Pesky J. Nixon's original sound comes to campus

Ethan Baird '02 will be jamming with current faculty, students

Pesky J. Nixon

Eric Chasalow, a composer known for combining traditional instruments with computer-generated sounds, marked Sept. 17 on his calendar when he heard that folk band Pesky J. Nixon would play on campus that night.

Chasalow had been hearing their music on the radio for about a year, and appreciated their three-part harmonies and the simplicity of their songs.

“They have a very cool sound, a lot of variety,” says Chasalow, the Irving Fine Professor of Music. “It’s easy to write simple things that are not very interesting, but I admire simplicity when it works.”

He was further tickled when he and his wife Barbara Cassidy MA ’98 of The Barbara Cassidy Band were asked to perform with Pesky J. Nixon. He quickly shot off an email complimenting their music and agreeing to play.

“I don’t think he knew it was me,” says the email recipient, Chasalow's former student Ethan Baird ’02, guitarist and vocalist for Pesky J. Nixon. "He may have thought there was a guy named J. Nixon. That’s a wonderful moment for a student, even 10 years removed.”

Baird, who studied music and English at Brandeis, was also a member of the a cappella group Spur of the Moment. Highlights during his time with them included a fifth-place finish in national competition, performing for former President Bill Clinton and opening for folk hero Pete Seeger.

In Pesky J. Nixon, Baird, Jake Bush, Dan Carp and Eric MacDonald play zydeco-style accordion, virtuosic mandolin, tribal percussion and a variety of other string instruments that helped generate buzz for their 2010 album “Monkey Business and Mislaid Hopes.” Baird describes their music as Americana with '60s folk music and blues influences. The band plays mostly original music, sprinkled with covers by musicians its members know, and whose music they want to help disseminate.

The show is being billed as a hootenanny, an informal gathering with folk music, which Baird says is an appropriate description. The idea is to get as many people involved as possible. It will bring together an undergraduate alum, a graduate alum, a current faculty member and ​current students in the a cappella group Starving Artists.

“At least within the community we perform in, making sure our performances are about inclusion is important,” Baird says. “It’s folk music, so a sing-along is almost a contractual obligation.

“Plus, getting 14 people to sing back-up for you is kind of nice,” he adds with a laugh, referring to Starving Artists.

Chasalow says Pesky J. Nixon’s feelings toward inclusion are not surprising.

“It’s a very generous way of making music, which is really the way they are in the world,” Chasalow says.

For Chasalow’s part, he says he has recently returned to writing folk songs – a format he had abandoned years ago because he struggled with lyrics – as he prepared to teach the course “The Beatles: From Yesterday to Tomorrow Never Knows." Now, his wife takes care of the words and The Barbara Cassidy Band will perform a brief, four-song set, two traditional and two original. But come Saturday, the two bands and the a cappella group will figure out how to integrate one another into each other’s sets.

The Hootenanny with Pesky J. Nixon will take place in Slosberg Music Hall on Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20; $15 for Brandeis community and seniors; $5 for students, and can be purchased online or by phone at (781) 736-3400.

Categories: Alumni, Arts

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