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Party animals: Furry ragtime band Xylopholks tours Brooklyn

Furtastic: The Xylopholks have been playing ragtime tunes while wearing animal costumes on the city’s streets and subways for almost a decade.
Brooklyn Paper
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Come fur the ragtime!

Brooklyn’s own fuzzy novelty jazz band Xylopholks, which plays tunes from the Roaring ’20s while its members dress in animal costumes, will soon play two gigs in the borough: at a kid-friendly “Ghouls and Gourds” Halloween party on Oct. 27, and at a swank fund-raiser for the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music on Nov. 8. The Kensington xylophonist behind the band said that he was inspired to form the act in 2009, after spotting a group of sports mascots in Mexico.

“I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if they were also mariachis or something,’ ” said Jon Singer, who performs in a skunk costume and goes by the name Skunky.

Singer has a doctorate in ragtime music of the early 20th century, but wanted something to set himself apart when taking the old-timey sounds to the streets.

“I didn’t know if I was going to go for a tuxedo or a cookie monster,” he said. “There was a whole resurgence of this music, with Gatsby parties and all. I thought it would be interesting to go in a different direction.”

Xylopholks started playing its jolly music in the subways of Manhattan, with Singer dressed as Cookie Monster from “Sesame Street.” He was joined by Pinky, a pink gorilla, and Dog, a dog. The cast has since changed and grown into a 10-piece, adding more notables from the animal kingdom, including a lobster, a cat, and a dalmatian.

The costumes fit well with the lighthearted style of music, and also make the band more approachable, Singer said.

“I’m very serious about that music, so I can’t take myself that seriously,” he said. “When we’re playing on the subway, you have this one-on-one relationship with the audience, you really try to brighten their day.”

The animal suits also allow the band members to remain relatively anonymous, which is rare for street musicians trying to make a name for themselves, according to Singer.

“I like the anonymity, because so much street music in New York is hustling to get your name our there but with this band, instead of Jon Singer, Jon Singer, Jon Singer, I’m Skunky,” he said.

The memorable group quickly gained local fame, said Singer.

“If you stand on 42nd Street for 20 hours a week people will start to say ‘Hey are you that skunk that plays xylophone?’ ” Singer said.

Xylopholks at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s “Ghouls and Gourds” festival at the Hayloft Stage [990 Washington Ave., at Classon Avenue in Prospect Park, (718) 623–7200, www.bbg.org]. Oct. 27 at noon, the band plays from 12:30–1:30 pm. $20 ($15 students and seniors).

And at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s “House Party” fund-raiser [58 Seventh Ave. at Lincoln Place in Park Slope, (718) 622–3300, www.bkcm.org]. Nov. 8 at 6:30-9:30 pm. $250.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 12:02 am, October 24, 2018
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