Ralph Carney's career stretches back to the mid-'70s, when he played with the Akron proto-punks Tin Huey. His musical tastes go back even further. On Seriously, his new album with his group the Serious Jass Project, the saxophonist (who now lives in San Francisco) dusts off mostly obscure jazz cuts from the '30s, '40s, and '50s. "It's a style I've always liked," he says. "Since I moved to California, I'm living in the past. But it's rock & roll. It was dangerous music at the time."
During his 30-plus years of playing, Carney has gigged with everyone from Elvis Costello and the B-52's to Les Claypool and They Might Be Giants. Most famously, he was Tom Waits' sax man on classic albums like Rain Dogs, Bone Machine, and Mule Variations. He still does session work, but his focus these days is on Serious Jass Project, a quartet made up of like-minded musicians from the Bay Area. "There's the bad swing bands, and then there's the Wynton Marsalis super-super-precious re-creations," he says. "I'm somewhere in the middle, I guess. I like avant-garde and Beefheart and stuff that stretches boundaries. But I also like things that give me goosebumps. The songs we play do that to me."
Carney's Akron roots spread to his nephew Patrick, who is one-half of the Black Keys. Ralph played flute on the Keys' 2008 album Attack & Release. (He refers to himself as the "Off-White Key.") He's also participated in Tin Huey reunion shows over the years. In a way, the old-timey jazz music is the line that connects all the dots along the way. Just don't confuse his combo with any of those horny groups made up of marching-band alums that have sprouted in the past 20 years.
"I can see people who aren't really listening, thinking, 'Oh, they're just another Big Bad Voodoo Daddy,'" he says. "It's not that at all. Some of it's the same kind of music, but nobody's required to wear vintage clothes."
SWING STATE: Anne E. DeChant has been in Nashville since 2008, doing the singer-songwriter thing she started here. This weekend she'll return to town for a CD-release show at the Winchester in Lakewood. Her new album, Swing, includes 11 songs that sway through an assortment of styles. The title track sounds like it was made for a late-night infomercial about some self-help product. But things pick up from there with a mix of softly strummed rockers, twangy narratives, and meditative set pieces about love and life. DeChant is always a sure bet onstage, and she'll play with a full band at Friday's show. "It'll be an all-out production," she says.
BIGGER AND DEFFER: Over the past decade or so, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has finally started to catch up on its hip-hop. On Wednesday, November 9, the Hall will host "Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label," a lecture by two guys who started working for the company in 1984, the year it was started. Of course, PR guy Bill Adler and creative director Cey Adams have a new book to promote, but they'll also undoubtedly have some wild stories to share about the early years of the label that released records by everyone from Public Enemy to Jay-Z. The event is free, but you need to RSVP at tickets.rockhall.com.