Last November, I wandered into the Ruby Room in Hillcrest on a Tuesday evening and had an instant oh-shit moment. Oh shit, I remember thinking when I heard the free-jazz trio onstage shift seamlessly between Röyksopp’s “Remind Me” and a Nirvana cover amid frenzied, improvised jams carried by percussion that often lapsed into volleys of electronic-style drum-and-bass and breakbeats. Who are these guys, and where have they been hiding?
They turned out to be Harley’s Monster, three SDSU students and alumni who also play as the Beef Wellingtons, bLUMPy, the Purple Headed Yogurt Slingers, and a few other impromptu titles, and when they’re not sitting in on paid gigs, they’re jamming at bassist Harley Magsino and key-beast Kris Korsgaden’s house in San Carlos.
“It started when Harley got a new camera for Christmas,” says Kris, who began filming weekly “Shits and Giggles” jam sessions a few months ago. “It doesn’t really matter that it’s all improvised because we’re all playing on a level where we can just get together and play without rehearsing. There are a lot of guys who play a lot of different stuff on a level that’s just absolutely ridiculous. There are world-class players in San Diego.”
I hung out and helped film a few Shits and Giggles sessions and saw that Kris wasn’t exaggerating about the gathering’s caliber of musicianship. Someone would throw out a lick, someone else would respond with a bass line or guitar hook, the drums would shuffle their way in, and in no time the group had built a song in spur-of-the-moment lingo:
“Four bars of ‘Easy Street,’ break, and bring it back to ‘Bebop Head’ for two. That’s it. Swing out the fill, and meet me on the ‘and’ of three. Nice.”
The sessions are recorded on computer software, cut down to the best takes, and then matched up with the video. Appearing on the as-of-yet unreleased sessions are members of Mutant Space Boy, the Apple Brown Jazz Ensemble, Afrojazziacs, local keyboard luminary Joshua White, and saxophonist Ian Tordella’s CD release at Glashaus in Barrio Logan.
“I think the video is more important than music these days,” Kris says. “A great music video with an emphasis on the video is such a great thing. When music videos first came out, it was this cliché shit. It got put in this box. So we’re trying to break out of that. We’re trying to figure out a way to make the things that we’re doing accessible. No matter how weird we play, as long as we keep it in this viable format, it’s okay.”
The Shits and Giggles sessions were gaining inertia when, in February, Kris announced the last jam at their house. It was going into foreclosure.
The moving-out party saw maybe 30 attendees in 1920s attire trading instruments, raising drinks, and wishing happy birthday to a girl whose name now escapes me.
The band went from Hendrix covers to jazz standards, and when Lou, usually a guitarist, took a lead on the bass, Kris shouted “Yeah, baby!” and turned to me with this giant Dean Moriarty grin and said, “He’s not even a bass player! Keep playing Lou!”
A few days later, Kris moved home to Central California to save money, but we’ve been in touch and he plans to return soon to continue Shits and Giggles. Keep an eye on the Reader’s Jam Session blog for the first releases from the series.
“There’s so much potential,” Kris says. “I want to set a new standard for San Diego.” ■
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