In the world of cannabis, jazz may not be the first thing that immediately comes to mind. But why not? After all, jazz and cannabis commonly went hand-in-hand in the heyday of the genre. La Pompe Jazz is a band that is well aware of the historical roots of cannabis, and band members celebrate that fact every chance they get, by covering cannabis classics and other songs that celebrate the plant. Playing a classic, fun and funky style of jazz inspired by the roaring 1920s and early days of jazz, La Pompe Jazz finds a very relevant place among the vibrant world of Denver’s music scene. The band frequently collaborates with other local musicians and play shows, contributing to the myriad of nightlife and entertainment in the city. CULTURE spoke to the entire jazz band about cannabis, creativity and music.
Who all is in the band, and who does what?
The band members are Erik Fellenstein (violin), David Lawrence (guitar/vocals), Andrew Hannum (guitar) and Kevin Laxar (upright bass).
Do you have anything exciting coming up that you want to announce?
David Lawrence: 3dB Studios awarded us with the Westword Music Showcase Producers’ choice award. With this comes a studio-recorded EP. We will be releasing this all-original EP at Dazzle at Baur’s Jazz Club [in Denver] on December 13. This will be an intimate performance. Also, we are really looking forward to our 3rd Annual Speakeasy Soirée. We will be collaborating with the phenomenal singer Sweet B, drummer Jill Frederickson and other Denver swing superstars. This event is at The Hangar at Stanley [in Aurora] and features vintage vendors, craft cocktails, and swing dancing. It’s gonna be a party!
How do you feel about cannabis legalization in Denver so far? What could be done better or differently?
Kevin Laxar: In principle, I am absolutely in favor of legalization. In practice, I think it’s been a bit of a learning experience for the city. I don’t follow all the nuances of the legal battles. I’m legally allowed to walk into a store and buy a joint, and that’s good enough for me, but I do think there are still some wrinkles to iron out. Mostly, I just wish it would finally get decriminalized at a federal level.
How has cannabis influenced your life and/or your creative process?
Andrew Hannum: Cannabis can definitely be an inspiration to creativity, though exactly how is different every time. It might just be the thing that motivates you to want to write or to want to play at all, or it could be the spark that gives you that one great idea that you just have to get down before you lose it. If nothing else it seems like a good way to get yourself to think outside the box, and to explore ideas that you wouldn’t have explored otherwise. It can be good at helping you look at old ideas with fresh perspective, and to be open to thinking about things differently than you normally would.
You just covered a song about cannabis. Tell us about that, as well as any other time you have included cannabis in your music as a theme.
Lawrence: There is a solid tradition of cannabis-related music in jazz. They had tons of fun names for cannabis and people who smoke. “Vipers” was one of the most common names for someone that smokes, which is seen in the titles of two songs we play, “If you’se a Viper” and “Viper’s Dream.” Louis Armstrong also liked calling marijuana “Tea,” “Gage” or “Muggles,” which is alluded to in another song we perform called “I’se a Muggin’.” We are having fun performing the Stuff Smith song “If you’se a Viper.” With lines like, “Talk about a reefer five feet long/not too fat and not too strong,” or “Now I’m the king of everything/got to get high before I swing/light some tea and you will see/If you’se a viper,” the lyrics are certainly not hiding anything!
For those interested in listening to La Pompe’s newest song, check out this exclusive look at “Yous a Viper,” an upbeat tune about using cannabis and enjoying life!