"Boise is in a rut," Carl Holmes said.
Military man Holmes, the organ player and vocalist for the five-piece jazz combo The B3 Side, feels that the music scene in Boise is anemic at best and prejudiced at worst—prejudiced against jazz musicians like himself who bring a vintage, mellow sound to an all rock-and-roll music culture.
"I feel like we're listening to the same music every night but there's different faces doing it," said Holmes. He sees his band, and others like it, as the remedy for Boise's homogeneity, if they could only get a fair shake at the publicity that other acts get.
The B3 Side formed over the period of a few years. Holmes began jamming with assorted jazz musicians in Mountain Home four or five years ago. Eventually, the jams turned into gigs, and gigs required a band name. It wasn't until a New Year's Eve show at Bardenay two years ago that the current lineup clicked into place.
Holmes said that was the night they realized they suited each other. Every member of the band brought professional experience. Holmes has a deep history of bebop, gospel, blues and jazz. Saxophonist Dean Jennings studied jazz with trumpet and flugelhorn player Jim Kloss at University of North Texas. John Jones, a military man like Holmes, played in the 25th Army Band for 20 years and plays guitar, along with singing most of the band's vocals. Scott Reussuer is the only full-time professional musician in the band. Holmes said that Reussuer's drumming is as steady as a metronome.
"Scotty is like the rock of Gibraltar. He and I are the foundation of the group," said Holmes. The other members have kept up full-time jobs in addition to their music.
The B3 Side has always begun and ended with Holmes and his Hammond B3 organ. The instrument was created in the 1940s to be a less-expensive version of the pipe organ for churches. And according to Hammond-Organ.com, by the 1960s and 1970s, it was a standard in blues, jazz and rock music.
Though Holmes gravitated to the organ as he got older, he rejected it when his father bought it for him as a child. Now that Holmes is 65 years old, the organ is easier on his arthritic hands than the piano and brings a distinctive sound. Though the B3 is often imitated today with expensive synthesizers, they still don't replace the presence of a vintage Hammond organ onstage.
Tampa Bay native Jenny Atkinson, who came to see their show at Ha' Penny Bridge Pub on February 21, was entranced by the organ. "I've never seen an instrument like that in a bar," she said.
The band often compares their music to that of Jimmy Smith, the frontman of a B3 organ trio throughout the 1970s, but, truly, their music is almost impossible to place. They carelessly flit between big-band hits, funk, rock, blues, fusion and classic jazz. While enjoying a drink between sets at Ha' Penny, Kloss and Jennings tried to count their repertoire.
"Around 60 to 80 songs," they agreed. "We play everything from James Brown to Green Dolphin Streak."
That night, with Dan Costello stepping in for Jones on guitar and vocals, the band played stunning versions of Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy." Holmes dedicated "Pride and Joy" to the ladies in the room and sang it out with a seasoned, buttery voice.
The songs are loosely structured, giving the musicians a lot of room to flex their instrumental muscles. Costello admitted that the group has never had a rehearsal, and plays the songs more by feel than following any sort of musical road map.
"We aren't trying to machine gun, spit polish the music," said Costello. The performance is intuitive. They push the boundaries of well-known songs, waiting to stumble across a moment of inspirational magic.
The crowd at Ha' Penny was sparse and congregated at the bar and the TVs, far from the stage. They seemed to take advantage of the series of improvised jazz and blues standards like one takes advantage of an excellent movie soundtrack, reveling in the ambience the music creates without necessarily regarding the expertise of the musicians behind the mood.
Nate Karl, 26, was one of those watching TV at the bar while sipping a beer. "I don't know if it's jazz or blues," Karl said, "but I like that you see a variety of instruments onstage. The music is relaxing, and I can still have a conversation and listen to them."
The band doesn't have much visual impact. They have clearly not set out to look trendy or make a statement. In his tracksuit, Holmes takes on the appearance of a slightly bad-tempered Mr. Rogers—until he sits down at his organ. Then, his feet dance across the bass pedals, his fingers scale the keys, and his expressions follow the story of the song—revealing the heart of a man who is incomplete without music.
At midnight when the band finished, the venue was almost empty. The saxophone player had already gone home, so the remaining four packed up the equipment. Holmes, still recovering from surgery for prostate cancer, helped lift his 400 lb. Hammond organ offstage and into a custom trailer, and drove it all the way back to Mountain Home in the early hours of the morning, only to drive it to Sun Valley the next day. He may be a tough, opinionated guy, but the sacrifices he has made to play music are impressive.
"It's not about the money. I don't need the money. I want to play. I don't have to play," said Holmes.
The B3 Side performs Feb. 29 at Sockeye Grill and Brewery, 3019 N. Cole Rd., 208-658-1533.