By Camilla Ffrench
Imagine you are in a large room, colorful patterns projected on the wall, bodies jostling around you in a mosh, the heat and energy rising as the music pounds in your ears. You catch a glimpse of your friend’s face before you are turned around by the crowd, colliding with a stranger. No apologies are made—this is the nature of the mosh.
Now what if I told you that the music you were moshing to wasn’t hardcore punk, wasn’t an upbeat trap song? It was a fusion of jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and funk, played by artists with immense talent.
This is Yesterday’s Swing (IG: @yesterdaysswing), a Brooklyn-band of eight boys, playing at 72 in Tribeca last Friday night, alongside bands On Pink, Blu-Ray Poppin, and Raspberry Jam. This now-close knit group of friends started in 6th period percussion class at Laguardia High School. “Instead of playing our pieces that we were supposed to play, like timpani and snare drum,” Declan described, “we would just jam. There was a piano in the practice room and we would just record on our phones.” Eventually they thought to themselves, “dang, we should start something.” They began posting on YouTube and other parts of the internet—even Google Plus—wanting to share their music.
Yesterday’s Swing began performing strictly jazz and gospel at churches and block parties, and over four years have grown to perform in venues such as BAM, The Bitter End, and Rockwood Music Hall. The most captivating part of watching Yesterday’s Swing perform last week was the reaction from the crowd. The music they perform is unlike today’s pop music, finding inspiration from Snarky Puppy, Robert Glasper, and Fred Hammond to produce their neo-jazz sound. This music style was embraced, and people were exuberant as they danced around to the melody of saxophone, trumpet, and drums.
The band was double booked last weekend, with the 72 performance on Friday and a performance at the Upper West Side Music Festival that Saturday. I was fortunate enough to join them during their practice on Saturday, hearing more of their music and talking about the band.
As the band members were arriving to Declan’s house in Brooklyn for practice, they were hanging out, talking about their night after playing at 72. A few of the boys were taking a cab back home and began talking with the driver about their music. After hijacking the aux and showing him some of Yesterday’s Swing’s stuff, the driver was impressed and thought they were famous. In addition to a hilarious story to tell, the boys got a free ride home.
After hearing the boys play some of their songs, we began to talk about the beginnings of the band. “We have evolved and grown. Before we were just playing the music we knew, but now we know more,” Francisco told me. Yesterday’s Swing writes their own music, as well as does covers of their favorite artists. But as he told me, “It’s never just a cover. We always add our own style.”
To help expose themselves to various audiences and share their music, Yesterday’s Swing often features other students from their school when they have gigs. Once they played with Rachel Resheff, a student who has done Broadway performances. On Friday, they played “Movin’ On” with their “honorary member,” Mercer, a student from the New School. Yesterday’s Swing often goes last at performances, as they did last Friday. However, they like this set-up. As Josh said, “it changes our approach to gigs and we can feed off of the energy of the other bands.”
Though initially started freshman year at Laguardia, Yesterday’s Swing has added members over the years. Before Peter was in the band, he was the sound engineer for Yesterday’s Swing’s first gig at his church. The band is led by Francisco, who thinks the group has helped him grow as a musician. Especially because they all stem from different backgrounds—Declan, Kevon and Alex are “jazzy heads,” Elijah knows hip hop, Francisco, Josh, and Peter started in church, and Justin “is, well, he is just a sponge” with a mostly classical background—the boys all build off of each other’s ideas and styles.
As is often my question with close-knit groups such as Yesterday’s Swing, I asked them about the group dynamic. In terms of music, the boys said that they can pretty quickly come to a consensus. Yet, it is another story when it comes to attire. The boys laughed as they recounted their largest disagreement—over what color ties they should wear for a performance.
In terms of the future, Yesterday’s Swing hopes to continue even next year when they are in college, reuniting during holidays and over the summer to play. Their music is currently available for listening on their website, YouTube, and SoundCloud. Check out some (voice memo quality) recordings below of their practice.
Beyond their incredible talent and love for music, the band spreads the messages of gospel, focusing on peace and positive vibes, especially among the current political climate. Francisco told me, “that’s all I want people to feel—just BE LIT.”
Yesterday's Swing's Favorite Artists:
Cisco - Robert Glasper
Declan - Herbie Hancock
Alex - Tribe
Peter - Fred Hammond
Kevon - Terell Stafford
Elijah - Stevie Wonder ("the greatest songwriter")
Josh - Chris Dave And The Drumhedz
Justin - Trombone Shorty