Arts

Community Lawn Concerts: Listening to “Lawn Jazz” With the Dixiedelics

“It was a few months into the pandemic and all our regular music gigs had dried up,” said Dave Kraus, a member of the Dixiedelics, a group of professional musicians who play traditional New Orleans style Jazz every other Sunday on North Richman Avenue in Fullerton. “I was longing to be with friends and to play music again. When I saw Aimee (Aul) and Christina (Garner) playing folk music on Christina’s lawn, I knew what I wanted to do. To my great surprise, the other musicians were more than willing to perform without being paid for their services.” The Dixiedelics (also known as the Delics) have been playing together professionally for years at various locations, including Bourbon Street restaurant and Steamers Jazz Club in downtown Fullerton. However, when the pandemic hit, they had to find a new way to perform music again. The Dixiedelics began their lawn concerts after Covid shutdowns ended opportunities to play or hear live music.

The Dixiedelics are a group of professional musicians who play traditional New Orleans style Jazz every other Sunday on North Richman Avenue in Fullerton.

For Dave and Steve Kraus, their interest in music started at a young age, as their parents encouraged it. They played music together growing up. When their oldest sibling joined the school band, they loved it and everyone in their family followed suit. During the early part of the pandemic, the Krauses even collaborated on a few “a cappella” recording projects. “It was fun, but not the same as playing together. Other musicians felt the same way so we started doing free front yard concerts,” said Steve via email. “I think Dave suggested it, as there were some examples in his neighborhood that indicated people were yearning for live music. We all so missed playing together, and the pandemic induced isolation increased the sense of loss. At the same time, we realized that people in general were yearning for live entertainment and the spirit of community that comes with it.”

According to their website, while the Dixiedelics are relative newcomers to the traditional jazz scene, their roots date back decades. Near the beginning of the 1980’s, Fullerton College initiated, as part of their jazz studies program, a traditional jazz class that featured a fledgling band named the Lemon Street Stompers. “Music educator Richard Cruz developed the program and, under his mentorship, the Stompers achieved consistent recognition as one of the best college ‘traditional’ bands in the country. More importantly, the band members were imbued with a deep and lasting appreciation of early jazz. This is where the Dixiedelics began.”

Today, the players are professional musicians, who pre-pandemic performed many different styles of music at various ensembles throughout Southern California. However, they still enjoy coming together regularly as “the Delics.” The instrumentation of the Dixiedelics is typical of New Orleans style early jazz bands from the 1920’s. Steve Kraus plays the cornet, Dave Kraus plays the saxophone and clarinet, Martha Catlin plays the trombone, Tim Catlin plays the washboard and drums, Bob Aul plays the tuba and string bass, and John Kraus plays the banjo and guitar.

The jazz band likes to say that their music is “grounded in the classics of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Kid Ory and other early greats, but also occasionally veers out to include anything from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and even the Grateful Dead.” The Delics’ constantly expanding repertoire consists largely of songs that were written in the early part of the 20th century, but also includes more contemporary songs converted to fit the traditional jazz style.

“At first, I wasn’t sure if our neighborhood would appreciate a bunch of noise on a quiet Sunday afternoon,” said Dave. “However, we were greeted with smiles and applause, and a few weeks ago I counted over 50 people taking time to listen. We’ve been playing every other Sunday for over a year now. Every time is a real high point for me.” Steve agreed, saying that the only planning they did was finding a day when all their members were available. After the first time playing what they like to call “lawn Jazz,” they were hooked.

Neighbors enjoy a Dixiedelics lawn concert.

The music of the Dixiedelics is based largely on improvisation and, as such, no two performances are the same. In other words, they don’t rehearse. The individual musicians practice to keep their skills up, but in Covid times, they just get together for lawn jazz every two weeks, or for other gigs that are starting to happen as places open up. “We usually play 15 or so songs that vary each concert,” explained Steve. “We repeat some of our favorites and fan favorites each time. We don’t really rehearse, and we don’t usually use sheet music for these concerts, but we have memorized many, many songs from the Dixieland repertoire. One great thing about the style is that if two players know a song, the rest of us can join in and contribute by ear.”

Dave Kraus puts up a sign in his yard a few days before their lawn jazz performances when he’s fairly certain the musicians are coming. Sometimes, the musicians involved vary a little, but it is primarily a family affair. “If not for the pandemic, these concerts probably would never have started,” said Steve. “I think the pandemic has helped many of us focus on and identity what is really important. The opportunities we have had this year to play music together have been especially enjoyable.”

Driving up North Richman Avenue on a Sunday evening in late August, I heard the sounds of New Orleans style jazz coming through my car window. Parking and walking, I saw people sitting in red chairs, socially distanced on Dave’s front lawn. A small whiteboard placed on the lawn advertised the Dixiedelics’ jazz concert with the words, “Live Jazz 6:00 to 8pm.” There was a smaller rectangular sticker on the sign with the Dixiedelics band logo. Instruments in hand, the Delics began to play, as the sun slowly sank in the sky. Later in the evening, people began to show up with their own chairs, setting up either on the sidewalk in front of the house or across the street. Children danced. Some people brought refreshments and dinners to eat while they listened to sounds of jazz.

“Who knows when we will stop playing on my lawn or when the gigs will come back,” said Dave. “In the meantime, I treasure every note of truly connecting with others.” The Dixiedelics will be playing lawn jazz every other Sunday on 605 N. Richman Ave., Fullerton until it gets cold. For further information, contact Steven Kraus at stevenrkraus@gmail.com.

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