Music academia can be a restless cauldron, with young talents swapping bandmates the way most college kids swap bed buddies. And like the bed buddies, most musicians that age are still figuring out how it works.
When the Dan White Sextet bubbled out of Ohio State’s music department a little more than two years ago, the ambitious young combo at least knew what it didn’t want to be.
“I really don’t want someone to even consider this as background music,” said White, the boy-next-door-looking saxophonist and bandleader.
They’d accomplish that goal not by cranking up the volume, but by veering their jazzy originals in directions that catch listeners off guard — directions like, say, releasing an album of children’s music reinvented from the ground up.
Play, the group’s second LP, was released Tuesday. Its concept: Take songs everybody knows — kids’ songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” folk tunes like “Yankee Doodle,” holiday classics like “Away In a Manger” — and conceive new arrangements that reimagine the source material so radically that they scan as originals.
“It’s such a simple framework,” trombonist and beatboxer Chris Ott said. “There’s so much space for creativity.”
Thus, “Ring Around the Rosie” spirals from moody morning music into free-spirited solos. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” features a rap verse from EOP’s Eric Rollin. A skronking, beatboxing take on “Pop Goes the Weasel” stretches the definition of “pop.”
It’s inventive stuff, and it’s not the first example of DW6 finding fresh ways to present its ideas. The group filmed the live takes for its debut album, New York Sessions, and posted the entire record to YouTube as video.
DW6 will celebrate Play Saturday at Brothers Drake with support from Brooklyn’s Manner Effect. Speaking of support: The record wouldn’t have happened without more than $6,000 in Kickstarter donations and a student project grant from Ohio State, where trumpet/sousaphone maestro Jon Lampley was still enrolled at the time.
The college era is ending, though, and DW6 has grown up into much more than a hobby. For core members White, Lampley and Ott, the band is now a full-time job, although all the players also cull income from performing with other groups (Lampley is a touring member of O.A.R.) and teaching music. More extensive tour plans are in the works, and the members moved in together, a gesture of practicality and solidarity.
A band bent on crossing musical boundaries now faces frontiers of the career variety. Its next expectation to confound: the one where college bands fizzle out in the real world and dreams are perpetually deferred. In DW6’s case, the glory days might very well still be forthcoming.