We like to think back to a time when music and dancing were intertwined, a time when people would clamor for a small patch of dance floor so they could hold someone tight and dance to their favorite songs. From the ornate dance floors of Manhattan to the dimly lit juke joints of Memphis, the music drove the dancers while the dancers drove the music. So was born The Downtown Shimmy.
On November 2013 dancers from around the country convened in the ballroom of the German Society of Pennsylvania for Blues Muse, an annual blues dance festival. That year we were the featured band, although we weren't quite sure who “the band" was. The five of us were brought together solely for thithe performance. But by night's end we knew it would not be the last. Soon we packed up the car and hit the road, which we’d eventually hit again (and again), as we toured the country with a mission to get people to move. And they did, from D.C. to Denver, Boston to Nashville, Chicago to Toronto, Memphis to Manhattan.
Like our travels, our music roams across the map as well. It's grounded in the American roots of folk, blues and gospel, but also pulls from the newer traditions leading to funk, R&B, and rock. With Ray Charles as an inspiration, we blend them into a fun, dynamic sound that propels songs with momentum--and feet too if we're lucky.
Whether or not the music gets your body dancing, we hope to at least get your spirits soaring. As James Brown said, "The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing." Take it from the Godfather of Soul.
Josh Fialkoff has been blending his smoky voice and soulful instrumentals for audiences since 2006. His music features a refreshing take on both traditional blues and swing as well as modern songs, and his arrangements blend these influences in a way that is neither stale nor abstract. As a pianist and vocalist Josh has found inspiration in some of music history’s heroes including Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Gene Harris. Like them, Josh seeks to create musical experiences that incorporate his audience, and that get people to move. Perhaps it’s precisely this focus that has brought such success for Josh and his ensembles who regularly play for swing and blues dances in the United States and beyond. Dancers at bluesSHOUT, Montreal Dance Fest, Bagel and Blues, DCLX at Glen Echo, Mobtown Ballroom, Montreal Bagel and Blues, BABBLE, and more have swooned and swayed to his unique musical mixture of the modern and the traditional. Once you hear Josh play, you'll revel in his refreshingly genuine sound too.
Frank Velardo takes to the guitar with commanding intensity. Since he picked it up at the age of 12, he has been composing, improvising, and performing a broad range of styles, although blues and jazz fire his passions. They were lit by idols such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix who inspired Frank's development in improvisation. This eventually lead to a formal study of jazz, theory, rhythm, harmony, world, and avant-garde music at Temple University where he graduated in 2010 with a degree in Jazz Performance. In October 2012, he released his first collection of original music showcasing his innovative songwriting and instrumental prowess. Along with leading his own projects under the anagrammatic stage name Ardvark Felon, Frank Velardo plays with various bands around Philadelphia and also teaches guitar to students throughout the city. He remains a student himself of the musical giants that came before him, while at the same time jumping from their shoulders to forge into uncharted territories.
Alex Maio has been on the Philadelphia music scene since 2006 and has performed, recorded, and toured with a variety of bands ranging in diversity from hiphop to jazz. In the studio he has performed on numerous recordings as well as sampling work for sound libraries and music software. In 2009 Alex performed with legendary pianist Tom Lawton for a suite commissioned by the American Composers Forum. The group performed concerts at several colleges and were featured on WRTI's "The Bridge" as well as the Jazz Bridge Series in Philadelphia (2013). Alex has been performing and recording with Frank Velardo since the two met at Temple University in 2008. In 2012 he joined up with pianist/singer Josh Fialkoff and bassist Matt Keppler and has done extensive festival performances and touring on the East Coast and Canada ever since.
Born in Monmouth County, NJ, Matt Keppler was brought up in a relatively non-musical household. At the age of 13, he decided to take up the guitar and was instantly hooked on music, going on to play and write with several different bands. In High School, Matt learned how to play the upright bass and eventually left the guitar behind in order to pursue a Jazz Upright Bass Performance Degree at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music. There he did session recordings in different genres, as well jazz and musical theater gigs. Unfortunately Purchase proved to be the wrong fit, leading to his transfer to University of the Arts where he received a Bachelor’s in Instrumental Performance. Matt is currently a bassist present in the Philly music scene and also performs with various rock, blues, gospel, and folk acts around town.
For over 20 years Ansel Barnum has sucked at the harmonica--and blown too. Breaking its conventions and constraints, he has undertaken this common instrument with uncommon finesse to show how underestimated the little mouth organ is. His tone and chromatic techniques unlock a range of expression that crosses diverse musical borders, from blues to baroque, folk to funk, Celtic to classical, and traditions in between. The versatility has made him a popular in feature in bands of many styles who have welcomed him to stages of all sizes. For an instrument that usually falls in the shadows, Ansel has managed to bring its rich sound into the spotlight.