Nobody I know, until I spoke last week with Jorge Kachmari of the Underscore Orkestra, a modern-day gypsy jazz ensemble that is performing one week from today at The Underground in Reno.
Having read about the nomadic tendencies and quirky stylings of The Underscore Orkestra, I asked Kachmari how he ended up with such an eclectic bunch of musicians. This led to his response about joining the circus, something he recounted as matter-of-factly as though he had said he went to the store for bread. That was about eight years ago when he was 22, and when the big top came down and the performers all went their individual ways, Kachmari said he and some of the crew formed a vaudeville-style show. They called themselves Magic Louie’s Nightmare and the ______ Orchestra, since the musical component apparently couldn’t think of an appropriate adjective.
After a year of that he wanted to focus on the music part of the show, so Magic Louie’s Nightmare ended and The Underscore Orkestra was left to tour the country on a bus playing a mix of traditional Balkan, Klezmer, gypsy jazz, early swing tunes and original songs that seem penned by a much older soul. Kachmari said the group has a core of musicians while also incorporating other musicians as needed in the locale of the moment. The core is comprised of Kachmari on violin, guitar, harmonica, piccolo and vocals; Willo Sertain on accordion and vocals; Scott Strobbe on guitar; Danielle Elizabeth Smith on percussion and bellydancing; Joe Correia on sousaphone and bass guitar; Dave Hill on keyboards; and Andrew Alikanov on clarinet.
The group spends about 10 months a year touring – often on a bus that Kachmari converted to run on vegetable oil – and a couple of months resting, planning and recording in Portland, Ore. Working to travel and traveling to work, The Underscore Orkestra performed 88 shows in 90 days last year in the U.S., Kachmari said, and the members also toted their instruments around Europe on bicycles for a few months (with a few train and airplane trips thrown in). Many shows the group plays are booked six months in advance while others are spontaneous street performances, which often are more successful than the formal gigs, Kachmari said.
“We make more money playing in the street in Europe than we do in bars,” he said.
Nobody is in it for the money, however. Being a member of The Underscore Orkestra is more about the adventure, the lifestyle, the here and now. Some members are around for the long haul, while others enjoy coming on board for short stints. Underneath the unwashed exterior is a well-rehearsed musical machine, Kachmari said, but the machine easily adapts to some interchangeable parts.
“I commented about five years ago that I said I’d do it for 10 years and see what happens,” Kachmari said. “I’m not looking back at all.”
The Orkestra supports itself playing anywhere and everywhere from concert halls to farmer’s markets, selling CDs (they’ve released four CDs and the fifth, recorded in January this year, currently is being mixed) and with some grants from the nonprofit World Folk Traditions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development and preservation of world folk traditions through music, dance and performance.
“For all of us, this is about having an adventure, playing music and making people happy,” Kachmari said.
The show on March 8 with My Flag is on Fire starts at 9 p.m. Admission costs $10. The show is for 21 and older. The Underground is located at 555 E. Fourth St. in Reno. For more information, call 786-2582 or visit www.renounderground.com.
For more on The Underscore Orkestra, visit http://theunderscoreorkestra.com, www.reverbnation.com/theunderscoreorkestra or search “Underscore Orkestra” on YouTube.