Joseph Brenneman on Hot Jazz, His Inspirations and the Whirlybirds’ First Album

By Bruce Langner, vice president and board member, Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society

Joseph Brenneman is a professional musician and teacher in Columbus, specializing in hot jazz and swing. He serves on the board of the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society, performs with the Whirlybirds, who are just about to release their first album, and he teaches at Musicologie. He also heads up monthly hot jazz jams, the second Wednesday of every month at 8 p.m. at the Rambling House.

Bruce: Tell us what “hot jazz” is and how it is distinguished from other jazz.
Joe: Although the first official recordings of hot jazz might be considered the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917, hot jazz got its start at the turn of the 20th century in New Orleans. Finding its roots in blues and ragtime, it came out of various communities as reflections of whatever place in the world they found themselves. Since it is a social experience first, the recordings don’t really tell the whole story of the style. Hot jazz is different from other styles of jazz because it is meant to get people moving: it is meant to be felt in a visceral way. Common instruments in hot jazz might be a trumpet playing the melody, a clarinet playing around the melody and a trombone guiding the harmonies underneath. Supporting all of that is a rhythm section of a guitar or banjo, upright bass or tuba, and drums.

Bruce: What is your “go to” instrument and when did you start playing it?
Joe: Clarinet is my go to instrument, and I’ve been playing it since I was 10. I started playing clarinet, specifically, because my dad wanted me to play like Benny Goodman. My middle school band director gave me lessons on it, and inspired me to start teaching as soon as I could. I’ve been teaching clarinet, saxophone and flute through Musicologie since 2015.

Bruce: What bands do you play with now, or have you played with? And what are some of your favorite songs to play?
Joe: I play with Whirlybirds, and I play for dancers (shout out to SwingColumbus!) with my own band, Brenny’s Bandits. I’ve played with Miss Jubilee from St. Louis, The Gaslight Squares from St. Louis, and Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders from Asheville, NC. Some of my favorite songs to play are “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I’ve Found a New Baby” and “Let’s Misbehave.”

Bruce: What musicians influenced you most in your musical career?
Joe: Probably the single biggest influence on my career has come from the music of Benny Goodman. The collective improvisation found in his small ensembles have inspired me to reach for that in my own groups. Aside from Goodman, I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the music of Sydney Bechet and Louis Armstrong. The ways they work with the melody, the ways they solo — they are true masters. I think the biggest influence I’ve gathered from these sources over the years is to find my own voice. I’ve spent years trying to play like me, and be unapologetic about it.

Bruce: Where might a listener or dancer go to hear hot jazz being played in the Columbus area?
Joe: My group, Whirlybirds, plays a healthy mix of hot jazz and swing from 4:30-6:30 p.m. every Saturday at Natalie’s in Worthington. And we’ll be playing a doubleheader show at Natalie’s Grandview on Oct. 22. The COHJS also has shows on Sunday afternoons, Sept. 19 and Oct. 10, from 2-5 p.m. at the Clintonville Woman’s Club. The COHJS Fall Harvest Festival with three bands will be held on Sunday, Nov. 21, from 1-6:30 p.m. at the famous Valley Dale Ballroom in Columbus.

Bruce: Is there any place a hot jazz musician could go to jam with other players?
Joe: Every second Wednesday from 8-11 p.m. is the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Jam and Dance at the Rambling House on Hudson in the Old North. Hot jazz jams are about getting together with friends and enjoying the atmosphere.

Bruce: What is the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
Joe: I think the people in the scene are what make it great. The money isn’t always good, and the schedules can be rough, but when you’re meeting people going through the same grind, and performing in front of people who value you and what you do, that is what makes it worthwhile.

For more information on the Whirlybirds Band and Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society and their events, go to www.whirlybirdsband.com and www.cohjs.org. Catch the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Jam and Dance the second Wednesday of every month from 8-11 p.m. at the Rambling House, 310 E. Hudson Ave.

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