Music 13: Schankman’s St. Louis: Young Guy, Old Tunes-St. Louis’s Arcadia Dance Orchestra
T.J. Müller is 27 years old, but his favorite music comes from an era almost 100 years old. Müller has been fascinated by the boozy sounds of jazz music from the 1920s ever since he was a boy growing up in England. Two years ago, he decided to take that fascination in a new direction. “I felt it would be incredibly fun to try and put together a group that could, as authentically as possible, recreate (the music of the 1920s) having an 11-piece orchestra playing regularly in St. Louis, playing the exact same sort of music and repertoire you could expect to hear in St. Louis if you were to travel back in time.” Müller called his new group “The Arcadia Dance Orchestra,” named for the long-gone Arcadia Ballroom that once stood in Midtown St. Louis.
At the orchestra’s performances, Müller frequently talks about the history of music in St. Louis during the 1920s as part of his patter between songs. “There is something about the music in the 1920s. I feel like we were moving out of the old world and into the new, so everything is exciting and challenging and urgent,” Müller said.
Though Müller had very little formal music training, he met, and has been mentored by local jazz legend Bill Mason, still playing his coronet at age 90. Müller found an old book about how to arrange music from the 1920s, and he uses it to create the charts the Arcadia Dance Orchestra plays. He also transcribes music from old recordings and has built a few instruments of his own to make the arrangements sound more authentic to the period. “I am trying to make that music more and more specific to St. Louis. I am trying add tunes which I have strong evidence that St. Louis bands were regularly performing and playing and furthermore trying to find tunes composed by St. Louisans,” Müller said. The Arcadia Dance Orchestra plays concerts six to eight concerts at year.