What is the name of your group?
What Would Mingus Do? (WWMD)
How did the name of the band come about? When did it form?
Charles Mingus was one of the great American composers, and a hero of mine. Mingus was well known for using his bands as laboratories and workshops for his music; I’m trying to emulate that approach.
What Would Mingus Do? started playing around 2005, and had a steady Monday night gig at the Central Park Grill for several years; recently we’ve wrapped up a long run of Mondays at the Allen Street Hardware Cafe.
Who is “What Would Mingus Do?”?
WWMD draws from a small circle of some of the best jazz musicians in Buffalo. Recent performers include:
Kelly Bucheger: leader, alto & tenor saxophones (fielded the interview questions seen here)
Michael McNeill, George Caldwell: piano
Tim Clarke, Mark Filsinger: trumpet & flügelhorn
Phil Sims: trombone
Ron LoCurto, Matt Michaud: guitar
Danny Ziemann, Greg Piontek, Mark Harris, Cameron Kayne: bass
John Bacon, Darryl Washington, Russ Algera: drums
Where are you from originally?
I moved here from Minneapolis, after my wife got a job here. (I came here against my will, but I *love* it here now!)
Is your family musical?
My mother plays piano and is an excellent singer. We always had an eclectic selection of music playing around the house: a little bit of jazz, a lot of classical, a lot of Barbra Streisand…
When and why did you start playing?
I was 11 or 12. My mom asked me if I’d like to play in the school band. It had never occurred to me, but it sounded like it might be fun.
What was the first tune that you remember “really” playing well, when you knew that you would be a musician?
I’m guessing “Hot Cross Buns” or “Mary Had A Little Lamb” — I really nailed that material!
Describe your first instrument.
An ugly greenish student alto sax built like a tank. I had wanted a trumpet, but the horn my folks had ordered from the Sears catalog never arrived.
Are you schooled in music? From where?
I studied music at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul).
Which famous musicians do you admire?
Mingus, of course. After that, too many to mention…
Where is your favorite place to play/sing in Buffalo?
The brand spanking new Pausa Art House is a lovely space with great acoustics and a real grand piano — pretty hard to top that!
During our glorious springs and summers, outdoor events like the summer jazz series outside the Albright-Knox, and the new Music at the Ruins series at Canalside are really lovely and glorious gigs.
Where would you most like to play/sing in Buffalo?
I’ve been fortunate to play all over town. The Buffalo gig I’d most like to play doesn’t exist yet: a large, thriving Buffalo Jazz Festival along the lines of what they do in Rochester. With Buffalo’s amazing jazz heritage, that should be happening here!
How would you describe your music style? Influences?
WWMD plays original jazz: it’s good stuff, it’s fresh, it swings, it kicks your butt, and you haven’t heard it before!
My first and primary saxophone influence is Sonny Rollins.
Even though I’m from the Midwest, my most important teacher and mentor was a Buffalo native: John Radd (he changed his name from John Radominski). I first worked with him when I was a kid at a summer music camp in Wisconsin, and he later recruited me to study with him at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Very much of who I am today as a musician comes from his work with me. I regret that he passed long before I moved to Buffalo, and long before I had any notion I’d one day be living in his hometown!
(Surprisingly, my college saxophone professor, Robert Samarotto, ALSO had a Western New York connection: he got his degree from Fredonia, and did his student teaching at Maryvale High School in Cheektowaga!)
How often and for how long do you practice?
If I don’t have the horn on my face for at least an hour a day, I’m no fun to be around. I try to shoot for 2 hours or more; occasionally that actually happens!
Sometimes, like when I’m composing, the horn will be neglected — and then I like to make a point of wallowing in guilt and self-loathing, until my wife tells me to knock it off.
Where do you practice?
In my basement, next to the litter box.
Do you play covers?
No: What Would Mingus Do? only plays originals penned by members of the band.
Who writes the music and the lyrics?
I write most of the stuff we play, but we also occasionally perform tunes by Michael McNeill, Tim Clarke, and some of the other folks in the group.
If you could play for one famous person, who would that be?
Actually, I’d much rather play for knowledgeable, passionate jazz fans!
What are your strengths?
I’m a good composer. The main thing, when it comes to music: I’m persistent. After moving here, it took me a while to elbow my way into the Buffalo jazz scene — I keep on pushing and shoving long past the point where some folks would bag it.
What are your weaknesses?
I’m lazy. I’m a procrastinator. I constantly feel guilty that I’m not as efficient with my time and as productive as I’d like to be.
Do you have a label? A recording studio? Have you recorded a CD?
I released my first CD exactly 20 years ago, with The Illicit Sextet, a group I co-founded in Minneapolis. Last year I released my first CD under my own name, “House of Relics.” It’s available from the usual suspects: Amazon, iTunes.
You can also listen to it and order an actual CD or download it from my Bandcamp site: kellybucheger.bandcamp.com. When you order the physical CD directly from Bandcamp, I personally take it to the post office and send it to you, and I personally send you happy feelings and warm fuzzies and good vibes and wholesome affection!
Where and when is your next gig?
WWMD plays the 1st & 3rd Thursdays of each month at Pausa, starting at 8PM, so we have upcoming gigs there on 5/16, 6/6, 6/20, etc. (We’ll be off on July 4th.)
I’m very excited that we’ll also once again be playing at the Music at the Ruins series at Canalside, on Monday, June 24th, starting at 7PM.
I’ve been a published writer and reviewer of jazz for more than two decades. My blog Harder Bop was cited by NPR’s “A Blog Supreme,” and the celebrated jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater featured my brief memoir “James Carter Ruined My Life” on her NPR show “JazzSet.”
Sound clips can be found at my Bandcamp site, cited above. Harder Bop (harderbop.com), includes a listing of upcoming WWMD performances, along with additional sound clips and articles for jazz geeks.
Photo credits: headshot – D. Hovland | a photo of the WWMD line-up that performs on the CD and will be performing at Music at the Ruins (pictured left to right: Danny Ziemann, Russ Algera, Michael McNeill, Kelly Bucheger, Tim Clarke; credit: Sam Algera | a What Would Mingus Do? poster (painting by Harold Smith); and the cover from the “House of Relics” CD (credit: Kelly Bucheger).
If you play in a group/band (or solo) here in Buffalo, and have an upcoming gig at a venue(s) in the city, consider sending Buffalo Rising an email requesting to be emailed a Q&A interview that we can then post, along with concert dates. It’s a fun and easy way to get your name in front of another audience that is interested in learning about the local music scene.
The requirements are:
-You must have a public show coming up in the city of Buffalo, as our focus is the urban landscape
-You must have a photo of the band
-Solo acts are also welcome
-Video is a plus
-CD/Album/poster art is welcome
-Links to Social Media sites are a bonus
-Ability to take accept both praise and/or criticism is a must
It is up to the discretion of Buffalo Rising whether or not to publish the interviews depending on nature of content submitted, or lack thereof.
Please send requests here. Include “Sounds of Buffalo” in the subject box of the email.