One of the great perks of living near Washington Square Park is its wonderful and ever-changing collection of live musicians. From fifty-something black guys singing a cappella doo-wop to nineteen year-old NYU music majors performing covers of early Bob Dylan on acoustic guitars, the park has something to appeal to every musical taste, but the by far the best group to perform in Washington Square Park is the New Orleans jazz group Loose Marbles.
Loose Marbles is a group of fifteen jazz musicians, whose instrumentation runs the gamut from the standard clarinet, trumpet, banjo and accordion to the rare, but authentically Dixieland washboard, stand-up bass (made from a broom handle and string) and thimble percussion. In case you've never seen it, thimble percussion consists of a musician, wearing thimbles on all ten fingers, who taps out percussion on a series of pots and upside-down pie dishes, which are usually arranged on a wooden board, held across the lap. It sounds goofy, but in person its sound is clear and surprisingly loud, and the effect is mesmerizing.
The musicians of Loose Marbles usually split into two groups, which play on opposite ends of the park for an hour or so, before joining forces to play as a large ensemble. Their songs are Dixieland jazz from the 20's and 30's, with a strong cajun influence - think of the stuff that ends up on the soundtracks to Woody Allen movies. The band mainly consists of shaggy, unshaven white guys in their mid-to-late thirties, and their singer, Meschiya Lake, needs to be heard to be believed. Earlier this year, The New Yorker's Dan Baum sang their praises in his running "New Orleans Journal" feature.
The band is based out of New Orleans and New York City, though they tour extensively. Their cd, "Balls Out," is pretty hard to find; I purchased my copy directly from the band during the intermission of one of their Washington Square Park shows. I'll make a copy of it for you if you'd like. In the meantime, check out these unbelievably sweet videos:
Loose Marbles at New York City's Washington Square Park:
Loose Marbles in New Orleans' French Quarter:
Loose Marbles in New Orleans' Jackson Square: