Sometimes great jazz can be found in the most unexpected places. DeKalb, Illinois, located 90 minutes west of Chicago, may be famous for being the home of Northern Illinois University, a host of cornfields, and the inventor of barbed wire. But it also boasts John Skillman's Barb City Stompers, a lively traditional jazz band that plays at DeKalb's local hangout The House. The group's debut CD, DeKalb Blues, showcases their obvious affection for Dixieland and New Orleans jazz through their charming renditions of standards as well as original music.
The Barb City Stompers consists of clarinetist John Skillman (who also leads the New Orleans Nighthawks and the Coast to Coast Jazz Band, as well as plays in Buck Creek Jazz Band, the Chicago Hot Six, and CamAmGer Jazz Band), trombonist Roy Rubinstein, guitarist Larry Rutan, drummer Aaron Puckett, bassist Roger Hintzsche, and vocalist Diana Skillman. Since 2004, these fans of traditional jazz have performed together, even while its members have played with other bands and hold jobs in various professions. Not surprisingly, two of the Barb City Stompers' members (Puckett and Hintzsche) are graduates of NIU's music school. Each member shines on DeKalb Blues, which breathes new life into classics such as "Yes Sir! That's My Baby," "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, and "My Old Kentucky Home."
John Skillman and Rubinstein duet beautifully on "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," with the notes interweaving with each other. The lone original song, "DeKalb Blues," is a cheerful ode to Dixieland. Puckett shows off his considerable percussion skills on "Hindustan," with Skillman's clarinet punctuating the shuffling beat with his clear, bright solos. "Lady Be Good" also allows Puckett room for some stomping drum solos. Hintzsche plucks the bass with fervor on "Sweet Sue," while Rutan keeps a steady rhythm with his guitar on "I'm Travelin'." "Yes Sir! That's My Baby" features vocalist Diana Skillman, who tries to emulate the growls and sprightly tempo of a twenties-era singer. The musicians are so effective, however, that they do not require a vocalist. The Barb City Stompers really gel on "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," with Rubinstein turning in a joyous saxophone solo.
The final cut, "My Old Kentucky Home," exemplifies traditional jazz, with the band members displaying obvious reverence for the classic. While subtle, the group manages to quietly convey the joy and upbeat tone of the song. John Skillman's clarinet permeates the song, injecting a sense of melancholy into the otherwise sprightly song.
Treasures can be found in the most unlikely places. Indeed, John Skillman's Barb City Stompers are keeping traditional jazz alive a distance from Chicago, and now people do not have to travel to DeKalb to experience their enthusiasm for the music form. Pick up DeKalb Blues and hear Dixieland and New Orleans jazz played expertly by devoted students of both genres.