For a Good Time, Call The Poudre River Irregulars

The Poudre River Irregulars Jazz Band. Photo courtesy of the band's Facebook.
Photo courtesy of The Poudre River Irregulars.

Meet The Poudre River Irregulars Jazz Band. Based out of Fort Collins, this high-energy band has been entertaining audiences and keeping feet tapping for almost as long as jazz has existed…almost. If you’re into dancing and having a good time, there’s a pretty decent chance you’re already well acquainted with these guys, but if you’re not yet, you can get acquainted at their next show at Avogadro’s Number on Friday, January 6 at 4 pm. New Scene had the pleasure of catching up with band leader Lenny Kellogg and the rest of the crew to find precisely what makes them so irregular.

NEW SCENE: I read online that your brand of jazz music is defined as true traditional jazz: New Orleans to New York. For readers (and myself) who might not be as experienced with all the variations of jazz music, can you compare your sound/music to any well-known musicians to help put that into perspective?

PRI: First off: Jazz was never created to be an art form, or to be analyzed, but plenty of people have spent huge amounts of time doing just that. Back in the day, musicians played what they felt/knew to get people to listen and dance.  The musicians and composers all wanted a paycheck because that meant they got to eat; pretty straightforward.  So a short answer to a complicated question:  with a modern perspective, we can look back and see that the early jazz style–jazz music created from 1910 or so to about 1942–can be classified as traditional jazz, AKA Dixieland, or early Swing which gave way to the Big Band Era. Modern jazz has its sound and purpose and has been evolving since 1942. However, both trad & modern jazz have been evolving since jazz became popular (and thus famous) in the early 1900s.  That evolution is part of our moniker;  True traditional jazz from New Orleans to New York.  New Orleans, Chicago, the West Coast, and New York all had/have a particular sound that is a variation of traditional jazz.
NEW SCENE: Do you play primarily originals, covers, or a good variety of both?PRI: All of our tunes are originals, and they have been covered multiple times over the decades.  The tunes that were created in Tin Pan Alley or Broadway may vary some in substance from those created by the early New Orleans bands & their leaders/composers, but all of it is excellent music.  Our purpose is to go back and retrieve as many old tunes as we can because there are thousands of old tunes that are GREAT but haven’t been heard lately.

NEW SCENE: I also read online that the band’s been in existence since 1994/95, but you (Lenny Kellogg) took over as band leader in 2010. How much (if at all) did the band’s direction change during that time? Aside from Bob Cooke stepping down, is it all the same members from about 1995?

PRI: When I took over the band at the end of 2010, my mission was to continue the wild and woolly music at Avogadro’s Number.  Sadly, Bob Cooke, Neal Strand, Bob Jackson, and other founders have gone to the Great Jam Session in the sky. We don’t have any of the original members left in the band, but we do have a few alumni who are fans & supporters. From 2011 to about 2014, we played some musical chairs with players in /out of the band, but we have stabilized since then, and the players you see on our website have been very regular for nearly a decade.  But let’s recognize our Ace Clarinet player Clark Burnside who has been with the band since 2001 and is the closest thing we have to an original member. As for the band’s direction: I would say we have expanded the repertoire since I took over and enlisted the help of stellar musicians to bring us tunes and arrangements.  When we find a great tune by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, or George Gershwin, or Bix Beiderbeck, there are bound to be more where that came from.  We have delved deeply into the old recordings to find more obscure but fabulous tunes recorded by the masters.  We will be back at the Evergreen Jazz Festival this summer (2023) and plan to bring our “A” list of tunes and musical history to that audience.  Come see us!

NEW SCENE: And speaking of members, how many are there, and what’s everyone’s name? Follow-up question: if you were all stranded on a desert island, what’s the consensus as to who would be last to survive and why?PRI: Clark Burnside plays clarinet and soprano sax, Charlie Smith and Larry Lagerberg play trumpet/Flugel horn, and both contribute vocals. Ray Leake plays piano, sings, and contributes charts and arrangements.  Rory Thomas plays Banjo; Alan Sparks plays bass, and Oscar Desoto plays drums.  Len Kellogg is the ringmaster, and announcer, plays trombone, and occasionally sings.  And we would never get stranded on a deserted island: we’d, make it a new hang-out for the band to play at.

NEW SCENE: You have your show coming up at one of Fort Collins’s best spots in town, Avogadro’s Number, on Jan. 6, which I understand is a main hub for the band. I was wondering since you’re all based in Fort Collins, a place that has no shortage of great music venues, is there anywhere else folks can look forward to watching you perform?PRI: Avo’s has been our musical backer & home since the first gig there in 1995.  Owner Rob Osborn and his staff have been terrific supporters all those years.  PRI plays plenty of casual gigs around Ft Collins, but we don’t have a second home. Fred Smith, webmaster extraordinaire, does a terrific job maintaining our website, so all a jazz fan needs to do is check out prijb.com. We are currently working on a monthly venue in Loveland, but no firm commitments yet.

NEW SCENE: I apologize in advance because I ask every band this question, but I’m always fascinated with how bands decide upon their names; I feel like coming up with the name must be half the fun of being in a band. How did the name The Poudre River Irregulars come about?

PRI: Our Founder Bob Cooke helped start several bands;  he was instrumental (pun intended) in helping form the Queen City Jazz Band when he lived in Denver and The Platte River Jazz Band when he lived in Littleton.  When he moved to Ft Collins, he started the Poudre River Irregulars.  “Poudre River” is pretty obvious, but the members of the band in the early days used a revolving door, so you never really knew who was going to be on a gig except for Bob Cooke.  Hence, initially, the cast was pretty “Irregular.”

NEW SCENE: With a new year quickly approaching, are there any plans for new music or albums on the horizon?

PRI: Our latest album, “Friends & Phat Swallers,” was produced during the pandemic and is a very true picture of our group and what happens at Avo’s, musically.  When we perform at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, it will be our fourth or fifth trip there since 2013.  I have contacted Dan Barrett (world-famous musician, trombone & trumpet, and arranger) for several new tunes for us to include @ EJF.  Our Jazz club members bring tunes for us to try out and Ray Leake, our pianist, creates many arrangements for us.  We don’t have a new album on the horizon yet, but with all the new music coming in, we will have plenty to look through for the next album.

NEW SCENE: Lastly, for anyone who might not yet have been fortunate enough to catch you guys playing live, in three words or less, how might you describe that experience?PRI: New Orleans Jazz Live!  Sorry, that is four words…..

In addition to the website, visit The Poudre River Irregulars Jazz Band on Facebook to stay in the know on when to go see these guys do what they do best.

Did you like what you just read?

Show your support for Local Journalism by helping us do more of it. It's a kind and simple gesture that will help us continue to bring stories like this to you.

Click to Donate