Streamliners bring big band sound downtown

By Kevin Saylor, Special to the News-Sentinel
November 1, 2002

It's a dull Friday night in downtown Knoxville. You stroll along the mostly desolate streets as leaves skip down the sidewalk in the breezy fall air.

That's when you hear it.

The sound is faint at first. But as you walk down Market Street the upbeat hum grows louder. You follow your curiosity to the Fairbanks Roasting Room. Scooping $6 from your wallet, you pay the woman at the door and enter, eager to see what your ears have been telling you about.

What you find surprises you. Assembled in the corner, a 15-piece jazz band assaults your senses as it rips through hard-swinging jazz music with ease. Directly in front of you, dozens of people of all ages gyrate, rock-step-stepping to and fro, swing dancing to what sounds like Duke Ellington. Amazed to find so many people dancing in Knoxville at one time, you slink back to a table, pull out a seat and watch, captivated.

"I think that when people come to see us, they'd be a little surprised that this sort of thing is going on in Knoxville, especially for so long," says Streamliners bandleader and trumpeter Mike Spirko. "It's not your everyday, run-of-the-mill, go to a bar and see a band play. I think it's very special. How often do you get to go see authentic big band music in a town of this size?"

Formed three-and-a-half years ago by bassist Mischa Goldman, the Streamliners began as a nine-piece ensemble, the Uptown Rhythm Kings. Playing swing music but not authentic big band songs, that group was together 6 months before it dissolved.

Soon after, the Streamliners were formed. A 15-member onslaught that did play authentic big band music, the Streamliners almost immediately began playing at the Fairbanks Roasting Room. The band has remained there ever since, performing shows on the first and third Friday of each month.

"I've always loved big band music, and that's what got me started," says Spirko. "Coming from a small town ... Morristown is not exactly the jazz mecca of the world. I didn't really know this kind of music existed until I came to (the University of Tennessee). Another thing that really got us started on this was there was an upswing with younger people listening to this type of music around that time."

Though swing music's popularity died down in the mainstream, its approval ratings still seem to soar in Knoxville. The Streamliners are used to playing to a near-full house. With the Knoxville Swing Dance Association offering free dance lessons before each performance at Fairbanks, it seems the former bank will continue to swell with people every other Friday for the foreseeable future.

Currently, the Streamliners consist of trumpet section Thomas Heflin, Jamison Sevits and Spirko; trombonists Cameron McMannis, Stu Bystrzycki and Jeremy Wilson; saxophone section Dave King, Jimmy Mann, Chad Bailey and Daniel Lancaster; pianist Ben Dockery; guitarist Chad Vidkers; drummer Deric Dickens; bassist Goldman; and vocalist Paige Wroble. Membership changes occasionally, with new members often coming from UT's band program.

Even though the group's membership may change, one thing will remain the same: "Swing music is something that people can always enjoy," says Spirko. "When you think about it, it was the popular dance music people listened to in the '30s up through the '50s. If it can still do that today and get people dancing, it's going to be around for a while."

E-mail Kevin Saylor at emperorsaylor@ or write to him c/o Entertainment department, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, 2332 News Sentinel Drive, Knoxville, TN 37921-5761.

Copyright 2002, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.