Steamboat audiences may be confused initially when Swingshift takes the stage. At first, the band looks strangely similar to the Steamboat Jazz Quartet, a jazz standards combo that disappeared from area stages sometime last winter.
Despite the fact that Swingshift shares several of the old Jazz Quartet members, this group is experimenting in a completely different direction.
What: Swingshift, local Latin Jazz acoustic combo When: 10 p.m. to midnight Saturday Where: Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, 628 Lincoln Ave. No cover.
This group is heading south.
Swingshift plays Afro-Cuban jazz and swing with an ear toward getting people out of their seats and onto the dance floor.
"We had a focus shift. We want to play music you can move to -- something you can party to," band member Andy Pratt said.
On the set list are classic jazz standards such as "Summertime," (played with a Salsa feel), "Song for my Father" and Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas."
"The Jazz Quartet played some of the same songs, but these obviously have a different feel to them," Pratt said.
Pratt was introduced to Afro-Cuban music by listening to master conguero Poncho Sanchez. Pratt followed Sanchez's musical trail to other musicians.
Caston also is a longtime Afro-Cuban jazz fan who introduced other Swingshift members to obscure corners of the genre, but Pratt gives the most credit to local pianist Paul Potyen for his instruction.
Potyen sat in with the Steamboat Jazz Quartet for a brunch gig more than a year ago.
"I learned more from that gig than from anything else," Pratt said. "Paul really opened my eyes. He's a monster. Sam and I had to block him out, because some of the lines he was throwing out were so off and out there."
Potyen played with salsa bands for decades in the Bay Area, and members of the quartet asked him to share his knowledge. Potyen sat in on the piano, and Pratt moved to the percussions. Potyen taught the group some simple Afro-Cuban and Brazilian tunes.
"This kind of music is very sophisticated rhythmically, which is why jazz musicians are attracted to it," Potyen said.
Pratt said Potyen helped free up his playing by telling him to use his ears and not get caught up in the technicalities.
"I always wanted explanations of why things were done," Pratt said.
Although the musical progression has been developing since that gig with Potyen, the birth of Swingshift as a band began sometime this summer, on the deck of Freshies. Members Dan Isbell, Sam Caston, Pat Gagnebin and Pratt have all played together during the years in various combinations such as Flashback, Koniko, Bodacious Tatas and the Jazz Quartet.
During the summer, with Isbell on trumpet, Caston on congas and Pratt on keyboard, they played a weekly gig at Freshies under the name Audio Example 51. Gagnebin occasionally sat in on tenor saxophone. Members shared duty on the shaker and the cowbell.
"In the past, we were just jamming at Sam's house, and we decided that we might as well get something to eat out of it," Pratt said.
Because all the musicians have been playing together for years, the band doesn't spend much time rehearsing.
"This group is super casual," said Pratt. "We know these tunes, and we can feel where the end is coming or we can communicate the end of a solo.
"And the fun part is someone can throw a curve ball into the sound and we can follow it."
The comfort level is helpful, considering Isbell lives in Boulder where he is working on a doctorate in music education.
Swingshift played its first public gig Sept. 18 at the Rio Grande Mexican restaurant and will play at the Rio again Saturday. Although the group plans to be a regular fixture at the Rio, the members are looking for gigs at venues all over town.