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Thar they blow! Band blends sea shanties and jazz

Song of the sea: Saxaphonist Jeff Lederer founded sea shanty group the Brooklyn Blowhards.
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This band can really whale!

A group of musical mariners will perform songs of the sea atop a historical shipping barge anchored in the waters off Red Hook on July 23. The Brooklyn Blowhards is a local band that combines jazz with sea shanties — the songs that 19th century whalers belted out to coordinate work on their giant vessels, said the group’s founder.

“It’s functional work songs that were used by laborers on maritime vessels,” said Jeff Lederer. “The ones I like are ones that were sung on whaling ships, literally used to coordinate the timing of the pulling of ropes that were essential in setting the sails on large sailing vessels and a lot of other jobs — join that with a so-called free jazz background.”

The combination is, he admits “a very unlikely pairing.”

The July 23 performance at the Waterfront Barge Museum is also a tribute to Lederer’s musical icon Albert Ayler — an American avant-garde jazz saxophonist, singer, and composer — who drowned in the waters off Red Hook.

“For 20 years I’ve been exploring his music and combining it with different things. He actually, in a very horrible and untimely death, drowned in New York Harbor very close to the barge,” said Lederer. “This is my love song to Albert, intertwined with the tragedy in his death in the sea.”

The Windsor Terrace sax player has never hoisted a harpoon on a whaling ship himself, but Lederer fell in love with the songs that came off whaling vessels, and he found a similar rhythm in Ayler’s music, he said.

“In listening to his music for a long time, I heard the sound of the sea in his music, heard the churning sound of the sea, and I decided to explore that in this weird post-modern pairing of shanties and jazz, and it came up with good results,” said Lederer.

The Brooklyn Blowhards — a group of nine soulful seafarers — is unlike most other shanty bands, which tend to play a capella. Instead the group gets its folk sound from four horns, two saxophones, an accordion, and two percussionists, said Lederer, who also sings with his wife and fellow band member, Mary LaRose.

“The sounds are pretty different than traditional jazz music, maybe related in a way to authentic traditional sea shanty,” he said. “My wife sings, and I sing a little bit but it’s more instrument­al.”

The group is excited to play on Brooklyn’s waterfront, said Lederer.

“It’s really a magical place and has a tremendous history — it’s an incredible magical maritime history,” he said. “And our group fits in very well with that.”

The Brooklyn Blowhards at the Waterfront Barge Museum [290 Conover St. between Reed Street and the waterfront in Red Hook, www.waterfrontmuseum.org, (718) 624–4719]. July 23 at 8 pm. $15.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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