat.
“I love the Burlington music scene,” says Schwartz, who is moving to San Francisco in January — ostensibly the reason for the split. “But I do feel a little differently now, because Swale hardly play, James Kochalka rarely plays, Missy Bly rarely plays. Carrigan left. And those are the people I really related to when we first moved to town.”
“But that’s sort of the nature of the Burlington music scene,” adds Herb van der Poll. “You get these quick cycles, and that’s one of the strengths. But it can be disheartening when you become one of the old fogies on the other end of the assembly line.”
“Fogies” is a bit of a stretch, since Zamiello is the only band member on the “wrong” side of 30. Still, they have been around the block a time or two. And while the Guys never achieved renown outside the Burlington bubble, they did have an eventful run. Some choice highlights:
• Banished for life from the Church Street Marketplace in 2005 for an earsplitting set during that year’s Discover Jazz Festival.
• A critically acclaimed (by Seven Days) 2006 debut album, A Blessing in Disguise, an effort that Herb van der Poll describes in typical self-deprecating fashion as “atrocious.”
• No fewer than nine side-splitting video shorts, all of which can be viewed at their website, www.thejazzguys.com.
• Sharing the stage with the likes of personal heroes Of Montréal, and just about every Burlington rock band active from 2001 to the present.
Regrets? They’ve had a few. At the height of TJG’s popularity, they regularly packed local venues and earned a reputation as the most entertaining band in Burlington. They probably could have made inroads in cities outside Vermont. But, aside from one gig in Montréal, they didn’t.
“Maybe we could have been a little more ambitious at certain points,” acknowledges Herb. “But I think we always stayed true to what the band was about.”
Adds Zamiello, “Honestly, I think we accomplished pretty much everything we set out to do.”
Since Maarten left two years ago — he’s currently living in Thailand — the band has noticeably cut back on the gigging schedule. Their upcoming farewell show, in fact, will be only their second this year. “Maarten was kind of the heart of the band,” says Herb. “He’s sort of the Dennis Wilson of The Jazz Guys.” And then he facetiously wonders out loud: “Did anyone call him about this?” (Answer: Yes. And Maarten reportedly is happy to see his former mates go out on good terms.)
And so it is that The Jazz Guys conclude a memorable career and, in a way, a stellar chapter of Burlington music history. That alone should brand them a success — not that it matters much to this band.
“The only measure of success I would put the band up to was how much fun we had doing it,” says Herb. “And I think, on all fronts, we did a great job. It was an amazing decade of music and I’m really proud of it. It’s something I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my life.”
He won’t be the only one.
Catch The Jazz Guys, Missy Bly and James Kochalka Superstar at Muddy Waters in Burlington on Friday, December 18, 9 p.m. Free.